news

"Bronwyn Bishop isn't sorry for what she did. She's just sorry she got caught."

Helicopter jokes aside, Bronwyn Bishop’s record makes her unfit to remain as Speaker of the House.

There’s a line in the classic film Gone With The Wind, where handsome scoundrel Rhett Butler sums up the unaware and selfish protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara to a tee.

“You’re like the thief who isn’t the least bit sorry he stole,” he says, “But is terribly, terribly sorry he’s going to jail”.

And so it is with Speaker of Australia’s House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop.

Following three weeks of criticism, mounting caucus pressure and disastrous online polling, the carefully coiffed conservative has finally apologised for taking a $5000 helicopter ride from Melbourne to Geelong. In what has provided some truly brilliant cartoonist fodder during the normally dull winter break from Parliament, Bishop poo-pooed a more moderately priced Commonwealth car in favour of James Bond’s preferred mode of travel.

Bishop. O’Hara.

What’s worse is that the Speaker wasn’t even attending a parliamentary event or doing something related to her electorate; she was helping raise money for her own political party.  

Oh, and she billed taxpayers for the extravagance.

Today Bishop sought out the most sympathetic audience available, appearing on Alan Jones’ 2GB program to issue an apology for her ‘error of judgement’. The usually brazen, contemptuous Bishop was a more subdued version of herself during the interview. Indeed, she sounded almost contrite while also committing to repay parliamentary entitlements claimed to attend the weddings of her political colleagues.

The emphasis here is on the ‘almost’…

Because whilst fulsome and no doubt carefully scripted, Bishop’s apology was anything but sincere.

She is not the least bit sorry for swindling the taxpaying public. She’s just embarrassed that the media caught her doing it.

Just like Scarlett O’Hara, Bronwyn Bishop’s mea culpa is more for herself than those she sinned against.

“Just like Scarlett O’Hara, Bronwyn Bishop’s mea culpa is more for herself than those she sinned against.”

An ‘error of judgement’ is momentary and suggests a line-ball call had to be made. Like: Absentmindedly ticking the wrong box on paperwork you didn’t read closely enough. Misunderstanding technical language around what is permissible and what isn’t. Forgetting to lodge the required forms in time, despite knowing the deadline is crucial. That sort of thing.

Organising a freaking helicopter, when a $7.60 regional bus fare would get you to the same destination in roughly the same amount of time, isn’t a mere error of judgement. It’s an unprincipled disgrace.

ADVERTISEMENT

An ‘error of judgement’ is singular; it happens once. Continued behaviour, which consistently bends and breaks the rules around appropriate use of other people’s money, is a pattern. And a pattern warrants far more than an empty apology, which came approximately three weeks too late.

Now, most of us have done the wrong thing at work on occasion; going home with a stolen box of highlighters or photocopying your passport on the office machine. However, there are three key differences here:

One, the monetary scale of funds that are being misused. Two, Bishop’s salary is paid by the voting public, but as her ‘boss’  we are largely unequipped to reprimand her directly; disciplinary action is taken within the bounds of Parliament itself. And three, an additional, broader consideration must be accounted for in this case and that is the bond of trust between a Parliament and the people it governs.

Many of you will laugh at that sentence. Trust? Huh? Politicians? Haha!

“Bronwyn Bishop should hold herself to an even higher standard.”

But here’s the thing.

Australia’s democracy is the envy of the world. Imperfect; yes. But largely free of the corruption and instability that haunts so many other nations. For example, there are few countries that could have survived the 17 days of negotiation between Gillard, Abbott and the Independents around who would form government in 2010. In much of the world there would have been riots, even wars fought over that electoral outcome. Here in Australia, we just went about our daily business, trusting that the system would sort itself out.

Now, that trust may seem inconsequential but it’s actually critical to our functioning democracy. Trust is also incredibly fragile, which is the reason that as taxpayers we are entitled to hold our employees – politicians – to a higher standard than an ordinary workplace might. And as Speaker of the House – the supposed arbiter of appropriate parliamentary behaviour – Bronwyn Bishop should hold herself to an even higher standard.

Her flagrant disregard for the rules governing expenditure of public funds has been astounding. Her actions do not amount to a an ‘error of judgement’ but reveal a pattern of unethical behaviour. Her self-serving apology is more insulting to the voting public than it is compensatory.

Her record makes her unfit to remain as Speaker of the House and she should resign her post immediately.

(And you should return those highlighters. Go on, it’s the right thing to do).

For more on politics (Australian and foreign), take a look at these:

The biggest political disgrace today wasn’t Bronwyn Bishop.

When is a lie not a lie in politics?

A day of firsts for women in politics, and one in particular.

‘Tony Abbott does not speak for me and should not be our Minister for Women.’

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. You click, we help. Shooting star illustration.

Mamamia is funding 100 girls in school, every day.

So just by spending time with Mamamia, you’re helping educate girls, which is the best tool to lift them out of poverty.

Thanks for helping!

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. Girl with pigtails sitting at desk writing in notebook. Row of four books.
Three hands holding books
00:00 / ???