CANBERRA, SEPTEMBER 14, 2015. JULIE BISHOP STANDS TO THE LEFT OF THE NEWLYAPPOINTED PRIME MINISTER – AUSTRALIA’S 29TH AND FIFTH IN SIX YEARS. HER GO-TO, OCULAR DEATH RAY SHELVED FOR THE MOMENT, “THE HOUR IS LATE” AND SHE’S BEAMING.
Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, talks Turnbull, Tony, and emojis.
It’s obvious acknowledgement of Bishop’s pleasure that she’s to again work under Malcolm Turnbull, a man who’s been a close friend for 30 years; a man who, unlike his predecessor, hasn’t once referred to her as a “girl”. The 59-year-old’s pleasure is also, surely, wrapped in the simple fact she’s yet again survived Federal Parliament’s latest game of musical chairs – eight years and three leadership spills – to continue as the Liberal Party’s deputy leader. That she’s maintained the position speaks loudly of the respect she has within the party. It also points to her personal stoicism, given that her tapping Tony Abbott on the shoulder to inform him that he’d lost majority support of the cabinet could have also led to her own professional fall – as both deputy and as foreign minister. While Bishop held an interest in global politics from a young age, her early leanings towards such were put on hold to follow law. It was a profession that, in her words, allowed her to ameliorate the lives of others (a certain case against asbestos victims notwithstanding), the same sentiment informing her 1998 decision to opt for pre-selection in the Perth seat of Curtin. Today, the Minister (a ‘call me Julie’ not forthcoming) bounds from her Commonwealth car into the GQ studios – her welldocumented daily running routine obvious both in her slender frame and energy levels. Sitting for hair and make-up, she peruses our May issue with Turnbull as cover star. Again she smiles. Small talk covers her day’s duties in Sydney’s west and her reasons for appearing in the pages of GQ Australia. “Well, it’s a sophisticated magazine which reaches a different audience, which is why I was pleased to do it… It’s all about people understanding who their representatives are and I want people to know what my values are, my beliefs are, and hopefully give them confdence that I’m representing them in a way that they would wish.” With that, we begin. GQ: Let’s head back to school, Minister – you were a debating champ and school captain, also somewhat the sports star. Where did you fit in socially – a nerd or were you one of the cool kids? Julie Bishop: I’d say I was one of the cool kids. I played a lot of sport and was also involved in drama. Whatever was happening in the school, I was a part of it – I managed to do quite well in my studies. GQ: Did you gravitate towards the liberal arts? JB: I did, subjects like ancient and modern history, languages, geography… I gave up the maths-science side in about Year 11 and went into the arts side of things as I wanted to study law, and at that time it was considered appropriate to have a liberal arts background. I actually won a drama prize an audition with a repertory theatre company in South Australia and I was quite keen on being involved in the theatre. But I was 17 years old and off on a surfng holiday and I didn’t turn up for the audition. Life could have been very different. GQ: Surely, though, there’s enough drama in federal politics? JB: Some have likened it to a soap opera, though it’s much more serious than that. GQ: Why law at university?
JB: I’d wanted to be a lawyer from Year 9 or so. I was struck by the idea of helping other people; taking on their problems, being their advocate.
