Australians are incensed at Bronwyn Bishop’s use of a taxpayer-funded flight to a Liberal Party fundraiser in Geelong. But the Speaker has never let voter opprobrium interfere with her high-flying lifestyle.
Take this opening sentence from an article in The Canberra Times:
“Bronwyn Bishop defended yesterday making a taxpayer funded flight to Perth for a two day visit during which she has addressed a Liberal Party fund-raising dinner.”
That’s from a November 1993 article critical of the then-NSW senator’s use of taxpayer money for Liberal Party purposes.
And there are more to it than just frequent-flyer points. Whereas today Bishop is under fire for spending $88,000 on a failed attempt to gain a better job — the presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union — back in 1993 she was also being criticised for blatantly campaigning for a better job: leader of the Liberal Party. The Canberra Times article noting at the time that “political observers believe Senator Bishop’s increasing political and media visibility suggests she is shaping up for a leadership challenge against the Coalition Leader John Hewson”.
Even Bishop’s defence this week of the Geelong trip counting as legitimate parliamentary business is a reheated hash of her argument in 1993. At a press conference on Saturday, Bishop defended the chopper trip to the fundraiser by saying “it’s my speaking engagement, and I sign it as presiding officer to carry out my job to speaking to people of all sorts. I speak to community groups, I’ll speak to Liberal groups, I’ll even speak to Labor groups.”
When asked in 1993 how a Liberal Party fundraiser could be considered legitimate parliamentary business, Bishop used a similar justification: “It is appropriate to come and speak to the Australian people … in that room are many people who are interested and want to hear about the issues.”
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Another article in The Canberra Times, in October 1993, noted that luxury travel at taxpayer expense was part-and-parcel of Bishop’s modus operandi:
“Ironically, the champion of the tax-payers is promoting herself at the expense of those same tax-payers. She has used her entitlement for first-class air travel shamelessly to hurtle around the country. Her journeys were examined seriously by government officials but Bishop kept enough party functions on her itinerary to justify the entitlement. When newspapers lodged freedom of information requests on her travel costs, Bishop revealed her travel bill was more than $93,000.”
And as James Massola points out in Fairfax today, Bishop spent almost $140,000 on charter flights in just four years as a junior minister.
Even though the internet has taken mockery and memes to new levels, comedians in the 1990s were already making fun of Bishop. At the opening of the eighth Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April 1994, a Bronwyn Bishop impersonator (unnamed by the Crimes), “complete with beehive and mobile telephone”, offered this definition of comedy: “To me, comedy is my having a commitment to all Australians. Comedy is about travelling a lot and self-promotion, and I think this is important, it’s all on taxpayers’ money.”
Perhaps comedians should be sharpening their acts for MICF 2016.