Australia’s speaker Bronwyn Bishop resigns over expenses

Bishop quits after weeks of controversy over her spending on helicopters, planes and cars

Australia’s speaker  Bronwyn Bishop:  her resignation was “overdue and unrepentant”, according to Labor party leader Bill Shorten. Photograph:  Mick Tsikas/EPA

Australia’s speaker Bronwyn Bishop: her resignation was “overdue and unrepentant”, according to Labor party leader Bill Shorten. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/EPA

 

The speaker of the Australian parliament, Bronwyn Bishop, has resigned after almost three weeks of revelations about her spending on helicopters, planes and cars.

Her position became untenable after an almost daily drip-feed of the details of extravagant spending on transport over her 27 years in parliament.

That Ms Bishop had expensive tastes was already well known, but the end game began in earnest last month.

On July 15th the opposition Labor party revealed Ms Bishop had used $5,227.27 (€3,500) of taxpayers’ money to charter a helicopter to fly from Melbourne to Geelong last November – a distance of 75km that takes an hour by road – to attend a Liberal party fundraiser.

An employee of the golf club where the helicopter landed took pictures and posted them to Twitter.

On July 18th the speaker paid the money back, but refused to apologise. Two days later the prime minister, Tony Abbott, said Ms Bishop had his confidence.

The following days saw revelations of spending come thick and fast, such as secret meetings she held and claimed expenses for, which just happened to coincide with the weddings of colleagues.

Digging for dirt

On July 29th the foreign minister, Julie Bishop (no relation), suggested the speaker was considering her position. But a spokesperson said otherwise.

A day later, though, Ms Bishop finally apologised. Sort of. “Although it’s within the rules, it just doesn’t look right and therefore I’m apologising,” she said.

The weekend brought further examples of egregious expenses claims such as the $6,000 she spent on a chartered plane to get from Sydney to Nowra (160km), along with other flights and poor behaviour.

Even while accepting Ms Bishop’s resignation, Mr Abbott stood by the woman who holds the seat next to his on Sydney’s northern beaches. “The problem is not any particular individual; the problem is the entitlement system more generally,” he said.

Labor party leader Bill Shorten said Ms Bishop’s resignation was “overdue and unrepentant” and called on Mr Abbott to release the findings of the department of finance’s investigation into her spending.

“Unfortunately Tony Abbott still won’t accept that Bronwyn Bishop has done anything wrong,” he said. “Mr Abbott has blamed the system, but it was Ms Bishop’s addiction to privilege that was the real culprit.”

There has never been any love lost between Labor and Ms Bishop. In 1992 Gareth Evans, then Australia’s foreign minister, said: “Why do so many people take an instant dislike to Senator Bishop? It saves time.”