GQ: Our uni years were a little ‘lost’ – yours? JB: I had a great time at university. It was one of all care, no responsibility – and I made the most of it. GQ: Did you avoid ‘inhaling’? JB: Hang on, that’s a double negative – I’ll be careful here. No, I didn’t do drugs. It was never part of my social circle, but there was enough alcohol for everyone. GQ: Not to gloss over your successful 20 years in law, where you climbed to managing partner, but let’s move to your decision to turn to politics in 1998. We’ve read that this move surprised many close friends. JB: It was some time coming. I’d wanted to be a diplomat early in my twenties – it was always something in the back of my mind, something about representing Australia. And there came a point in my legal career where I had a choice to make a change. I went on a sabbatical to Harvard Business School [and while there] thought I’d love to go into politics and dedicate my efforts and energies to our community. I was also interested in Australia’s place in the world… So, I came back and left law and sought to enter federal politics. I didn’t take a lot of friends into my confdence – so some were surprised. GQ: And, politics is in the Bishop blood, right? JB: Yes, there’s a tradition of public service in the family – my grandfather was the local mayor for about 30 years, my mother was a mayor, and my family was very involved in Liberal Party politics in South Australia. It wasn’t something I’d planned to do, but by the time I was ready for a change in career, it was politics that drew me in, and deep down I really hoped I’d end up becoming the foreign minister of Australia. GQ: How would you describe the move from law to politics? JB: Challenging. It was going from a private life as a professional woman in Perth to suddenly being in a very public role on the national stage. There is a signifcant intrusion, however I volunteered for this, nobody conscripted me and so it goes with the territory. GQ: Moving into your time as federal shadow treasurer – much was made of this and you received a lot of negative press at the time. Was it valid? JB: I think it was a time of great volatility within the party and we needed stability and I went into a role that I wasn’t familiar or comfortable with… it became apparent, I didn’t need people to tell me, that I was not in the right role and so I made the decision to move. GQ: And so to foreign affairs – four years as shadow minster and more than two in government. Is there a sense of pride attached to being Australia’s first female foreign minister? JB: It probably means more to others. There are a number of foreign ministers and secretaries – Hilary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice – so there have been some international role models, though I’m pleased to have been the frst woman in Australia to hold this role. I’m the 38th foreign minister in Australia’s history and the frst woman. GQ: You clearly possess a global view – where did a girl growing up in the Adelaide Hills pick that up from? JB: As soon as I had enough money and was old enough to travel, I did. At about 17, my sister and I went on our frst overseas trip. Most of our friends at that time were hoping to go to London, though we decided to travel through South-east Asia to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong. At that time, 1970, China wasn’t open to the world so we went into the New Territories – I was just so smitten with other cultures and other countries and gaining a deeper understanding. GQ: It would have been an eyeopening trip at that time? JB: Yes, there was a coup in Bangkok and there was a curfew. My sister and I were fascinated by the events that led up to it and what was happening in Thailand. I also travelled a lot during my legal career. It’s a thrill to be able to do this in the service of my country. GQ: Let’s talk about Mr Turnbull – when did you two first meet? JB: I met him in the late ’80s, post his Spycatcher fame [Turnbull’s fght for an exposé of MI5 and MI6 to be published]. I was instantly struck by his intellect, charm, confdence and his humour, and we’ve been friends ever since. GQ: Why is he the right leader for Australia? JB: He’s a visionary – he has a vision for the country and he’s proven that throughout his professional career. I recall when he embraced the concept of the internet even before many established tech companies… GQ: Well, he ‘invented’ the internet according to Mr Abbott. JB: [Laughs] Yes, Malcolm embraced the possibilities and the potential of the internet by setting up one of the frst Australian internet service providers, Ozemail. It showed he’s able to pick up on trends, that he has an understanding of where the world is heading. He also has an enormous appetite for world affairs, he’s amazingly well read and is truly an intellectual. But he also has the temperament for the job now. GQ: He didn’t first time around, as opposition leader? JB: Malcolm’s the frst to say that he’s learnt a great deal. GQ: At various stages of last year, ‘preferred PM polls’ had you on equal footing with Turnbull. Was there ever any genuine consideration to stand? JB: Of course one could always have ambitions for other roles, but I wanted to be the foreign minister and you can’t be both the PM and the foreign minister. My colleagues, I think, see me in that light and I’ve been the constant – I’ve been the deputy since 2007. The party needs stability and I hope to provide that. And my interest lies very much in foreign policy. GQ: Still, isn’t everyone’s political desire to achieve the top office? JB: That’s one of those accepted truths, but it’s rarely tested. And very few people become the prime minister of Australia. Malcolm’s the 29th, so in 114 or so years we’ve [only] had that many and it seems to be beyond some people’s comprehension that you could enter federal politics and aspire to another role. Well, that’s my case. GQ: In September last year you had to inform Tony Abbott that he’d lost party support. How difficult and emotional was that conversation? JB: On a personal level, it was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do… I didn’t know the consequence of it. Anything could have happened as a result – I could have lost the confdence of the party room for doing it; I didn’t do numbers or ring people. GQ: So why did the party lose confidence in Abbott? JB: I don’t want to go over old ground, I don’t want to be critical of previous leaders... There was a very public display of a lack of confdence when a number of members of parliament actually moved a spill motion [in February 2015]. And then he told the party that he would turn it around in six months – from that moment on I think the party room was waiting for things to turn around and when they didn’t, they lost confdence in him to win the next election.
