Bronwyn Bishop blamed Tony Abbott, Melissa Parke slammed her own party, Bernie Ripoll praised Bill Shorten. This is how retiring MPs chose to farewell their public political careers.
There were a total of 10 valedictory speeches in the House of Representatives yesterday for the MPs who will be retiring (or are being forced out) at the election.
The first surprise came with Clive Palmer’s valedictory speech in the early morning (as we cover elsewhere today). This, unfortunately, overshadowed the last speeches from Liberal MP Sharman Stone and Labor MP Melissa Parke.
Stone, a Howard government minister, lamented that preselection battles in the Coalition meant that after the election there would be fewer women in the 45th parliament.
“It is a disappointment that this parliament will see a reduction in numbers of women in the 45th Parliament. That is of great concern for our Liberal-National coalition and it is a concern for all of us in the parliament because we want to be seen to be representative of all of the Australian nation.”
Parke, the outgoing Western Australian MP, did as she has consistently done during her parliamentary career — expressed reservations about the creeping surveillance state in the name of national security:
“National security is increasingly invoked by the government to surveil and monitor the Australian community, while at the same time denying the community access to information about the government’s actions — for example, the claim by an increasingly militarised Immigration and Border Protection agency that on-water matters may not be publicised, or the lack of transparency in defence procurement.”
She also criticised her own party’s position on asylum seeker policy in a parting shot:
“The war on people smugglers, accompanied by a faux concern for drownings at sea, has facilitated the profound deterioration in Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, our compliance with international human rights obligations and our own image of ourselves as a nation of tolerance, egalitarianism and the fair go. The present offshore detention system is a festering wound that is killing people and eroding our national character and reputation. It needs to be healed.”
Outgoing Labor MP for Oxley Bernie Ripoll paid tribute to his leader for achieving what many thought impossible — making Labor electable after just one term in opposition:
“I want to especially thank Labor leader Bill Shorten for his respect for our caucus, and for his leadership over the past two and a half years. Back then, no one would have given us a chance, yet here we are today, on election eve, and we are in the game. Bill, you have achieved something that many thought impossible: you herded the cats and got us to sing in tune.”
And then came Bishop. The veteran MP, forced out of the seat of Mackellar after a bitter and heated preselection battle, was originally scheduled to give her speech at 1pm. This was then pushed back to 4pm, but it was closer to 5pm by the time she stood to speak.
As a result, initially there were very few MPs in the chamber on either side. But there were others in their place. Bishop’s daughter, entertainment reporter Angela Bishop, was in the House, as were Bishop’s staff over her parliamentary career. As word spread that Bronnie was giving her final speech, the Coalition side filled up, with the Prime Minister, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Kelly O’Dwyer, Ewen Jones and Philip Ruddock all arriving mid-speech to hear Bishop’s at times funny, at times somber speech.
She spoke of trail-blazing for more women in the Liberal Party, her infamous harranging of public servants in Senate estimates, and stouches with her Labor opponents:
“I used to spar with John Button quite a lot. He sent me a card from China. He said: ‘Attended a public hanging. Thinking of you!'”
When Bishop moved to the House of Representatives in 1994, she was touted as a potential leader of the Liberal Party, and potentially Australia’s first female prime minister. It wasn’t to be, and Bishop expressed regret at supporting Alexander Downer for the Liberal leadership in a time Shaun Micallef would later refer to as “The Downer Months“:
“I was up in the Northern Territory. Alexander Downer said he would run. I got off the plane and there was a galaxy of people asking me what I was going to do. I said I would back Downer and not run myself. Mistake. However, one does make mistakes in this place, and through life.”
Bishop, who lost her job as speaker for using taxpayer funds to charter an aircraft, spoke glowingly about the time she was allowed to fly an F111 as minister for Defence Industry in the Howard government. She said she was banned from having hairspray and hair pins during the flight, and conducted a mock bombing raid.
“We went in low — because the F111, of course, does low-terrain flying — dropped our payload and did a barrel roll, low-terrain flying. We came up, and the pilot said to me: ‘Would you like to have a go?’ I said: ‘Would I what!’ So he let me take it. We went back and we came in for another raid. Pulling four and a half Gs, I did the barrel roll, and it was just fantastic.”
The infamous kerosene baths incident garnered a small mention, with Bishop stating she had been determined to shut down the Riverside nursing home where the practice was taking place, once she found out about it. When Bishop finally turned to the saga that brought about her downfall, she directly blamed her “love child”, but left it on an intriguing note:
“That came to an end when I was asked to resign to protect Tony Abbott, someone whom I had assisted and worked with and respected for many years. There is much more than meets the eye in that saga, but not for now.”
Abbott, unsurprisingly, wasn’t in the chamber to hear Bishop’s parting threat.
When Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan followed Bishop, she noted it was hard to follow up given she had only been in Parliament for three years. MacTiernan was followed by former Nationals leader Warren Truss, former foreign minister Andrew Robb and Liberal MP Bruce Scott. Scott echoed Bishop in saying this wasn’t goodbye, just a change:
“[Bishop] and I were a great team, actually. We were often referred to as the odd couple. We will start on a new path. I still have plenty to give.”