ABC Newsradio With Marius Benson

SUBJECTS: Bronwyn Bishop; Newspoll










SUBJECTS: Bronwyn Bishop; Newspoll


MARIUS BENSON: Mark Dreyfus, when Parliament resumes today Bronwyn Bishop will be across the chamber on the backbench. Do you think you will look across there and allow yourself a quiet gloat?


MARK DREYFUS: No, I’ll be thinking this is an end to what has been a long period of undisguised partisanship by the Speaker. Laurie Oakes called it the “dreadful Bishop period” in his column on Saturday. It’s now at an end and I’m looking forward to a Speaker who is less partisan.


MARIUS BENSON: But it’s only marginally less partisan if you look at the numbers. The Fin Review looked at the level of speakers ejecting Opposition members. Bronwyn Bishop hit 98 per cent, but the ordinary rate is 90 per cent Opposition – it’s an immensely partisan office in the Australian variation on the Westminster tradition.  


MARK DREYFUS: I think the real problem, Marius, was the sheer number of Opposition members thrown out in almost every Question Time by the former Speaker. And she seemed to fail to understand entirely that there needs to be an appearance of neutrality. There needs to be an appearance from the Speaker of applying the standing orders and Bronwyn Bishop simply failed. Almost anybody from the Liberal side of the Parliament would be able to do a better job but what I’m hoping is that they will deliver that appearance of neutrality. I think it’s very important for example that the new Speaker not attend party room meetings and I’m looking forward to whoever is elected as Speaker giving that undertaking.


MARIUS BENSON: Do you care who’s elected?


MARK DREYFUS: I care that the next Speaker of the Australian Parliament does what is needed to restore the dignity of the office after a dreadful period there with Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker. I care very much about the standing of our Parliament. We’ve got to all work at it – certainly the new Speaker will have the cooperation of Labor side of the Parliament.


MARIUS BENSON: Is Labor going to nominate a candidate or expect the Deputy Speaker’s position?


MARK DREYFUS: I’m not going to pre-empt whatever decision we make and some of that will depend on who the Liberal Party room puts forward as candidate for Speaker in the vote they’re going to have at 9 o’clock this morning.


MARIUS BENSON: You haven’t made your mind up on that?


MARK DREYFUS: As I said, I’m not going to pre-empt a decision. We’re waiting to see who the Liberal Party puts forward.


MARIUS BENSON: You express a hope for the appearance of neutrality but if you look at the substance particularly of Question Time it’ll be still the same empty ritual. You, the Opposition, ask a question. They, the Government, don’t answer. You, the Opposition, stand up and say “point of order – relevance”. The Speaker says “there is no point of order”. It’s at least 80 per cent a complete waste of time!


MARK DREYFUS: What you’re talking about there is the way in which Question Time was conducted by Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker –


MARIUS BENSON: – and previous speakers.


MARK DREYFUS: The standing orders were substantially revised in the last Parliament –


MARIUS BENSON: – by Peter Slipper –


MARK DREYFUS: – no, they were substantially revised by the Labor Government in negotiation with the crossbenchers to form Government and one of those changes was to ensure that Ministers in their answers in Question Time use direct relevance, be directly relevant. Bronwyn Bishop completely failed to enforce that standing order along with many others that she failed to enforce. I’m looking forward to the next Speaker ensuring that Ministers, when they stand up to answer questions that are part of the accountability process of Parliament, when they stand up to answer questions from the Opposition, will be directly relevant to the question that they’ve been asked. And so, that’s one of the tests for this new Speaker. Not only will they give us the appearance of neutrality, but as well, will they make sure that Ministers are directly relevant?


MARIUS BENSON: Can I ask you about the Newspoll which is out today. Consistent with recent polls a bit of a slip in the Government’s fortunes, the Labor lead extended by two points from six points to eight points. Do you think that reflects public dissatisfaction with Bronwyn Bishop?


MARK DREYFUS: I think it reflects public dissatisfaction not only with Bronwyn Bishop but public dissatisfaction with the way in which the Prime Minister Tony Abbott chose to defend the indefensible, chose to defend Bronwyn Bishop’s behaviour, for more than three weeks before he finally realised that she had to go. And even then, on the day that Bronwyn Bishop resigned – or was sacked by Tony Abbott – he couldn’t quite bring himself to accept that Bronwyn Bishop had done the wrong thing, saying in fact that she had done the right thing by the Parliament, by the Government and by the people of Australia. It took him 24 hours even after that to realise that he had to say, as was correct, that she did the wrong thing. I think the polls can be seen as a reflection not just of the public’s opinion of Bronwyn Bishop but the public’s opinion of Tony Abbott and the way he defended the indefensible.


MARIUS BENSON: Mark Dreyfus. Thank you very much.


MARK DREYFUS: Thanks Marius.