Mar 28, 2014

Bishop a distraction for a government that needs clear air

Bronwyn Bishop isn't much worse than some Speakers of the modern era. But she's becoming a distraction for the government.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

How does Bronwyn Bishop compare as Speaker in terms of bias, given the opposition motion of no confidence yesterday? Well, the problem is that the last three speakers -- Harry Jenkins, Peter Slipper and Anna Burke -- have all, to varying degrees, displayed an unusual level of independence. Jenkins wasn't averse to turfing out Labor members, on occasion dispatching both government and opposition MPs for sniping at each other, and was notoriously indulgent of Christopher Pyne. Slipper tried to be genuinely independent, since that was the only card he had to left to play at the end of a long and undignified political career, and even booted then-treasurer Wayne Swan out for invoking the Three Stooges one too many times. Burke was more traditional, but still inclined to tell the likes of Julia Gillard and Swan if they weren't answering questions. Bishop is from an earlier tradition. The tradition of New South Wales Labor mediocrity Leo McLeay, who let Paul Keating get away with murder -- most of Keating's famous barbs at John Hewson were delivered in an atmosphere of complete indulgence by McLeay, whose lasting legacy turned out to be an unfortunate association with bikes. The tradition of the Howard-era non-entity Neil Andrew, the subject of repeated Labor criticism and a motion of no confidence in 2002. The tradition of Ian Sinclair, the subject of a dissent motion in virtually his first hour in the job. Read John Hewson's motion against McLeay in 1992, and it reads very similarly to that of manager of opposition business Tony Burke yesterday -- the complaint of bias, the comparison of the number of times opposition MPs are disciplined versus government MPs (that was in the days before standing order 94A allowed a sin-binning for an hour), the accusation of taking direction from the Prime Minister; the difference of course is that Keating was PM -- whatever else Labor might throw at Abbott, it's difficult to see them saying anything like "[h]e stands up here on a daily basis and flouts every conceivable sense of propriety in this Parliament, and you allow him to get away with it" about him. That's not say Bishop isn't particularly biased -- she is, and so much so she's occasionally had to be rescued from her own rulings by Abbott and Pyne. She has none of the indulgence for Burke that Jenkins showed for Pyne, routinely criticising him and denying him points of order before he has made them; when she booted Labor MP Julie Collins out on Wednesday, complaining about Labor's tactic of "infectious laughter" (Collins had got the giggles and was unable to stop, and kept laughing as she left the chamber), she looked downright spiteful. But she'd still comfortably fit within the older tradition. But one of Bishop's problems is she isn't presiding in 1992. There was more mainstream media coverage of politics back then, but there was no social media allowing political tragics across the country to tune into and comment on #qt even if they're not watching it. Every word from Bishop is instantly scrutinised in a vast echo chamber occupied by journalists and observers; everything she does is instantly examined in a way that Leaping Leo or Neil Andrew were never subjected to. That, and the higher expectations created by the previous three speakers, mean Bishop is becoming a problem for the government, because exactly as she did yesterday, she enables Labor to distract from the government's agenda. This week was supposed to be about using the last week of Parliament before the WA Senate election to beat up Labor over the carbon price, the mining tax and its fiscal legacy. Instead Labor, and various government stumbles like knights and dames and George Brandis' comments on bigots, ensured the focus was on racism, Tony Abbott's absurd obsession with anachronism and Bishop. Things reached a nadir for Abbott on Wednesday when he grumpily complained to Bishop that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was humming Rule, Britannia across the table at him. "I knew you'd recognise it!" yelled Shorten. It takes a lot to make Shorten, still occasionally wooden in his public delivery, look witty. And after yesterday's attempt to move no confidence, Bishop appeared anxious not to kick any more Labor MPs out, her 98-0 record of expulsions having been noted by Burke. She eventually ejected Labor MP Nick Champion, but it's an unusual question time that doesn't include him being booted, so that's par for the course. But she instead issued warning after warning, all of which were ignored by Labor backbenchers, who continued interjecting and talking loudly among themselves whenever ministers were on their feet. Regardless of yesterday's motion it's unlikely Labor wants Bishop to stay anywhere other than right where she is, where she will continue to cause distractions for a government that keeps finding ways to go off-message.

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16 thoughts on “Bishop a distraction for a government that needs clear air

  1. thelorikeet

    If the rumblings I heard at the time Bronnie got the gig are true (big if), she is the speaker because someone close to Abbott told him several senior people wold refuse to serve in a ministry that included the Member for Mackellar. Speaker was a sort of second prize for Tony’s close political mate, and of course she was trustworthy to discharge the role with the partisan distinction expected.

    The obvious political target is not Bishop (whose maiden name was, interestingly, “Setright”) but Abbott, under whose watch the body politic is being diminished even faster than he was able from Opposition. Such is the privilege of office.

    But it is far easier to tear things down than build them up, and having started the teardown …

  2. klewso

    High light of the day was that sook Noddy Pyne, suggesting Labor was having trouble coping with a woman in charge?
    [Was that part of the reason they planted her there – a political stunt? To provoke Labor, to then get back at them, for the bad press Abbott generated (not in complicit Limited News of course. Their band of Twisted Sisters trollops (♀ troll) did a real number on her – to save the men-folk’s reputations?) while Gillard was PM?]
    Might have worked – but that was no lady that was Bronwyn Bishop – front row stalls at “Ditch the Bitch”?

  3. CliffG

    What a misleading headline. “Bishop isn’t much worse than some…” How much worse than the worst do you need to be?
    And then further down you get into…”That’s not say (sic)Bishop isn’t particularly biased — she is, and so much so she’s occasionally had to be rescued from her own rulings by Abbott and Pyne.”
    Bishop is incompetent, rude (“Look it up if you don’t know what it means”) aggressive and totally partisan. She is an affront to the proper functioning of Australia’s parliament.

  4. smarttdj

    At least Paul Keating murdered with wit & wisdom.

  5. zut alors

    I’ve been a Question Time tragic for years but recently find it too onerous to listen to all 20 questions, some days opting out after less than a handful. The reason is Bishop. Christopher Pyne alleging the Opposition has a problem with a woman in the Chair is ludicrous & unfounded since they’d happily appointed Anna Burke when in government.

    Regardless of his other attributes or questionable accomplishments, Peter Slipper was the best Speaker we’ve seen for decades. I’d award it to Jenkins but his curious over-indulgence of the disruptive Christopher Pyne loses him points.

  6. Electric Lardyland

    Well, if Bronwyn Bishop was first choice, I’m curious as to what second choice must be like?

  7. Nick the Hippy

    That was no lady, that was my speaker.

  8. rhwombat

    EL: when you have the depth of incompetent partisanship that Toady has in his team, Brunhilde’s selection speaks volumes for thelorikeets theory.

  9. DaveinPerth

    Dame Bronwyn Bishop
    Sir John Kerr
    Sir Terrence Lewis
    Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen

    All corrupt.
    All willing to prostitute themselves and their office for reward.
    All remembered in the same light.

    No morals.
    No scruples.
    No value as an Australian.

    Remembered in death.
    But only in contempt.

  10. AR

    Madame Kerosene is not merely partisan & incompetent but demeans the Speakership. As usual when someone is promoted beyond their ability they rely upon power to cover up their failure.
    As I only listen to PMQ, having TV, the one mirophone that is always live is the Speaker’s so we listeners hear her laughing (a more frightening sound I’ve been spared in a very long life)- at her own wit, at Whiney Payne’s instructions & asides and as she is being molly-coddled by the Clerk if the House when she becomes befuddled as she does so often.

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