Culture

Tony Abbott Has Put Bronwyn Bishop On Probation As This Whole Mess Careens Beyond Absurdity

P-plates on the next chopper for Bronwyn.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney this morning, the Prime Minister has solemnly acknowledged the possibility Bronwyn Bishop probably shouldn’t have blown fat stacks of taxpayer money on helicopters, limos, and international travel that doesn’t help the nation in any way whatsoever. After doggedly defending her controversial financial disclosures for close to a week, Tony Abbott has now put the Speaker on official probation.

The only way Tony Abbott has been, or will ever be, comparable to Ben Wyatt.

“I can really understand why people are unhappy about this. Frankly, I’m unhappy about it as well,” he said. “She has been a strong Speaker, she has been a good servant of our country and a good servant of the Coalition … like everyone who has done something like this, they are on probation.”

The move is of course a welcome one for people who enjoy their money being spent on schools and hospitals, rather than the careers of Liberal Cruella De Vil impersonators — but it’s not one that’s come without a fight. Though the PM now claims Bishop is “quite contrite” and she’s paid back the initial $5,200 for the helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong (plus interest), she still openly describes it all as a “political beat-up” and is yet to apologise at all. Naturally, people are out for blood.

The Carnage So Far

In the past week, nearly every subsection of Australian society has called on Bishop to step down from her role as Speaker, unsurprisingly including pretty much every major politician not currently registered to the Liberal Party. Bill Shorten called on Tony Abbott directly to make her stand aside, Christine Milne severely called him out on Twitter, Nick Xenophon’s called for renewed crackdowns on expenses, and Labor MP Tim Watts even cut her down with outdated hiphop references.

Don’t even think about reading on until you’ve made your way through all the comments on that post. It’s the most gloriously nerdy gem in the already painfully dorky crown of #auspol and at one point features an elected representative saying, “Mo entitlements, mo problems”.

Bless.

But it’s not just those that have something to gain from Bishop’s dismissal who are gunning for it. The issue’s also received blanket criticism in the media. On Friday, The Age ran an editorial slamming Bishop saying she had “failed the office of Speaker”. “This is that one indiscretion, Mrs Bishop, that single, unmistakeable episode that captures the public imagination — and which makes your position untenable,” it read. “She should resign.” Today, the Herald Sun ran a front-page story about another charter flight Bishop allegedly took to a Liberal fundraiser in Young just five days after the now-infamous Geelong fancy. The headline is a Britney Spears song, and the story positioning maybe makes it sound like she’s running around Melbourne stabbing people.

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The knife is literally sticking out of her head.

Even Andrew Bolt is having a go. In his Herald Sun column and corresponding blog post today, he calls the Speaker “shameless” and calls on the PM to give her “the sack”. And, things were even more extreme on yesterday’s episode of The Bolt Report with Joe Hockey. In his laboured defence of Bishop, the Treasurer almost totally admitted to taking his own taxpayer-funded transport to Liberal Party fundraisers.

Former Liberal Leader John Hewson has also added his voice to the conservative chorus going out against Bishop this morning, telling Sky News he was “staggered” by Abbott’s initial support of the Speaker. “The fact that she’s just obfuscating rather than addressing the substance of the issue, as is he, is unsustainable,” he said. “[Abbott’s] got to nip it in the bud, it’s just going to run hard against him.”

It was only a matter of hours later the PM announced the probation.

What Now?

Though Labor brought the matter to the Australian Federal Police, Bishop’s controversial travel entitlements will just be examined by an internal government review. And, though she’s now lost the unwavering support of the Prime Minister, the public are clearly still expecting more. With all this hype, a Change.org petition calling for Bishop’s total dismissal now has more than 42,000 signatures — a number which has grown by 5,000 in the last hour alone.

Importantly, much of this outrage has been spurred on by contradictory statements Tony Abbott has made on the issue while in Opposition in 2012. Though then-Speaker Peter Slipper was also battling (now-dismissed) allegations of sexual harassment, Abbott was extremely outspoken in calling for Julia Gillard to axe him over the misuse of $950 in Cabcharges — a far cry from the $5,000 helicopter Bishop caught in favour of a one-hour roadtrip.

Over the weekend, the ABC dug up old footage of this:

And they’re not the only ones drawing comparisons to the situation. Thanks to a tip-off from a follower, Australian journalist Peter van Onselen shared a link to an interview transcript about Slipper that was seemingly deleted from the Liberal website on Friday.

“The Speaker is the guardian of parliamentary standards,” Abbott had said. “I can’t underestimate the seriousness of this. The Speaker is required to maintain parliamentary standards and yet there are now these extremely serious allegations against the Speaker himself. So in order to maintain the respect and the reputation of the Parliament, in order to preserve the integrity of the Government and our institutions, it is very important that the Prime Minister act swiftly to require the Speaker to step aside and it’s very important that the Australian Federal Police quickly investigate these matters so that they can be resolved as soon as is humanly possible.”

The PM may have finally acted to step Bishop down while the matter’s being investigated, but he definitely failed his own requirement for swift and fair action. In fact, a large majority of people were instead quick to call for her all-out resignation.

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Via The Age.

Parliament reconvenes next month and in the time between we’ll no doubt get some more definitive answers on this whole mess. But really — if the investigation finds her guilty of severe misuse of taxpayer funds, the PM would be making a pretty damning Captain’s Call in bringing her back. Even an apology wouldn’t help matters at this point.

Feature image via 9News.