GQ: Where do you stand on the knighting of Prince Philip in January last year – silly move? JB: An interesting decision. GQ: The last five years have seen a large amount of public fatigue attached to federal politics. Do you feel we’ve turned a corner with the installation of Turnbull? JB: I hope so, Malcolm is a very positive person and very upbeat. The leadership of the country can set the tone for the country and his focus on the positives and his optimism is infectious. The cabinet room feels it, the party feels it… the parliament has changed and the reporting is far more nuanced and far more positive now. [I’m] not suggesting they’re being partisan in any way, though there’s a sense of focusing on our strengths as a nation – and this is a message I want to take to the world. Australia is a signifcant country, our voice counts… Yet there’s a tendency to focus on our weaknesses and I believe that Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister will bring the confdence the country deserves. GQ: Do our overseas friends still view us as a political basket case? JB: It’s been a volatile period the last six years, there is no question… Our relationships overseas are good, though they can always be stronger and that’s what I do, I manage those relationships with our friends. I believe the more integrated economies are, the less likely there is to be conflict between countries. It’s not an absolute rule, though if you’re trading, you’re less likely to be in conflict with each other. GQ: What’s the key focus for the government in 2016? JB: We want to build our economy and build more resilience and strength into it, so that there are job opportunities, particularly for young people… We [also] need to harness the creative, innovative, entrepreneurial spirit in Australia, and diversify. We’re world-renowned as a minerals and resources exporter, an energy superpower and we have a frst-class agricultural sector and advanced manufacturing. We need to provide an environment that enables that entrepreneurial spirit to flourish and that means tax reform, federation reform [the relationship between state and federal governments], focusing on superannuation – the structural basis for a much more flexible and agile economy. GQ: And where does marriage equality sit in the mix? JB: I have an electorate that would probably be quite evenly divided on the issue. And that’s why I was so enthusiastic about a plebiscite, or some form of popular vote. It’s the kind of issue that can divide, so we want it to be a debate that’s much more inclusive. We don’t want it to be a divisive issue, we want people to have a considered, measured discussion about it. GQ: And we’re actually moving towards that? JB: We’re certainly going to have a plebiscite and Malcolm Turnbull has said on many occasions that the Australian people will be able to have their say and the government will respect the decision. GQ: So the plebiscite is a reality under Liberal rule? JB: Yes, absolutely. If you vote for the Liberal Party at the next election you will have a plebiscite. If you vote Labor you won’t, and it will be left for the politicians to decide. Prime Minister Turnbull has confrmed there will be a plebiscite in the next parliament. GQ: And what of a republic – is that a forgotten topic of debate or is it still on the agenda? JB: I support Australia becoming a republic at a time when Australia is ready for it. Our current system works well enough – we don’t have a constitutional crisis, we are a stable democracy… I think the time will come when Australia will become a republic. GQ: Last year we saw a more personal side of you. Sadly it was in relation to the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia – this obviously consumed you on a personal level? JB: Australia opposes the death penalty here and abroad and when, as foreign minister, you’re confronted by the possibility that two Australian citizens could be sentenced to death in a neighbouring country, well, it is confronting. Both men had been though signifcant transformations in their lives… I do not for a moment excuse their crimes – they deserve to pay for them, but not with their lives. Our consul general went into the jail, she had a phone and I spoke to them both. And I met with their families on occasions; put yourself in the shoes of those families, it was impossible not to be at all affected by it. GQ: Especially when that day came for both men? JB: I was awake all night taking calls from our diplomats who were in Indonesia. They then rang to say they’d heard the sounds of the fring squad and I felt sick to my stomach. GQ: You’re often presented as a stern, if highly intelligent, politician. Is that fair? JB: Politics is a serious business and you’re dealing with people’s lives in the decisions you make; your judgment calls can affect people’s lives, so I take the role very seriously. GQ: Do you let your hair down? At times, even in the job – I’m mad on emojis and Twitter and social media. I like dinner parties and hanging out with friends or catching a movie. GQ: Yes, the emojis. So it’s about having some fun? JB: Not only fun but it’s quite challenging – one image to sum up a range of emotions. Sometimes words don’t capture a particular feeling but one character says it all. It’s a bit of fun and I think if people take it too seriously they’re missing the point completely.
