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Bronwyn Bishop

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Bronwyn Bishop

The Honourable
Bronwyn Bishop
29th Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives
In office
12 November 2013 – 2 August 2015
Deputy Bruce Scott
Preceded by Anna Burke
Succeeded by Tony Smith
Minister for Aged Care
In office
21 October 1998 – 26 November 2001
Prime Minister John Howard
Preceded by Peter Staples
Succeeded by Kevin Andrews
Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel
In office
11 March 1996 – 21 October 1998
Prime Minister John Howard
Preceded by Gary Punch
Succeeded by Warren Snowdon
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Mackellar
Assumed office
26 March 1994
Preceded by Jim Carlton
Senator for New South Wales
In office
1 July 1987 – 24 February 1994
Preceded by Sir John Carrick
Succeeded by Bob Woods
Personal details
Born Bronwyn Kathleen Setright
(1942-10-19) 19 October 1942
Sydney, Australia
Political party Liberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Alan David Bishop (1966–1992, div.)
Residence Newport, New South Wales, Australia
Alma mater University of Sydney
Occupation Solicitor and Company Director[1]
Website Personal website

Bronwyn Kathleen Bishop (née Setright; born 19 October 1942) is an Australian politician who was the 29th Speaker of the House of Representatives, holding the office between 12 November 2013 and 2 August 2015.[2]

Bishop has been a member of the Australian House of Representatives for the Liberal Party since 1994, representing the Division of Mackellar in New South Wales. Earlier, between 1987 and 1994, she represented New South Wales in the Senate. Bishop held ministerial portfolios during the Howard Government, serving as Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel from 1996 to 1998 and as Minister for Aged Care from 1998 to 2001. In October 2014, she surpassed Kathy Sullivan's record for the longest period of parliamentary service by a woman.

From mid-July 2015, Bishop was subject to intense media and public scrutiny regarding her use of parliamentary entitlements, including a helicopter charter to a party fundraiser during her time as speaker. She resigned from the speakership on 2 August 2015.


  • Early years and education 1
  • Career 2
    • Political career 2.1
    • Political advocacy 2.2
    • 2007–present 2.3
      • Speaker of the house 2.3.1
      • Expenses controversy and resignation 2.3.2
  • Personal life 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early years and education

Bronwyn Kathleen Setright was born on 19 October 1942 in Sydney. Her father was an engineer[3] and her mother was Kathleen Congreve, an opera singer who worked as a dramatic soprano at the Australian Opera Company.[4] As a child, Bishop was sent to singing lessons by her mother.[5]

Bishop was educated at Roseville Public School, completing her primary education in 1954.[6][7] Bishop undertook a five-year LL.B. program at the University of Sydney.[8] However, she was deemed ineligible to continue after failing a number of subjects multiple times.[9] Bishop failed a total of 11 subjects over six years.[9] In her first year in 1960, she failed all four core subjects. In 1964, she failed four subjects again and repeated them in 1965, in which she failed three again. The policy of the University of Sydney at the time was that a student was required to show cause why they should be allowed to repeat a subject for a third time, and Bishop was deemed ineligible to continue.[9]

During her university years, Bishop was not involved in student politics but was a member of the Killara branch of the Young Liberals.[10]


Bishop first worked as an articled clerk and played an acting role as a barrister in the 1960s Australian television program Divorce Court.[11]

Political career

Having formed an ambition to become a politician, she joined the Liberal Party at the age of 17.[12]

Heavily involved in organised politics, Bishop joined Killara Young Liberals in 1961 and during her association with that branch, she became Vice-President. Bishop first became a Liberal Party office-holder in 1973 as President of the Balmoral branch and was later elected as the Chairman of the Liberal Party Convention Committee from 1981 to 1985 and as the first female President of the NSW Liberals from 1985–1987.[13]

After the retirement of Sir John Carrick at the double dissolution of 5 June 1987, Bishop was nominated by the Liberal Party to contest the vacant seat in the Senate for New South Wales at the election on 11 July 1987. She won the seat and her term was deemed to have commenced from 1 July.[8] She was elevated by Andrew Peacock to the shadow ministry in 1989 as Shadow Minister for Public Administration, Federal Affairs and Local Government (1989–1990). She proved an aggressive debater against the Australian Labor Party, particularly with Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, who during one debate in 1992 exclaimed to the chamber "I am reminded of the exchange I heard recently in Parliament House when someone said, `Why do so many people take an instant dislike to Senator Bishop?' to which the answer was, `It saves time'.".[14][15] She was the first woman to be popularly elected as a Senator for New South Wales.

