Age of entitlements
IT’S now July 2017 – six months since Sussan Ley stepped aside as Health Minister. Amid the furore that engulfed the Coalition frontbencher and her colleagues from all sides, the public looked for an answer. That answer and a potential threat to the entitlements long enjoyed by politicians came from an unlikely source – former Speaker Peter Slipper.
In an unmarked Canberra building, political rivals have put aside their colours. Ms Ley piloted herself down, while Victorian Steve Herbert arrived by chauffeured limousine. His dogs came too. They are sitting in the building’s foyer with his driver.
Labor shadow minister Tony Burke flew in at the tail-end of a holiday, his entire extended family also sitting outside the room. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop arrives by car.
She gently hands her custom polo mallet to one of the many personal assistants who are hovering by the door. Everyone in the room will list this otherwise secret meeting as “ministerial business” and will later say any expenses claimed are “within the rules”.
There is a single item on the agenda – how to defeat Mr Slipper. The former Speaker has become a one-man force in Australian politics in the first half of 2017.
Despised by both Labor and the Coalition, there is no perk he has not already claimed. That makes him immune to the lure of entitlements. To politicians, it makes him dangerous.
Mr Slipper’s “Reduce the Rorts” slogan has tapped into a rich vein of public anger. He knows the system better than anyone, and is demanding it be dismantled.
Under his plan, every dollar claimed by a politician will be scrutinised.
Any attack on the man only strengthens his support – critics seen as elites wanting to protect their own feathered nests. The meeting begins and everyone receives a black dossier. A giant red stamp reads “Classified” on the cover.
Inside is the nuclear option. It is a plan devised by the greatest minds of the Coalition and Labor. As they open it, a chopper can be heard overhead.
Moments later Bronwyn Bishop – whose own career was destroyed by overzealous claims – shatters a glass ceiling and rappels in.
“I have the answer!,” she declares.
“We blame socialists!”
The room goes silent, then turns away from her. She is collected by two heavy-set men who deliver her outside the front door. Blaming the reds won’t save them this time.
Each member of the group opens the dossier to reveal a single page, with a single line of text. “Pretend it’s not a problem,” it reads. Everyone looks at each other and nods. Julie Bishop sighs. “And may God have mercy on our souls,” she whispers.
Pretend it’s not a problem... and may God have mercy on our souls.