For the past week, your social media feed has been filled with people talking about Bronwyn Bishop and helicopters and all sorts of nonsense. If you're so important you have better things to do than hate-watch* Parliament Question Time at 2pm most weekdays, you might not really get what all the fuss is about. Don't stress. With this simple Q&A, you can become an expert in what is currently the nation's favourite non-racist-booing subject.
Go ahead! Ask me anything!
What exactly is a "Speaker"?
Holy shit. Really?
Fuck you. Tell me.
Sorry. Okay. Short answer is that the Speaker is an elected MP who is then selected to keep order between the parties in the House of Representatives. In theory, they are impartial and keep both sides disciplined in equal measure. In practice... well, we'll get to that. Bronwyn Bishop became Speaker when the Abbott Government was elected in 2013, and has been fairly regularly criticised for her performance in the job. But that's not why she was booted out.
No? What did she do?
She claimed a whole ton of travel expenses, which basically means that the taxpayer foots the bill when she wants to go somewhere. The trip that kicked all of this off was a helicopter ride she took from Melbourne to Geelong.
Ahhh, that's why everyone's going on about helicopters. Haha, I get it now. Hey, maybe I could make a meme about it! Has anyone photoshopped her with—
But what about—
Yes. Just don't. It's been done.
Fine. But politicians fly everywhere on our dime. Why is this different?
Sure, politicians have to fly places when it's part of their job, and nobody expects them to pay for it themselves. Actually, when Tony Abbott took office, he cracked down on pollies spending more than they needed to on flights so they wouldn't be such a burden on the taxpayer.
But if you claim an expense, it has to be related to your government work. And if spending over $5000 on a flight from Melbourne to Geelong (which, by the way, typically takes about an hour to drive) wasn't absurd enough in and of itself, it turns out Bronny was on her way to a Liberal Party fundraiser, which is so far removed from government work, it's the reason we have a distinction in the first place.
After that came to light, it was revealed that she's also charged $90,000 for a two-week European jaunt that was about scoring herself a new gig, a trip that included $1000 per day for limousines. She also charged thousands of dollars for attending La Boheme, which is literally an opera that begins with an innkeeper angry at his customers who refuse to pay for their own room and board. Seriously.
The best one, however, is a plane ticket to attend the wedding of former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, which Bishop claimed was "committee chair business". I have no trouble believing that attending Sophie Mirabella's wedding alongside Tony Abbott would count as "work" in the Russian literary realism sense of the word, but maybe not the type of work that allows you to charge it to the taxpayer.
Wow. So why did it take so long for Tony Abbott to fire her?
Well, technically he didn't fire her: Bishop resigned. And this difference is important for the exact same reason he was dragging his feet.
Remember earlier this year when Tony Abbott was very nearly ousted as PM in a spill motion? Well, things have improved, but not quite enough for him to relax. He has enjoyed a bump in the polls, which many analysis are crediting in equal part due to the ABC's airing of The Killing Season, which reminded everyone of Labor's Keystone Kops-esque farce, and to a Dutch butterfly that flapped its wings in late March.
Abbott is consequently eager to remind the party room about how important LOYALTY is and how you should STAND BY YOUR COLLEAGUES through THICK AND THIN no matter what's coming your way and that STUPID PRESS BEAT-UPS aren't enough for us to get rid of TONY HA HA DID I SAY TONY I MEANT BRONWYN.
Well, that didn't work given she's gone now. What's Bishop's punishment?
She eventually paid back at least some of the money she claimed, with a 25 percent "fraud fee" which isn't called that but really should be, so there's that. But now that she's no longer Speaker, she's going to be bumped down a pay grade from $341,000 to $195,000. That's a difference of $146,000, or roughly 29.2 helicopter rides to Geelong. Hopefully we'll be getting the details of her GoFundMe account so we can all chip in and help ease the transition.
This one scandal aside, how was Bishop as an actual Speaker?
Almost undoubtedly the most partisan in the Parliament's history. Theoretically, her job was to be the impartial adjudicator in the Parliament, but it was nigh impossible to see any evidence of impartiality in her actual performance.
It's difficult to describe the scope of her failure without having you go back to watch tapes of her in Parliament Question Time, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody. So if you want an easily-digestible nugget of information that's emblematic of her reign (aside from respected journalist Paul Bongiorno describing her as the worst Speaker he has witnessed "in 27 years of covering Parliament"), then cop this: she ejected 400 MPs from the chamber during Question Time.
The previous record was held by Speaker Harry Jenkins, who ejected 252 MPs over the course of two years and nine months. Bishop beat his number to a pulp in a mere one year and nine months.
Of the 400 MPs, 393 of those were Labor. And if you've ever made it through more than five minutes of a Question Time, you'll be stretching it to suggest that one side was worse than the other. At least not to a ratio of 393:7 anyway.
Every news story about Abbott often arrives linked to something he said in the past that directly contradicts his current stance. Wouldn't it be funny if he'd led a campaign against another politician for claiming expenses? Or – and I'm just spitballing here – what if that politician was Speaker? And their transgression was incredibly minor compared to Bishop's? I mean, wouldn't that be hilarious?
Yes. Yes it would.
You couldn't make that up.
No. But you could try to pretend it didn't happen.
Who's going to be the next Speaker?
At time of writing, a number of names have been bandied about, but the current favourite is Philip Ruddock, the so-called "father of the house" which is a title that denotes the fact that he's old.
Do he and Abbott get along?
Remember that near-spill from February? Ruddock was Chief Whip at the time, and Abbott fired him as a result. So it's not likely Abbott will turn around and reward him with a high profile, high paying gig. But he's the only one we've heard of, which makes him a frontrunner.
Huh. Who else is on the list?
Bruce Scott. Russell Broadbent. Sharman Stone. Andrew Southcott.
What are they best known for?
My previous answer.
If I somehow never find out who becomes the next Speaker, will this affect my life in any way?
Are you an MP?
Then you should be fine. Just stick to the helicopter memes.
* literally the only possible way to watch it
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