After the Liberals' defeat at the 1993 election, Bishop began to be seen as a possible leadership candidate, a view she shared. Shortly after the 1993 election, Jim Carlton, the member for Mackellar, resigned. In a move widely seen as furthering her leadership ambitions, Bishop resigned from the Senate on 24 February 1994 to contest the ensuing by-election for the safe Liberal seat. Although she was comfortably elected, her campaign against John Hewson for the Liberal Party leadership faced a setback when she did not poll as well as expected against author and filmmaker Bob Ellis, who ran as an independent in the by-election.[16] When Hewson called a spill for the Liberal leadership in 1994, Bishop opted not to stand as a candidate, and Alexander Downer successfully challenged for the party leadership.

Prior to his ousting by Downer, Hewson brought Bishop back to the frontbench. She had declined a frontbench position from him the previous year, as Shadow Minister for Urban and Regional Strategy.

When Downer became leader, Bishop became Shadow Health Minister, a senior position, but caused controversy on her first day in office by announcing her support for tobacco advertising, drawing criticism from both the Australian Medical Association and her own party, which supported the Keating Government's legislation to prohibit tobacco advertising in 1992.[17] Her remarks were attacked by the then AMA president and soon-to-be Liberal MP for the neighbouring seat of Bradfield, Brendan Nelson, who said that: "Mrs Bishop has a lot to learn about health...there are now more than 50,000 pieces of medical research and literature supporting the view that smoking is injurious to humans."[17] Bishop was dropped from Health and moved to Privatisation and Commonwealth/State Relations (1995–1996).[8]

When the Liberals returned to Government in 1996, Prime Minister John Howard appointed Bishop a Minister in junior portfolios. She was the first Liberal woman from New South Wales to become a minister. She was Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel from 11 March 1996 to 21 October 1998 and Minister for Aged Care from 21 October 1998 to 26 November 2001.[8] It was in this role that she endured her greatest scandal, the kerosene baths controversy of 2000.[13] The revelation that some residents at Melbourne's Riverside Private Nursing Home had suffered blistering after being bathed in a weak kerosene solution as a cure for scabies led to a national outcry over the standards of care maintained by Bishop's department.[13] She was dropped from the ministry after the 2001 election. On 1 January 2001, Bishop was presented with the Centenary Medal "For service to Australian society through parliament and government".[18] In 2004 she campaigned to succeed Neil Andrew as Speaker of the House, but was not successful.[19] In September 2013, Bishop was nominated by incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott to be the new Speaker of the House.

Political advocacy

An affirmed monarchist, Bishop, along with fellow Ministers, Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott[20] supported the 'No' campaign leading up to the failed 1999 Republican referendum[21] and on one occasion spoke to Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, warning of the "Seven deadly myths of the republican debate".[22] On 17 July 1991, in response to the infamous debate on the Nine Network's Midday television show with host Ray Martin, debating on Australia remaining a constitutional monarchy, in a live televised debate with singer Normie Rowe and radio broadcaster Ron Casey, who ended up physically brawling, Bishop issued a media release which said: "It may well have been High Noon on the Midday Show when Ron Casey took a swipe at Normie Rowe but this conduct indicates just how divisive the debate on the Monarchy has become. Not content to see the country on its knees as a result of the recession the Labor Party must be pleased that it is dividing the community on an issue which has absolutely no political relevance."[23]

