Flat White

Julie Bishop and the wars of succession

4 March 2019

7:35 AM

4 March 2019

7:35 AM

While Julie Bishop is retiring from politics at the next election, the recriminations and regrets that have been flowing through the Liberal Party show no sign of going away:

Ms Bishop now says her colleagues were asking themselves who would beat Mr Dutton when the better question was who could beat Labor.

“If I had known that was what their thinking was, I could have dissuaded them of it but also I would have pointed out that the question was: Who could beat Bill Shorten?” she told The Sunday Times.

“And I was confident that I could. And that was Labor’s thought too.”

She’s also pointing her finger at another retiree:

Julie Bishop has opened up about her challenge for the leadership last year and blamed outgoing minister Christopher Pyne for her failure in an explosive interview with WA’s The Sunday Times.

Ms Bishop, who will quit politics at the federal election, said the government would be in a winning position if her colleagues had chosen her to replace Malcolm Turnbull.

The former foreign minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party said she had started phoning her fellow MPs on the afternoon of August 23, the day before the vote.

“I had commitments from a number of people,” Ms Bishop said.

“When I say commitments, a number of people said, ‘Thank you for calling us. Yes, we will support you.’

“I couldn’t understand why those who thought that they would support me decided not to.”

Ms Bishop said she believed she had the support of at least 28 colleagues before the meeting. Instead, she got just 11 votes, which saw her knocked out in the first round of voting. Scott Morrison eventually defeated Peter Dutton 45 votes to 40.

So what happened? According to Ms Bishop, Mr Pyne intervened.

“I am now told that there was a view, led by Christopher Pyne and others, that even though I would have 28 votes — which was many more than Scott Morrison — it wouldn’t be enough to beat Peter Dutton,” she said.

“So, they wanted to make sure that happened.”

Julie would not be the first person in politics to feel let down by Christopher, and probably won’t be the last, even though he too is leaving Parliament.

Would she have won the coming election? Maybe, maybe not; we will never know, any more than we will know whether Malcolm would have won, as he claims he would had he not been stabbed in the back by his own ungrateful party (or rather [change to scary font] “the conservatives” or “the hard right”).

What we do know is this: Julie has always been popular in the electorate, with much appeal to women in particular. I always thought that she had the best chance against Bill Shorten out of the otherwise pretty underwhelming field of contenders – actually pretty much the only one with a chance. I think this was in a large part because Julie is a woman; and an accomplished and talented one, in some ways the polar opposite of the union robot like Bill Shorten.

She’s intelligent, presents and comes across well, has a personality (you can almost call her a character) – she would have been “something new and different” from the Liberals versus “the same old” from Labor. Whether that would have been enough will remain one of those “what if’s of politics, but it was certainly more than Scott Morrison can give.


But there are several reasons why Julie is not in this position, and there is more to it than just Christopher Pyne.

Julie has never been a factional person. She is not a conservative, so the right never supported her; she’s politically on the left, but she was never deeply involved in the moderate faction, which means the moderates never really considered her one of their own tribe – and there was usually someone else who was, who people could fall behind (like Malcolm).

All this means is that Julie has never had a solid base of support of her own to build on, despite all her work on the rubber chicken circuit raising money for colleagues. It was widely considered that she might have a sway over two or three votes in Western Australia, but that’s not much for someone with an otherwise very high profile in parliament and outside. Perhaps that such a disparity between internal and external support can exist is an indictment of the dysfunctionality of our politics, but that’s how it is.

While her inclinations were moderate, Julie was never seen as a person with extensive policy interests or strong core beliefs. Her being a Liberal was almost a class thing: that’s where you ended up if you were a partner at a law firm. Labor would not have been as congenial a political home, which is the reason why Malcolm has also eventually ended up in Liberal Party despite his initial flirtation with Hawke et al.

It’s not like that any more in life and politics in Australia. Nowadays successful professionals are as happy to support Labor or the Greens as they are the Liberals, and in some ways find it even easier to become involved in the Greens than in Labor, which still weighs heavily towards union officials and political apparatchiks.

Her sheer ability to survive near the top – the deputy leader to Nelson, Turnbull, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison for nearly 12 years running – earned her the nickname “cockroach”. There were widespread concerns about her loyalty and trustworthiness, not to mention playing (or overplaying) the insider media game.

People in the electorate, who are not exposed to this side of politics too much and don’t care in any case, found her an attractive figure.

Her colleagues, though, who watched her closely and worked with her for years, less so.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where this piece also appears.

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