BRONWYN Bishop today quit as Speaker as her mate Tony Abbott blamed the MPs’ expenses system and not her big-spending for close to a month of embarrassing revelations about travel costs.
The Prime Minister maintained the obstinate defence of Mrs Bishop’s documented and free-wheeling use of taxpayer funds.
And while voters will welcome the spending review he announced today, Mr Abbott appeared to be saying that if Mrs Bishop was going down, everyone was going to suffer.
The Prime Minister said Mrs Bishop had “by and large” obeyed the rules when she chartered aircraft to attend Liberal Party functions, or hired limos for $1000 a trip when the ComCar Transport service was available to her in Sydney.
He said similar expenses had been claimed by MPs “on both sides of the fence”.
“What has become apparent, particularly over the past few days, is that the problem is not any particular individual. The problem is the entitlement system more generally,” said Mr Abbott.
He argued Mrs Bishop’s notorious spending had been within guidelines but outside “community expectations”.
The Prime Minister announced a wide-ranging review and promised “fundamental reform” of when and how members of Parliament could spend taxpayer money on travel.
It could mean members of Parliament will no longer fly at the pointy end of then plane but back in economy.
The inquiry will be conducted by businessman and president of the MPs’ Remuneration Tribunal John Conde, and David Tune, who resigned as head of the Finance Department in 2014.
“This will not be a quickie review, because there have been quickie reviews in the past,” said Mr Abbott.
He said: “So it’s very important we have a system which is independent, which is accountable, which is transparent and which is workable.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backed the inquiry but wasn’t as kind towards Mrs Bishop.
“The resignation of Mrs Bishop from the position of Speaker, like her apology, was overdue and unrepentant,” Mr Shorten said in a statement.
“Unfortunately Tony Abbott still won’t accept that Bronwyn Bishop has done anything wrong. Mr Abbott has blamed the system, but it was Mrs Bishop’s addiction to privilege that was the real culprit.”
The Prime Minister’s move effectively absolves Mrs Bishop of accusations she abused the expenses system while Speaker, and when she was a back bencher who charged the taxpayer for trips to friends’ weddings.
And it depicts her as being unfairly made the target of voter outrage over expense claims other MPs had also made.
But it also ended weeks of voter uproar over Mrs Bishop’s use of public money for private travel which was rattling the Government and angering ministers who were pressing for her removal as Speaker because the controversy was smothering their efforts.
The row also was damaging Mr Abbott personally which charges his defence of Mrs Bishop showed he was out of touch.
They are electoral neighbours and old friends and the Prime Minister appeared to be putting that friendship ahead of what was best for the Government, voters and the Parliament.
He had effectively chosen her as Speaker and refused to criticise her after reports of spending excesses. Mrs Bishop called Mr Abbott today to report she had given her resignation to Governor-general Peter Cosgrove.
The Coalition now will have to find a replacement as Speaker. Deputy Speaker is Bruce Scott but as he is a National, a Liberal is likely to be chosen.
But there is a precedent with former Nationals MP Ian Sinclair serving as Speaker in the Howard Government.
Mrs Bishop has indicated she will stay in Parliament as member for Mackellar.
“It has been a very difficult day for Bronwyn Bishop and I think we should respect the fact that it has been a very difficult day for her,” said Mr Abbott.
The table below indicates the salaries of various senior politicians, with the Speaker receiving $341,477 (as of 1/07/2013), which does not include other travel and electoral entitlements. Australia has one of the highest rates of pay for politicians in the world.
|Office||Additional salary (%)||Salary as of July 1|
|Deputy Prime Minister||105||$400,016|
|Leader of the Opposition||85.0||$360,990|
|House of Reps Speaker||75.0||$341,477|
|Leader of the House||75.0||$341,477|
|Minister in Cabinet||72.5||$336,599|