What can one expect from Christmas drinks at Bronwyn Bishop’s house? While there was less collateral damage in marble coffee tables than at a Tony Abbott post-coup party, the former speaker still had some surprises up her sleeve for guests at her Newport home Tuesday evening when she announced she would be contesting her seat of Mackellar at the next election.
Bishop said she felt she had now been exonerated from the infamous “choppergate” travel expenses scandal, and that the “threat of terrorism” had compelled her to seek another three years in the House of Representatives.
Coming from the longest-serving woman in Parliament’s history, perhaps this final stand is no real surprise.
In that spirit, Crikey takes a look at some of Parliament’s other greatest survivors and the ways in which they keep holding on.
As demonstrated just this month by Mal Brough, the Special Minister of State caught up in the Ashby-Slipper fallout, admitting things is never a good idea. In fact, it can lead to the threat of a two-year prison sentence.
Named in an Australian Federal Police search warrant, Brough is currently under investigation for his part in the 2012 conspiracy that sought to damage then-speaker Peter Slipper. Brough is alleged to have counselled the man at the centre of the controversy, former Slipper staffer James Ashby, to “procure copies” of Slipper’s official diaries.
The problem for Brough is that he seemed to have admitted as much during an interview with 60 Minutes in 2014. When asked by Liz Hayes, “did you ask James Ashby to procure, um, copies of Peter Slipper’s diary for you?”, he replied: “Yes, I did.”
Brough initially insisted that the televised interview had been selectively edited. But when Nine released the raw footage of the interview, the Special Minister of State was forced to issue an apology (of sorts).
With the Prime Minister yet to call for his resignation, Brough is sitting tight and hoping the whole thing fades away in a noggy Christmas haze before Parliament resumes again in the new year.
Refuse to apologise
Straight out of the Bronwyn Bishop playbook, the refusal to apologise is a risky but powerful stalling tactic.
When word broke that Bishop had chartered a $5000 helicopter flight to Geelong to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser, the speaker stoically faced down howls for her resignation by asserting she had claimed within travel entitlement rules.
She repaid the money but continued to resist pressure to make a formal apology. “I think the biggest apology one can make is to repay the money,” she said.
With a loyal PM at her back, but more expense secrets leaking out, Bishop lasted another two weeks before at last making a reluctant apology. Days later, she would resign as speaker, against the backdrop of a new review into entitlements.
The charm offensive
Malcolm Turnbull’s own survival strategy — which took him from the “arrogant” opposition leader deposed by his own party to the loveable rascal of Q&A to Kirribilli House in around six years — is definitely the most subtle yet.
Turnbull’s hold on the opposition leadership came unstuck in 2009 when he wrongly accused then-PM Kevin Rudd of trying to secure preferential treatment for a Queensland car dealer.
The claim relied on an email sent from a Rudd staffer to Treasury official Godwin Grech, who headed the OzCar government assistance scheme at the time — an email Rudd said didn’t exist.
On June 19, Turnbull accused Rudd and his treasurer Wayne Swan of using “their offices and taxpayers’ resources to seek advantage for one of their mates” and lying to Parliament. But a police investigation into the affair confirmed that the email was, in fact, a fake. Grech later admitted to the forgery.
Turnbull’s approval rating was shot.
After later losing the Liberal leadership to Tony Abbott, he considered leaving politics altogether. But a firm talking to from John Howard soon had him rebuilding his public brand — with the help of regular Q&A spots and a well-stocked wardrobe of leather jackets.
The Turnbull charm offensive has barely missed a beat since.
Expertly executed by cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodinos in 2014 (and less so by Bronwyn Bishop in August), the resignation strategy offers the disgraced pollie a dignified march to the backbench with none of the finality of early retirement.
Facing an ICAC corruption inquiry over his time at the helm of Australian Water Holdings, Sinodinos announced he would step aside from his role of assistant treasurer to avoid “unnecessary distraction” from the “sideshow” of the investigation.
His fall from grace, as a former chief of staff to John Howard and a central figure in the Liberal executive, shocked Parliament. But Sinodinos was patient. And perhaps just low-profile enough for the public to forget about. When he was later elevated to the new Turnbull ministry as cabinet secretary, no one batted an eyelid.
Perhaps the greatest political survival story of all belongs to none other than the Father of the House, Philip Ruddock.
While Ruddock has become almost as familiar a fixture around Parliament House as the Chesterfield lounges, in 2003 his role as immigration minister was called into question over the infamous cash-for-visas scandal.
Then-opposition immigration spokesperson Julia Gillard accused Ruddock of renewing a residency visa to Dante Tan, a Filipino fugitive, in exchange for Liberal Party donations.
Labor linked three visas Ruddock granted to $110,000 in donations — as well as “an expensive gift of stamps”.
But a Senate inquiry eventually ruled there was no way to know if the donations directly influenced Ruddock’s decisions to grant the visas because they couldn’t vouch for his thinking at the time. The Father of House clawed back a place at the table.