“Choppergate:” Bishop Must Resign After Expenses Outrage

THERE IS NO POINT sugar-coating what on any objective criteria is an insult to decency and a flagrant abuse of the privileges of public office: news the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, spent $5,227 of taxpayer money on a 60km helicopter trip instead of a car for a fraction of the price is indefensible. For Bishop — a repeat big spender on premium travel — the matter is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. She must resign.

Forget the “definitions” that sometimes legitimise largesse when it comes to the “entitlements” of our elected representatives: this was Liberal Party business, and nothing else.

The news yesterday that Speaker Bronwyn Bishop had been exposed for chartering a helicopter flight last year to fly from the Melbourne CBD to Geelong — at a cost of some $5,227 for the return trip — no doubt seems reasonable to some.

But with a perfectly good freeway a couple of miles away and the fine town of Geelong just an hour by road, there is no reason Bishop couldn’t have booked a chauffeured private hire car (or a ComCar) for a few hundred dollars instead.

And not least, when taxpayers are footing the bill.

I am prepared to defend reasonable expenditure by MPs on all sides of politics, and over the lifespan of this column have either done so actively or (more usually) by simply declining to oxygenate sensationalist coverage of supposed rorts by ignoring them altogether.

Elected representatives have the reasonable expectation that expenses incurred in the course of carrying out their duties will be covered, and those expenses may, by the nature of their roles, be inflated when compared to those incurred by a private individual — the practice, for example, of flying in business class, which avoids the prospect of mid-air confrontations between politicians and angry voters, and reduces the requirement for expensive, extensive security details whose costs significantly outstrip the price of the airline ticket.

Often, there is a fine line between what is reasonable and what is ridiculous — particularly where public opinion is concerned — and the aggregate demands on MPs of official business and party business (especially when the MP in question is a minister, party leader or Speaker) often legitimise consolidated travel arrangements at public expense whose bona fides, whilst clear, are not always immediately visible to the typical voter.

None of these defences exist in the case of “Choppergate,” and Ms Bishop must consequently consider her position.

As a veteran of almost 30 years in federal politics, Bishop would know better than most of her Canberra colleagues what is acceptable, and what is not.

Moreover, when it comes to drawing the distinction between what is made legitimate and lawful by virtue of parliamentary guidelines on the one hand, and what could not and cannot be justified in the court of public opinion even if the minutiae of expense claims were disclosed in full on the other, Ms Bishop’s experience uniquely places her to be able to draw such a distinction.

The helicopter trip in question — whilst ridiculous — was, by the universal agreement of players on all sides in Canberra, a purely political conveyance, undertaken to attend a Liberal Party function at the start of last year’s state election campaign, and to date nobody — including Ms Bishop — has provided evidence of coincident business or other ameliorating factors to justify it.

In this case, repayment of the monies simply doesn’t cut it: and a terse, two-sentence statement that accompanied news she would do so — essentially reiterating the trip was, in her view, covered by parliamentary guidelines, but that she would make the payment from her own pocket “to avoid ambiguity” — gives every indication the reimbursement is to be made grudgingly, and under heavy duress indeed.

Even so, this might have been the end of the matter, were it not for the fact Bishop appears to be something of a recidivist when it comes to playing fast and loose with taxpayer monies on “official” travel.

The Fairfax press is carrying a story this morning that details some $309,000 spent by Ms Bishop on overseas travel in her first year as speaker, outstripping predecessors Anna Burke, Harry Jenkins and even the profligate Peter Slipper: the details make for infuriating reading.

It outlines some $90,000 spent by Ms Bishop on a two-week jaunt to Europe (to unsuccessfully lobby for a job with the Inter-Parliamentary Union) that featured expenditure items for herself and two staffers including $42,400 in airfares and $25,400 on accommodation and food. The unjustifiable largesse is astonishing.

And even the Murdoch press is weighing in against Bishop, with the Courier Mail opining the public has every right to be angry with the Speaker, whilst The Australian gave details that Bishop chose the most expensive helicopter transport option on offer — and even suggesting the matter smacked of preferment for the company chartered to provide the flight.

