Something stinks in Australia!

Posted: July 17, 2015 in Ranting
Tags: , , , , ,

SMALL UPDATE – at 20:00 20 July, a petition calling for removal of Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker has over 40,ooo signatories. Here ’tis

bishopThe Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament has previously made it abundantly clear that she has no intention of abiding by the required neutrality of her position. That significant breach of public trust has now been considerably compounded by her recent unacceptable claims of expenditure as electoral business.

On Budget Night 2014, Bishop used the facilities provided to her as Speaker, to conduct a high-priced fundraiser for the Liberal Party of Australia. That this event was approved of by Prime Minister Tony Abbott was proven by Abbott’s attendance at the event. Once news of the event leaked out, Bishop had her office issue a statement declaring that she was only required to be neutral within the House. Leaving aside the matter of her ludicrously partisan behaviour within the House, Bishop made it abundantly clear that she had absolutely no intention of respecting the long-standing convention of neutrality in the Speaker’s position.

It needs to be noted that the role of Speaker is not just restricted to matters arising in the House. The Speaker has a number of important roles regarding all sorts of matters to do with Parliament House and the conduct of parliamentary matters. The speaker is an executive officer of Parliament and is the formal representative of Parliament. As such, the Speaker is required to be impartial in ALL her dealings. Bishop’s unrepentant abuse of that position to raise monies for her political party more than amply demonstrated just what a charade her performance as Speaker has been.

More recently Bishop has come under fire for matters of expenditure as alleged ‘electoral business’ and therefore to be claimed as expenses on the public purse.

The more recent event was the already infamous chartering of a helicopter to travel the short distance from Melbourne to Geelong with a price of over $5,000. The Handbook for Member and Senator Entitlements, available on the Department of Finance website, require two specific qualifiers for such expenditure. Those qualifiers are ‘reasonable’ and ‘defensible’. The helicopter stunt most certainly was not any form of emergency or other such circumstance requiring expensive chartering of a helicopter whereas a hired chauffeur driven luxury vehicle could have made the trip in much the same time for roughly one-fifth of the cost. Consequently the helicopter stunt blatantly fails both tests.

The helicopter stunt demonstrates an even more blatant and fundamental breach. The helicopter was chartered in order for Bishop to merely attend a fund-raising event for the Liberal Party of Australia. Party fundraising is NOT electoral business and as such is not eligible for any claim as a legitimate expense on the public purse. There is absolutely no possibility of this being a simple mistake or accident. Consequently Bishop was guilty of a simply appalling breach of convention and rules regarding expenditure claims. The fact that Bishop had full knowledge that she was attending a party event rather than actual electoral business but went ahead with trying to pretend it was electoral business that the taxpayer had to fund, is so close to actual fraud that it is simply not funny.

The other recent financial scandal was a bill for more than $80,000 incurred during Bishop’s failed bid to win the Presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an organisation of such vital international importance that hardly anyone has even heard of it. Reports of the expenditure of other delegates on the same trip show them spending in the region of a quarter of Bishop’s bill. And attempting to find herself a nice cushy job outside of parliament is in no possible way a matter of electoral business. Consequently at least a significant part of this expenditure on luxury travel, accommodation and dining is simply not eligible for claiming under electoral expenses. Yet another quite blatant breach. And just as there was no possibility of Bishop accidentally chartering a helicopter, no reasonable person is going to accept that all these bills associated with that job hunting stunt were just accidentally claimed on the public purse.

In the matter of the helicopter, Bishop is now repaying the bill along with a 20% penalty incurred under new provisions instituted in 2013 for inappropriate expenditure claims. Yet Bishop is unrepentant, flatly refusing to admit that she was in the wrong. She is just as unrepentant on the IPU travel matter.

Bronwyn Bishop has repeatedly demonstrated that she has little to no regard for the real obligations of her position. Instead her behaviour is as if she holds a regal position with an accompanying unquestionable divine right to rule and do as she pleases. As such Bronwyn Bishop has more than amply demonstrated that she is simply unfit to be Speaker, one of the highest offices in the nation.

So why is this behaviour allowed to continue? Why won’t our Prime Minister do anything about these repeated appalling abuses of such a senior position and the significant public trust it entails? It’s quite simple. It suits him to have Bishop playing at being Speaker while being blatantly partisan. And why would he take her to task for her financial abuses when he has gotten away Recycling isn't necessarily always goodwith so many disgusting financial abuses of his own with the slate wiped clean simply because he repaid the ill-gotten gains. Have people forgotten that while still in Opposition, Tony Abbott charged the public purse for almost $10,000 in publicity expenses for his then-newly released book? Or having us pay for his travel and accommodation to attend Sophie Mirabella’s wedding? Or paying the bills for him to attend and participate in an Ironman event held in a borderline electorate?

We have a Speaker whose behaviour is now verging on the fraudulent. We have a PM with a far from clean record on his own financial dealings refusing to do anything about her. This is all part of a stinking canker at the core of our political system where these holders of high office are simply not properly accountable for their behaviour. For the rest of us, getting caught in such stunts would see us sacked from our jobs and possibly facing criminal prosecution. But not our pollies. Our Federal politicians as an overall class hold themselves above the system of justice and rule of law that applies to those they are supposed to be governing.

To misquote Shakespeare, something stinks in Australia.

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