03 August 2015
by Laura Tingle
It wasn't Bronny. It was the system. Seriously, Prime Minister?
The outrage spawned by revelations that the now former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has, for years, liked to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous – on us – was made more potent than the usual outrage at politicians abusing their taxpayer entitlements for two reasons.
The first was the obviously egregious hypocrisy of Bishop's lifestyle choices at a time when the government had hit most taxpayers with big cuts in spending in its first budget.
The second was Bishop's brazen refusal to backdown and the arrogance of both her – and the Prime Minister – in thinking that they could somehow just ride the storm out.
His government has been bleeding and immobilised for weeks by an ongoing controversy over a stubborn old woman with entitlement issues.
His prime ministerial authority has been emasculated by an apparent inability or incapacity to take on an ideological and political patron.
The Prime Minister has effectively been forced into hiding. The momentum the government was beginning to enjoy with Bill Shorten in trouble evaporated.
But Tony Abbott emerged on Sunday not to announce the Speaker's resignation but a 'root and branch' review of the system.
It wasn't Bronny. It was the system that was the problem.
Seriously, Prime Minister?
Bishop's brazenness has now been matched by the Prime Minister's, except he doesn't quite have her reserves of chutzpah.
As a result, his announcement on Sunday will not make the problem go away, even if Bishop is leaving the Speaker's chair (still not making any concessions as she goes). His response casts further doubt on his political judgment and political management skills.
For implicit in the Prime Minister's statement is the idea that Bronwyn Bishop, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last couple of decades swanning around in limousines and swanky hotels and helicopters while berating public servants over wasted expenditure, was within her rights – or the rules.
As a result, he has addressed neither the outrage about abuse of the taxpayer dollar from a government that has been preaching to voters about the end of Age of Entitlement, nor the outrage over the brazenness of refusing to acknowledge the problem.
The government doesn't get it
The government, instead, keeps confirming the charge from its opponents that it just doesn't get it. Witness the defence of Bishop on Sunday by the deputy leader of the Nationals, Barnaby Joyce, who argued that of course Bishop had to get limousines to fundraising functions because otherwise she would be in a position where she might have to drink and drive.
Of course, this is hardly the first review of parliamentary entitlements. The eminent public servant Barbara Belcher conducted an extensive review in 2009 which has been open to both sides of politics to address.
Despite the Coalition's pursuit of Peter Slipper from opposition and its promises of higher standards, it has done nothing to implement the Belcher recommendations.
As a result, the sudden call for a root and branch looks for all the world just what it is: another pathetic attempt by a government in trouble to squirm its way out by holding a review.
Tony Abbott cannot bring himself to give anyone Bronwyn Bishop's scalp. He cannot bring himself to admit to not just the odd egregious bit of bad behaviour, but what has emerged as a daily disgrace. He will continue to pay a price for that. As he is completely entitled to.