Julia Gillard did a masterful job of ripping the carpet out from under Tony Abbott when she named the election date just days after the newly tanned, de-wrinkled, combed-over Leader of the Opposition launched his mini-campaign. The Libs had no choice but to follow the ALP agenda, and that does not sit well with an opposition that was expecting another six months of game-playing and Election Date Bingo with the media.
But never underestimate the power of Julie Bishop. Outwardly, little has changed from he LA LAW-vintage boxy suits, frosted, flippety hairstyle and laser-powered death stare. Perhaps nothing has changed but the calendar, yet I suspect That there is more than a hint of desperation. What else could have prompted the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party to appear on Radio National last week to make the case that Australia should revert to a “caretaker government” status until Election Day in mid-September?
I will restate it here, for the benefit of all who may be in doubt: the government is not in caretaker mode, and will not enter caretaker mode until all of the Governor-General-seeing and writ-issuing and church-hall-booking has been done in mid August.
If this was a caretaker situation, what would that mean? It would require that the ALP Government wouldn’t make any major policy decisions without agreement from the Opposition. The same restriction would apply to making significant appointments of public officials, and would need to refrain from being involved in any international actions, from diplomatic visits to acting on the UN Security Council. In summary, the government would cease to do everything other than keep the country ticking over in neutral for over seven months. Politically, that would deliver a chocolate coated election campaign to the opposition – just keep pointing at the Government’s impotence and try not to do anything dumb.
And yet, there she was. Ms Bishop’s appearance on RN was reported in the Australian:
Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop said the opposition was seeking legal advice on whether Julia Gillard's nomination of September 14 as the election date should force the normal business of government to cease.
“We believe that the government has made the call. We are in virtual caretaker mode,” she told ABC radio.
But Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said it was clear that caretaker mode began with the issuing of election writs, which would occur on August 14.
“Why should a government stop just because Julie Bishop says so?” he said.
“This is an attempt to disrupt the government of our country.”
It did not take long for the media, the Twitterverse, the government and potentially a few low-flying seagulls to point out to Ms Bishop that she was wrong: legally, factually wrong. Of course, she knew that – she must have known. The purpose of her short caretaker offensive would’ve been to put the concept and phrase into the hearts and minds of conservative voters and commentators, thereby making the ALP Government look illegitimate. It almost worked too, except that the electorate isn’t quite that stupid.
And then last week, the poor woman admitted that she and the Prime Minister don’t get on all that well together. In fact, Ms Bishop stated that she’s tried to make friends with the PM, but that Ms Gillard won’t talk to her. This, according to Ms Bishop, is extraordinary.
Y’know what? Diddums. It’d be nice if everyone could just work together, and be polite and courteous and helpful to those irksome co-workers who share our working environment. Julie Bishop’s reality is the PM is the leader of the Government, and Ms Bishop is 2nd in charge of half the the team that came in second. Julie and Julia may be the two most powerful women in the Australian government (although that is debatable) but they are not equals, nor on the same side. The deputy leader of the opposition’s job description probably includes a requirement to do all she can to destroy the government’s credibility.
In the world’s softest interview, Ms Bishop admits that she decided to hound Prime Minister Gillard only after Ms Gillard’s famous misogyny speech in parliament last year.
"Tony had always given Gillard the benefit of the doubt, he'd always thought there was a line she would never cross,'' says Bishop. "She crossed the line that day, and as far as he was concerned, all bets were off. So it ultimately backfired on her, because I would never have raised the AWU matter had she not done that. It hurt his family so much. His daughters were stung by it.''
The Prime Minister’s misogyny speech has been viewed by millions of people around the world, and praised by most. It was a singular event in our history which was, at the time, entirely misread by the media, and apparently, by Ms Bishop as well. Meanwhile, the Opposition keep raising the Gillard – AWU connection, but have failed to find a anything that can be pinned on Ms Gillard.
Now this is just a observation, but if I was in Ms Bishop’s position, and I thought that the PM had a geniuine case to answer on the AWU matter, I would be gunning for her because I believed her to be in the wrong, not because she attacked my boss and upset his daughters. Similarly, if there is no case for the PM to answer, constantly attacking her out of revenge is like an episode of Glee without the music, isn’t it? Time to grow up and find priorities appropriate to a senior politican.
Julie Bishop just hasn’t had a good run in Opposition. She’s been deputy to three leaders, and while she is deputy, she won’t be Acting PM, as that role goes to the leader of the Lib’s Coalition partner, the Nationals. If the Coalition wins the election, and the Prime Minister is out of the country or unavailable, Ms Bishop may be acting Leader of the Liberal Party, but she'll be watching Warren Truss as Acting Prime Minister.
She can’t even say in all honesty that she’s the most powerful woman in the Liberal Party, because I’m pretty sure that Mr Abbott's Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin would outrank almost everyone.
But here's a claim to fame: Ms Bishop was the first woman to be Treasurer or Shadow Treasurer until she was forced to resign over concerns that she wasn’t up to the job. Those concerns may have been based on the fact that she wasn’t any better at it than Barnaby Joyce would have been. That’s a hard truth.
In 2010, as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, she suggested that Australian intelligence organisations forge passports for use in covert operations. Even if that did occur, we sure as hell shouldn’t be talking about it – but I suspect she knows that now. It seems that her ambition is to be Australia’s first female Minister for Foreign Affairs is achieveable; it’s also a frightening ambition, given her inability to keep possible intelligence activities secret.
Still, Julie Bishop has stickability; loyalty to her position, if not to the leaders she’s served. She’s seen off two Liberal leaders in Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull, and she’s survived as Tony Abbott’s 2IC for longer than most would care to comtemplate.
In the past week or so, Ms Bishop has made headlines by suggesting that women “can’t have it all”. Apparently we can’t have a career and a family, that we must sacrifice something. That’s an extraordinary statement coming from a career woman whose role in supporting Tony Abbott is at least in part to add a little feminine balance to the blokey-blokedness of the Opposition Leader, and possibly to help lighten his image with women. There are plenty of women around Julie Bishop’s age, who are childless and in de facto relationships – there’s Julia Gillard and me, and that’s just for starters. There are far more women in their 40s and 50s who have achieved great things in their career, and have had children as well. Ms Bishop is just flat out wrong, as she was on the caretaker government issue, forged passports and her motivation for pursuing Julia Gillard.
I am not being disingenuous when I say that Julie Bishop has already achieved much more than most will in their entire lives. Being Deputy Leader of a mainstream political party is one helluva line to put in your resume. I can’t mock that, and I wouldn’t want to.
Having said that, Ms Bishop has been in Government and in Opposition, and she's a high profile politician. What has she achieved?
…and as I type that, twitter tells me that Ms Bishop’s arch nemesis Julia Gillard is handing out a master class in budgetary variances, primarily for the benefit of Ms Julie Bishop.