The “pub test” — as Treasurer Joe Hockey yesterday put it — essentially comes down to a distinction between what is legal on the one hand, and what can reasonably be considered appropriate on the other, and whilst nobody suggests Bishop has broken any laws, even if parliamentary guidelines cover her for the outrageous expense she incurred by billing taxpayers for a flight between Melbourne and Geelong, there is no basis in common sense or proper regard for public funds to justify it.

Unlike those in the ALP who bleat of favouritism, I do think Ms Bishop has made a reasonable fist of her role as Speaker.

Like more prominent figures who — like me — should have known better, I too jumped on the momentary madness of the “Bronwyn for PM” bandwagon in early 1994, which saw so many otherwise astute Liberals take leave of their senses as the doomed leadership of John Hewson began to implode.

And whilst perhaps no ministerial standout, Bishop has made a solid contribution over her three decades in public office, and does in fact have a record she can be proud of.

That includes advancement of the status and prospects for women in politics — even if the pinko feminazis at Emily’s List dismiss her (along with every other woman in the Coalition) as somehow less than female because she is not a socialist.

But then again, the fact Bishop has endured and succeeded without quotas and an Emily’s List-style cheer squad merely underlines what she has been able to accomplish.

For all that, however, this latest scandal (and her brusque justification of it) deserves to signal the end of her career.

Playing fast and loose with taxpayer monies is a pastime that has gone on for too long in political life, and if for no better reason than to set an example, Ms Bishop should be removed if she refuses to quit.

I accept that others have been “at it” and that other MPs may be guilty of worse than what Ms Bishop has been revealed to have done, but after the first few public humiliations — and terminated sinecures — have played out, the signal to the rest of the parliamentary pack might and should have been heeded.

And as a final but nonetheless critical point, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Bishop is the highest ranking parliamentary official in Canberra: among other things, her office is charged with upholding the standards of Parliament as an institution itself. It is for this reason I agitated so loudly for the removal of the grub Peter Slipper from the post when he held it.

It is imperative, therefore, and especially in light of these revelations, that the office and its bearer not only maintain rigorous standards of probity, but to be seen to be doing so.

To make good on her misuse of public monies, therefore, Ms Bishop should resign.

 

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18 thoughts on ““Choppergate:” Bishop Must Resign After Expenses Outrage

  1. In reading this, I was tempted to reference the current activities of one Sarah High Flung Dung, aiding and abetting the movement of illegal immigrants into Italy. What will be the size of the bill she has run up? How much cost did Gillard actually incur in using the RAAF to fly her around to weddings and so on? And, as Sinc Davidson points out; http://catallaxyfiles.com/2015/07/17/good-for-the-goose/.

    On the other hand, two wrongs don’t make a right, and multiple wrongs should be dealt with. It is high time some discipline were introduced into the excesses of the political class. As you point out, Bronny occupies the highest post in the land. We could expect a far better example to be set.

    Forgive me for a worrisome thought. What does a Penny WONG and a Penny WRIGHT make? Frightbat salad?

  2. She made a mistake, but this sort of wastefulness is required for ALP politicians and is written into their policies of economic mismanagement. Bronwyn Bishop was thoughtless but she’s not corrupt like the three most recent leaders of the ALP appear to be, or like their minions Peter Slipper and Craig Thompson. She is a person of probity though I think she does enjoy the legitimate perks of office. She wouldn’t drive around vineyards make fraudulent cabcharge claims, that would discredit her office or threaten her pension; or use a slush fund from a union to finance a house; or other unconscionable things that some people may have done on the other side of politics. But I suppose she’ll have to be a scapegoat to stop the ALP media machine having for fuel to scream “Witch Hunt!” Still, Bronwyn Bishop is so astute in so many areas and a strong, staunch voice of reason in the wilderness, notably on the propaganda Q&A programme.

    • Indeed. It is beginning to look as though her protege was just helping out a mate……at the expense of the rest of us. It gives me a problem, because if it were say, Senator Cameron, instead of Bronny, I would demand his very hide. And his head on a pike. Or at least that he be denied his oatmeal and haggis.