In August 2005, Bishop called for Muslim headscarves to be banned from public schools, an opinion also expressed by another prominent Liberal backbencher, Sophie Mirabella.[24] However, the Prime Minister, John Howard, said that he did not agree with this view as a ban would be impractical.[25] In November 2005, Bishop expressed the view that "she is opposed to the wearing of the Muslim headscarf, where it does not form part of the school uniform. This is because that in most cases the headscarf is being worn as a sign of defiance and difference between non-Muslim and Muslim students" and then went on to say that she "does not believe that a ban on the Jewish skull cap is necessary, because people of the Jewish faith have not used the skull cap as a way of campaigning against the Australian culture, laws and way of life."[26]

On 21 January 2006, at a Australian Democrats[29] and the Australian Drug Foundation for lacking evidence, being ideologically driven, and having the potential to do massive harm to Australia.

In 2006, following a flag-burning incident during the 2005 Cronulla riots and a burnt flag display by a Melbourne artist, Bishop introduced the Protection of the Australian National Flag (Desecration of the Flag) Bill 2006. This bill sought to make it "a criminal offence to wilfully destroy or otherwise mutilate the Flag in circumstances where a reasonable person would infer that the destruction or mutilation is intended publicly to express contempt or disrespect for the Flag or the Australian Nation."[30] The bill received a second reading but subsequently lapsed and did not go to vote in the House of Representatives.


In the 2007 federal election, Bishop was re-elected to her seat with a 0.62-point primary swing and 3.04-point two-party-preferred swing against her on slightly redistributed boundaries.[31] After his appointment as Liberal Leader, Brendan Nelson appointed Bishop to the Shadow Ministry portfolio of Veterans' Affairs.[32]

Nelson bringing back Bishop to the frontbench was in contrast to their past conflict in 1994 when Bishop as Shadow Health Minister defended tobacco advertising which was contrary to the position taken by Nelson, then President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

However, after the election of Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the Liberal Party, she was dropped from this portfolio, to return to the backbench.[33] Despite speculation that she would be challenged for preselection in her seat of Mackellar for the next election, this did not eventuate and she later reaffirmed her intention to contest the next election.[34] On 5 May 2009, Bishop criticised Turnbull's leadership, saying that "Malcolm seems to have been strong at the beginning but now he has gone soft."[35] However, with Turnbull's loss of the party leadership and the election of Tony Abbott as his successor, on 8 December 2009 Bishop was appointed as Shadow Minister for Seniors.[36] Bishop was re-elected at the 2010 Election and was appointed to the outer shadow ministry as Shadow Special Minister of State and Shadow Minister for Seniors.[37]

Since October 2014, Bishop has served in the Australian parliament longer than any other woman, outstripping the record of 27 years and 3 months previously held by Kathy Sullivan.[38] In November 2014 Bishop lost her bid for presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.[39]

Speaker of the house

Following the Coalition victory at the federal election on 7 September 2013, Tony Abbott announced Bishop as the Coalition's nominee as next Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives.[40] Bishop was elected as Speaker on 12 November 2013. She was the third woman, and the first non-Labor woman, to hold the post. She opted against wearing the full traditional attire of the Speaker, but instead wore a business suit.

Bishop received significant criticism for her partisanism and claims of bias as speaker.[41][42] The role of Speaker is traditionally seen as being impartial, although most speakers show favouritism towards their own party to some degree.[42][43] In her time, Bishop ejected 393 Labor MPs from the house, but only 7 government MPs.[44][45]

Expenses controversy and resignation

AgustaWestland AW109 was the model of helicopter involved in the controversy.

In mid-July 2015, Bishop became embroiled in controversy surrounding her use of parliamentary travel entitlements that ultimately led to her resignation as Speaker. It had emerged that she had chartered helicopter flights from Melbourne to Geelong and back to attend a state Liberal party fundraiser on 5 November 2014. The cost of the flights was $5,227.27 for a journey that typically takes an hour each way by road. Bishop refused to resign over the expenses claim, describing it as an "error of judgement" while expressing disappointment that the controversy had become a distraction from the opposition and its policies.[46] However, she agreed to pay back the sum of the helicopter flight plus a penalty of $1,307.[47]

The controversy was fueled by further revelations of spending on travel. In 2014, Bishop and four parliamentary delegates spent $88,084 on a two-week trip to Europe in her bid for presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, including almost $1,000 a day on private limousines.[48][49] Bishop also incurred costs of over $3,300 for car expenses in order to attend the opera and other arts events from 2010 to 2013[50] and $800 for flights to the wedding of Sophie Mirabella in Albury.

