Bronwyn Bishop

PETER VAN ONSELEN, HOST: I’m joined now by the Shadow Education Minister, Kate Ellis, thanks very much for being there.

KATE ELLIS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good afternoon Peter, great to be with you.

VAN ONSELEN: What did you make of Kelly O’Dwyer’s defence of the Speaker?

ELLIS: Well I actually didn’t hear a defence of the Speaker from Kelly O’Dwyer and I think that this just shows how serious this issue is. Not only have Australians lost faith in the Speaker, not only have the Opposition lost confidence in the Speaker, but what we heard there was that Liberal MPs themselves are refusing to say that they support Bronwyn Bishop as the Speaker. That just shows that this farce continues and I mean the real question is: where on earth is Tony Abbott? And it is absolutely time he stepped up and showed some leadership on this so that we can get back to the real business of Australia and the policies that people want us to be discussing and debating.  

VAN ONSELEN: But doesn’t Labor need to be careful that this doesn’t get blown back on your side of politics? You go after the Speaker, she is certainly under pressure, she’s finally apologised but there are, if I can call it, this dodgy claiming of expenses on all sides of parliament. What’s different about Bronwyn Bishop in particular?

ELLIS: Well obviously we know that the Speaker is meant to uphold the highest standards of the Parliament. So it is a very special position and it’s one that requires the faith of not just all members of the Parliament, but the Australian public need to have faith in the Speaker. What we have seen is this farce has now been going on for 25 days since that ludicrous helicopter ride was first revealed. Tony Abbott has been refusing to front up and answer questions on it now for over 3 days, and we’re all left just scratching our heads when now we see Bronwyn Bishop come out today and offer a very belated apology. Which I don’t think anybody believes is motivated by what ‘sorry’, should be motivated by, and that is a feeling. This is a political tactic from Bronwyn Bishop which is entirely about trying to save her own job. Not actually expressing remorse to the Australian public.

VAN ONSELEN: You’re too cynical Kate Ellis. I mean, you held a media conference the other day in relation to that committee hearing that she was the chair of when she went to Albury to meet with a confidential source. Don’t you believe in serendipity? I mean she happened to be there at the same time for a wedding in the only town with an airport to be able to get to that wedding, and she had an important confidential source to meet with in her work-life balance committee. Now you understand the confidentiality of sources around such heady subject matter, don’t you?

ELLIS: Well, I mean the mystery around the confidential, anonymous, secret source that had these views on childcare that couldn’t be reported back to our committee, or to the Australian public, still remains. I’m not sure whether the Department of Finance is meant to look into that and see whether that was a legitimate claim. As I said, this is a farce. Australian’s are sick of it. Frankly, I’m sick of talking about it - and I think that what we need is – Tony Abbott – Bronwyn Bishop was his captain’s call – it is time that he stepped up and showed the leadership that he has so far failed to do, and made clear that Bronwyn Bishop does not enjoy the confidence of the House. As Kelly O’Dwyer herself just demonstrated.

VAN ONSELEN: Well it doesn’t look like the Prime Minister is going to do that though. He has indicated that he won’t previously. As you say we haven’t heard from him more recently on that. But the Speaker today has made it clear that – whilst apologising – that she won’t be resigning. With that the case, where does Labor go from here? It doesn’t matter if the cross benchers support a no confidence motion against the Speaker, you don’t have the numbers, 90 of 150 seats in the lower house where that confidence motion will be put are controlled by the Government; the National Party and the Liberal Party. Where does Labor go from here? Like it or not the issue is dead, buried and cremated, isn’t it?

ELLIS: Well I mean I don’t think, sadly, that the issue is. It is entirely untenable for us to have a Speaker of the House of Representatives which her own party members refuse to say that they support. I mean that is entirely untenable. This is not about Labor. It’s not about the Independents. It’s about the fact that on your own program and in other media sources, we have now repeatedly seen Liberals refusing to say that they support Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker. This is the nation’s Parliament. We actually deserve to have a Speaker that has the confidence of the House, the confidence at the very least of her own party members. So that Australian’s can look to the Parliament with some level of support, that it isn’t a total farce. This is ridiculous. Entirely ridiculous.

VAN ONSELEN: OK, just one last question on this, if I can Kate Ellis. You were the one who had the media conference a matter of days ago about the committee service that Bronwyn Bishop claimed she was involved in, this confidential source that she was having an interview with just ahead of Sophie Mirabella’s wedding. I’m interested for our viewers, if you could just take them through why, or what the process is, that is different here for a committee chair versus for example, Ministers and Shadow Ministers. Who often have these sort of meetings - don’t necessarily have to provide full disclosure – but just have to therefore have the meeting in conjunction with other things that they have, whether it’s a fundraiser or attendance at a football fixture or whatever it might be. What is the difference, or is there a difference, for a committee chair as opposed to a frontbencher?

ELLIS: Well there is a clear difference in terms of the entitlement. But there’s also a really clear difference in terms of the process. The reason that I was surprised when I heard the claims that Speaker Bronwyn Bishop was there on committee business is that – as a member of that committee – we were doing an inquiry into balancing work and family. And we did have public hearings right across Australia. But there was a very formal process  that in order to be approved to travel for those hearings, we needed to have a meeting of the committee that had a full quorum; that declared that there would be a public hearing; and that we agreed; and it was placed in the minutes that there would be official business of the committee in this city or town, on this date. So the reason I found it really strange is because that determination was never made about Albury over that weekend. And I couldn’t recall any discussion within the committee about there being any committee business that was requiring travel to Albury at the time. So it did strike me as unusual that that was the explanation that Bronwyn Bishop was giving at the time. I went back and I checked my diary. I went back and I actually checked the list of public hearings for that inquiry and found that there was nothing listed.

So it was only at that point that we then heard Bronwyn Bishop come out and say ‘no, no, this was because it was entirely confidential, so confidential I couldn’t tell the committee, and that as chair I took the responsibility to go and hear this secret evidence myself, not report it back to the committee and have no further discussions’. I mean frankly, it doesn’t add up. This just doesn’t stack up. It doesn’t pass any test. It was a ridiculous explanation that was given after, I think, Bronwyn Bishop was caught out – and now of course we see a ridiculous and insincere apology, given after pressure is placed on Bronwyn Bishop’s job. Nobody is buying what she’s selling.

VAN ONSELEN: Oh give her time. You never know, it’s eight years later, but perhaps she’s at the early stages of breaking a Watergate-esque inquiry revelation with that confidential source. We’re out of time Kate Ellis, we appreciate you joining us on NewsDay. Hopefully next time we’ll be able to get into some policy issues on the way through. Thanks for your company.

ELLIS: I’d love that Peter. Thank you.