“I WAS AWAKE ALL NIGHT TAKING CALLS FROM OUR DIPLOMATS IN INDONESIA. THEY THEN RANG ME TO SAY THEY’D HEARD THE SOUNDS OF THE FIRING SQUAD AND I FELT SICK TO MY STOMACH.”
GQ: A senate committee certainly scrutinised it. JB: They spent more time asking about my use of an emoji than they did questioning the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on national security and foreign terrorist fghters. What does that say? GQ: A lot. Though what did that ‘red faced emoji’ mean in relation to Vladimir Putin? JB: If you look up your emojipedia it says ‘pouting face’… So I don’t know where they got ‘red, angry man’ from. GQ: Mr Abbott labelled social media ‘electronic graffiti’. That makes you quite the artist? JB: It’s fun and a way of engaging with people. Of course I have a serious role and there are occasions when it’s not appropriate. But when talking about what you’re doing day by day and people are following you, I think it’s a medium we should embrace. GQ: Do you look at it for public opinion on an issue? JB: My role is to advocate policies and why we are implementing certain initiatives. When you fnd where [people] get their news from, you provide the content. The people are on Twitter; I’m on Twitter. GQ: We heard a rumour that pink Champagne is the go-to Ministerial tipple? JB: [laughs] Just Champagne, it doesn’t matter about the colour. GQ: And by Champagne we’re including Australian sparkling? JB: There’s a particular one – Deviation Road, in the Adelaide Hills – that’s fantastic, it can compete with the best in the world. And Brian Croser’s sparkling too. GQ: Is there any degree of anonymity in daily life? JB: Not these days. Everybody has a mobile phone and everybody wants a selfe. That’s fne, I’m a servant of the public and if people want to come up and chat I’m more than happy to do it. GQ: What are the key areas they want to discuss? JB: Concerns about national security and the foreign terrorist fghters; they’re interested to know what the change of leadership will mean, though they also talk about things that I’ve done, or that I might be doing at the time, whatever is the news of the day. GQ: Is the notion of work-life balance plausible? JB: I have no idea what you’re talking about [laughs]. My life and my work are intermingled, I represent an electorate where I live, where my friends are and where I’ve worked, so if I’m back in Perth and out
and about, you’re invariably available and accessible for people to talk politics and raise any issues of concern. GQ: So you need an understanding partner? JB: He is. GQ: What defines a gentleman? JB: Respect. Respect for others’ opinions and other people. GQ: You keep extremely fit – are we right in thinking you run more than five kilometres every day? JB: Between six and 10, depending on the time I have. GQ: Every day?
JB: Well, I didn’t this morning as I couldn’t ft it in but, yes, every day. In Perth I love to run along the beach, and overseas it’s become a great thing to do. It helps me get into the time zone, so even if I get in at midnight I’ll go for a 6am run. It’s also a lovely way to see a city through completely different eyes. GQ: And no doubt it’s also a chance to switch off? JB: Very much so – I run into parliament in the mornings and it’s a good time to order your thoughts and think about the priorities of the day. There’s a clarity that comes to your thought process when you’re running – it’s a great way to start the day and it’s now a habit. GQ: Do you ever switch off on the couch in front of the TV? We imagine you’re up to date with House of Cards? JB: I’ve watched every single episode. I also love Veep, she completely cracks me up and I reckon its closer to the mark than The West Wing or House Of Cards – the language particularly. Not in my offce, obviously [laughs]. GQ: Veep’s Selina Meyer is quite alluring – Minister, with all due respect, how does being the pin-up woman of Australian politics sit with you? JB: Well, that’s the frst time I’ve had it described that way, so I’ll have to mull over it a while… I am who I am. n