The statistics speak volumes about Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's management of the debating chamber, with 319 Labour MPs ejected under her rule, compared to only five Coalition MPs  as at  24.3.15. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The statistics speak volumes about Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s management of the debating chamber, with 319 Labour MPs ejected under her rule, compared to only five Coalition MPs as at 24.3.15. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In many people’s opinion (just check social media) Bronwyn Bishop – long-standing Liberal MP and culture warrior – is one of the most partisan Speakers in recent Australian history. As this article shows, she seems much harder on the ALP than she is on her Liberal and National colleagues.

Now Labor frontbencher Tony Burke says Bronwyn Bishop will have to resign as Speaker if it is shown she signed documentation claiming $5,000 helicopter charter to attend a Liberal Party function as “official business”.

Bishop will be either extremely determined or very lucky to survive the rapidly escalating attack from Labor, who will go for the jugular with undisguised glee. They never could stand her, and even less so nowadays after their experience of her as Speaker.

The leader of opposition business, Tony Burke, called for the release of original documentation surrounding the taxpayer-funded travel and said there was “absolutely no way” Bishop could remain in the role if that were the case.

Bishop faced mounting political pressure this week about her use of entitlements, which included an expense of $5,227.27 for chartered flights from Melbourne to Geelong and back on 5 November 2014.

The Speaker announced on Thursday she would repay the charter flight money even though she maintained her belief that the travel “was conducted within the rules”.

 

Tony Abbott at the wedding of Sophie and Gregory Mirabella, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Wangaratta in 2006, alongside Bronwyn Bishop and another wedding guest. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

Tony Abbott at the wedding of Sophie and Gregory Mirabella, at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Wangaratta in 2006, alongside Bronwyn Bishop and another wedding guest. Photo: Rebecca Hallas

 

Bishop must also pay a penalty of $1,307, because new rules implemented after a series of parliamentary expenses kerfuffles in 2013 affecting a number of senior figures including Tony Abbott (see here if you’ve forgotten) require politicians to repay an additional 25% of any adjustment to travel claims.

Labor continues to pursue the issue, pointing to a standard government form for charter certification for parliament’s presiding officers that says “office holders may use charter transport (including aircraft, helicopters and other vehicles) for their personal transport in connection with their office holder duties”.

According to that form, the office holder must certify that “knowingly giving false or misleading information is a serious offence under the Criminal Code Act 1995” and that they “travelled on the charter and it was provided for official purposes”.

Burke said on Friday that Bishop should release the document that she had signed. The contents of the form would determine whether Labor would demand her resignation from the key role of presiding over the lower house of parliament, he said.

“The normal form would say this was official business and would also say that there are serious criminal penalties if this is put in error,” Burke told Channel Seven’s Sunrise program.

“Now, if she signs it off in the normal form and it is, you know, a Liberal party fundraiser that she’s gone to, then that’s the end of the matter, she can’t stay as Speaker, absolutely no way.

“People make honest mistakes and we all know people can make honest mistakes but you don’t accidentally get on to a helicopter and turn up at a Liberal party fundraiser, so we need to find out and the government needs to release this document for us to work out exactly what it is that Bronwyn Bishop has claimed she has done.”

News outlets are seeking comment from Bishop’s office about which form she signed, whether she will release it, and how the event in Geelong was consistent with her office-holder duties.

The Speaker denied wrongdoing when she announced the plan to repay the funds on Thursday afternoon. “Whilst my understanding is that this travel was conducted within the rules, to avoid any doubt I will reimburse the costs,” she said in a brief statement.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, had earlier demanded intervention from the prime minister, Tony Abbott, saying the case showed that Bishop “thinks she is so important that she can’t even be bothered getting a car between Melbourne and Geelong, a one-hour car trip”.

The treasurer, Joe Hockey, added to the pressure by agreeing with a radio interviewer that the helicopter trip did not pass “the sniff test”. “Look, instinctively it doesn’t,” Hockey told 2UE. The treasurer responded to repeated questions about the Speaker’s expenses by calling on Bishop to explain matters.

Unsurprisingly, after the repayment announcement, senior ministers sought to move on from the matter.