  3. Sorry why does your opinion on resignation count Yale? I could list many examples of what appears to be extravagance on entitlements both sides based on far higher amounts than ~$5,000. So are we now to hunt every politician “who your opinion” has over-stepped? That would be a subjective approach. So the rules (Determination 2012/04: Members of Parliament – Entitlements) must stand. It was either a breach or it wasn’t. In anycase Ms. Bishop has paid the money back to avoid ambiguity. By means tighten the rules. A statement on Ms Bishop’s facebook site regarding the matter was most humble – and far from terse.

    • No, perhaps you’re right Simon. We should just let MPs piss taxpayer money up against a post, free from consequences or repercussions, to ensure public stereotypes of them remain undisturbed, eh?

      You will note that it is a conservative politician I am criticising.

      You will also note I made similar criticisms of Peter Slipper when he was Speaker.

      And as the parliamentary officer responsible for this sort of thing, Bishop’s transgression sends a terrible signal to the rest of the pack.

      But no, perhaps you’re right. Maybe it’s improper to criticise. A repayment if/when caught and a thoroughly insincere-seeming public statement of regret invalidates any right to an alternative opinion. Doesn’t it?

        • Or a bit of both, Simon. Clearly, the most recent revision of the guidelines in early 2014 was inadequate if this kind of thing remains permissible within the letter of those guidelines.

          As I said, I am prepared to defend a lot of expenses from MPs that Joe Public might clamour for someone’s head over because I do realise it is not always as black and white as some sensationalists might suggest.

          In this case, however, the expense is completely unjustifiable.

          • Well Yale in this case the expense has been paid back plus more, the result being no harm to the public purse. So on that ‘unjustifiable’ vacates the argument. From the statement made by Ms Bishop it doesn’t fit that she ‘chose’ a particular helicopter option or knew exactly of cost implication. Those arrangements were made by staff. Even if deemed a breach of Determination 2012/04: Members of Parliament – Entitlements – any mistake here appears without intention. I cannot see the point of hunting down and casting out essentially good people. Perfection is unattainable.

            • You’re not a government staffer, are you, Simon?

              I’m a rusted-on Liberal Party adherent and have been for decades — but I can’t see how anyone could find this acceptable.

              I don’t know if you live in Melbourne/Victoria but there is a good road that would have had her in Geelong in about an hour flat. How in hell spending over $5k (and for a PARTY function, no less, with absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with her official duties) can be regarded as acceptable is beyond me.

              Moreover, Bishop has a record of being at the very upper end of government travel claims and her two-line statement — that she would repay the monies to avoid “ambiguity” — hardly reeks of contrition, or an acceptance of the fact the claim should never have been made in the first place.

              You are right that others have been as guilty of making unacceptable travel claims and I have, where indicated, pilloried some of them for it. This column isn’t a WasteWatch forum, so if other things are happening that are worthy of comment, I talk about those instead.

              But there are conservative commentators right across the country calling for Bishop’s resignation this morning; my piece yesterday was one of the first published, so I can hardly be accused of following the pack.

              Are all of us wrong? I’m astonished some people can’t recognise that far from some stereotype of an unwarranted claim for expenses, this is in fact an overreach that warrants Bishop’s removal from her post.

  4. I wouldn’t want to see Bronny burned at the stake with a hot poker up her ass. But at the same time I have to ask Simon if this approach is acceptable with bank robbery. If they get caught and refund the money, let’s all look the other way.

  5. The Royal Commission reveals dodgy union behaviour and a secret 40,000 dollar political donation to Shorten.
    Barnaby Joyce and Greg Hunt try to stop a billion dollar mine deveiopment and Malcolm Turnbull gives another jaundiced speech.
    The Royal Commission makes its first arrest and a leaked policy paper reveals labor’s plan to impose three different carbon taxes.
    Bronwyn Bishop arrives at a golf course by helicopter.

  6. In some ways I do find this topic funny.

    Watching lefties blow mental fuses over Bolt as they meltdown is great. As it’s an article of faith with them that Bolt is the spawn of the Devil and is always wrong on everything, finding that they now agree with him on Bishop resigning is getting too much to bear. You can hear the gears grinding. 😀

    That’s the problem when you substitute ideology for rational thought.

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