In response to the controversy, Tony Abbott declared Bishop was on what he termed "probation", calling her behaviour "out of line", though maintaining his confidence in the Speaker.[51] A transcript of Tony Abbott's comments calling for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to make Peter Slipper resign over a travel expenses scandal was also removed from the Liberal Party's website.[52][53] On 31 July, Tony Abbott announced that the Department of Finance would be reviewing all expenses claimed by Bishop over the past 10 years, including the $800,000 claimed during 2014.[54][55]

Bowing to political pressure, Bishop resigned on 2 August 2015.[56] Commentators noted that Prime Minister Abbott would have had to deal with the probability that "a significant number of government MPs would not support her in a no-confidence motion."[57]

Personal life

Bishop was born Bronwyn Kathleen Setright, the daughter of opera singer Kathleen Congreve. She enjoys singing and dancing, having appeared in several charity productions including The Sound of Music (as Baroness Elsa),[58] and Grease (as the Headmistress).[59] In 2007, she sang a duet of Irving Berlin's A Couple of Swells with then Health Minister, Tony Abbott, at a fund-raiser in Sydney.[58] Bishop is also a patron of Opera Australia[60] and was 2008 President of the Sydney International Piano Competition Committee.[61]

In 1966, she married (later the Hon.) Alan David Bishop (20 April 1940 – 22 January 2010), with whom she studied law at the University of Sydney.[62] Alan Bishop was a judge of the now defunct Compensation Court and the District Court of New South Wales and was instrumental in the establishment of the WorkCover Authority of New South Wales.[63] He is honoured by the Bishops' alma mater with the Alan Bishop Scholarship for distinguished final-year undergraduate law students.[64][65] Alan Bishop also served as an alderman of the City of Sydney and was involved in multiple committees and companies, including the public medical research company AGITG.[66]

Bronwyn and Alan Bishop have two daughters; Angela, an entertainment reporter for Network Ten, and Sally.[10][67] Bronwyn and Alan Bishop divorced in 1992.[62]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d
  9. ^ a b c David Leser, Bronwyn Bishop: A Woman in Pursuit of Power (1994, Text Publishing, Melbourne), 21–22.
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b c
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^ Centenary Medal, 1 January 2001, Citation:"For service to Australian society through parliament and government"
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Bishop, B. "Debunking the seven deadly myths of the Republican debate:A speech by the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop", 2 February 1999
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ The Sydney Morning Herald 30 August 2005 and 6 September 2005, Global Research 27 September 2005
  26. ^ Crikey newsletter, 10 November 2005
  27. ^
  28. ^ [1] – House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services report: The Winnable War on Drugs
  29. ^ Sen. Andrew Murray (2007). Senate Hansard, 18 September 2007, 10:20 pm
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 17 October 2014 author Fergus Hunter
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^ a b
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^ a b
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^ a b Caroline Wilson. (3 July 1993.) Brownyn's Secret Weapon, The Sunday Age.
  63. ^
  64. ^
  65. ^
  66. ^
  67. ^

External links

  • Personal website
  • House of Representatives – The Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP
  • ABC Q&A – The Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP
  • Summary of parliamentary voting for Bronwyn Bishop MP on
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Sir John Carrick
Senator for New South Wales
Succeeded by
Robert Woods
Preceded by
Jim Carlton
Member for Mackellar
Preceded by
Anna Burke
Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Tony Smith
Political offices
Preceded by
Gary Punch
Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel
Title next held by
Warren Snowdon
as Minister for Defence Science and Personnel
Preceded by
Peter Staples
Minister for Aged Care
Succeeded by
Kevin Andrews
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