The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said she would not pass judgment because she did not know the context or the circumstances in which the trip was undertaken. “But what I do know is that she has decided to repay the amount, including a penalty, so I think that should be the end of the matter,” the minister told ABC’s 7.30 program.

The leader of the house, Christopher Pyne, said the Speaker was “doing a superb job” and had his full support.

But the Government may find the matter is not swept away quite so easily.

For one thing, the case has eerie echoes of the problems in which former Speaker Peter Slipper found himself up to his neck, which resulted in on-going attacks from the Liberals and Nationals on his position.

On 8 January 2013 the Federal Police summonsed Slipper alleging three offences against Section 135.1(5)/ Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) in relation to allegations concerning the use of Cabcharge vouchers. Slipper was due to answer these allegations in the ACT Magistrates Court on 15 February 2013. According to documents released by the court, Slipper was alleged to have used Cabcharge to pay for hire cars to visit a number of wineries in the Canberra region in January, April and June 2010.

On 28 July 2014, Slipper was found guilty of dishonestly using taxpayer funds to visit Canberra wineries for his own enjoyment. On 24 September 2014, he was sentenced to 300 hours community service and ordered to reimburse taxpayers for the $954 total that was spent on the trips. Slipper appealed the sentence, and the case was heard in December 2014. Justice John Burns reserved his decision until 26 February 2015, when he ruled the appeal be upheld and the conviction and sentence be set aside.

Bishop may consider herself fortunate that the matter is breaking out on a Thursday and a Friday, as such stories can “die a death” over the weekend as the population turns its head to sport and relaxation. But Labor will be doing everything it can to ensure that doesn’t happen. Bill Shorten and his colleagues scent blood and they are overdue a win.

(Sources: Guardian Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, Wikipedia and others)

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Comments
  1. Pat A says:

    “Should Bronwyn Bishop resign?” Yes.

    Like

  2. Ronnibee says:

    Yes the crone should resign. This latest disclosure, including the cost to the taxpayers of her trip to Europe, whilst aeeking a job over there, if you don’t mind , two staff ???, paying their wages, food and accommodztion, as well as airfares for all concerned – What The Hell???? And we were told by this pack of liars that Labor left the vountry broke ??? Off with her head !! Oh well her job at the very least!

    Like

  3. Nina Craske says:

    NO EXCUSE. Peter Slipper was absolutely, mercilessly hounded and put through hell by the Liberal ghouls, he was crucified, lost his job and this wrinkled old prune says she thought it was ok.

    She’s a thief and needs to be prosecuted as Slipper was and then thrown out of politics for her dishonesty.

    Again, NO EXCUSE.

    Like

    • It is risky to accuse someone of theft under these circumstances, especially as the Fed Police don’t seem interested. But the famous old Aussie term “rorting” would appear to apply. What the practical difference is only a politician could explain.

      Like

  4. Peter Whewell says:

    GORN. No way she can survive if she has signed the form stating it was “official duties”. It was a Liberal Party fundraising event. Put the Slipper in Shorten! And then let’s have a closer look at the claims she made for overseas travel last year. “The age of entitlement is over”.

    Like

  5. […] Tags: ALP, Australian Labor Party, Bill Shorten, Bronwen Bishop, Bronwyn Bishop, Christopher Pyne, Criminal Code Act 1995, expenses, helicopter, Julie Bishop, Liberal Party, Peter Slipper,Section 135.1(5)/ Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), Speaker, Speaker of the Australian parliament, Tony Abbott, Tony Burke 2 […]

    Like

  6. Deb Willett says:

    A very big YES!

    Like

  7. Elizabeth Pritchard says:

    She should definitely resign& if she doesn’t of her own free will, Abbott should request her resignation & the AFP should step in & take her to task.

    Peter Slipper’s mistake was small change compared to this & who knows what else she has wrongly claimed for.

    Attending a Liberal party fund raiser is in no way part of her official duties & she should know that. In any case, the charter of a helicopter at a cost of over $5000 to take her on a 100 km trip is preposterous & shows that she has no regard for the people of Australia whose money she appears to consider her own to spend at will.

    Like

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