Speaker in a deadly spiral
HAD the Herald Sun not revealed that Speaker Bronwyn Bishop used a taxpayer-funded helicopter to take her to a Liberal Party fundraiser, her breach of parliamentary rules might never have been discovered.
Party fund fests are not normally considered official parliamentary business and Ms Bishop should know it.
Even so, it has taken three days for her to cough up the cash and that without an apology to the Australian taxpayers whose money she was misusing.
Even Treasurer Joe Hockey admitted Ms Bishop’s flight of fancy didn’t pass the “sniff test”. The smell might not be of corruption, but there is an air of arrogance about the way some politicians use their parliamentary entitlements.
Ms Bishop is Parliament’s standard bearer, but the standards she demands of MPs appear far greater than those to which she holds herself. A veteran Liberal MP from the Sydney seat of Mackellar, Ms Bishop has let down the Australian people as well as herself.
Yet, while promising to repay the $5227 for the helicopter flight when she could so easily have used a Commonwealth car for the return trip between Melbourne and Geelong, she remains defensive. Even this has a whiff of elitism about it. A statement was issued from her office declaring Ms Bishop had acted out of her “concern for the country”.
Instead of attempting to give her trip to Victoria the aura of a royal progress to address the faithful, Ms Bishop might have shown more concern for the taxpayers.
What has happened cannot be excused as ignorance or oversight when MPs have been made aware on countless occasions of the need to restrict their taxpayer-funded travel to established guidelines. MPs must sign forms acknowledging that it is a criminal offence to misuse travel entitlements.
The office of Speaker must set a standard for others to follow and Ms Bishop must explain herself fully to the public and the Parliament.
As Speaker, Ms Bishop does not have to seek permission to make charter flights, but they have to be within the rules that in the opinion of this newspaper she has clearly flouted.
The Speaker says she had been told the charter flight was within those rules, but these are weasel words. Even if someone did tell her that, she should have known better.
Ms Bishop knows the Standing Orders from cover to cover. Presumably, she also know the rules that govern her conduct as well as that of the MPs over whom she presides. If she doesn’t, she should return to the government benches.
Former Liberal MP Peter Slipper resigned as Speaker over the alleged misuse of travel entitlements. He was convicted but found not guilty on appeal.
Following her failure to fully explain her actions, Ms Bishop’s conduct must be investigated by Parliament. The Speaker could be in for a bumpy flight.