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Monday, 3 August 2015

Media all-in scalps Bishop

After an exhausting couple of weeks with media at full throttle, we have movement.
The speaker has resigned and our PM has announced a review into the so called 'Entitlements' of our MPs. This is progress.

Winners and losers

The ALP are no doubt very happy. They have distracted focus from their leaders problems with the TURC,. They have distracted focus and media scrutiny of their policy turn-backs at their national conference. They have managed to dislodge an entrenched political opponent from the high office of speaker. All without too much damage notice given by the media to their own MPs indiscretions.
Not bad in political terms. Perhaps in the 'dirty tricks office' they are even sharing a champers celebrating a well executed and successful project. With the media in full control at the whim of the puppeteers. But this is just conjecture, since I have heard mention of this possibility but scarcely.

As for the media, they seem to have had a hey day with an All-in frenzy, outrage, interviews, social media trending nicely. I often recall when my six year old started playing soccer in the under-six team. The players invariably formed a single heap around the ball and moved as one across the field.. That seems to reflect the way our mass media seems to always focus on a single topic to the exclusion of many with far greater consequence. The entitlements saga indeed had this focus. And without due analysis the focus seemed to be only on Bishop with other significant rorters left on the whole ignored. Yes her rort was exceptional, and she failed to show contrition, at least until it was too late. But of course many a Labour MP had dipped into the trough and should have had more attention, but if that were the case Bishop scalp would not have been gained. This seemed to be the media's focus. In the last few days most bulletins leading stories was of some commentator asking for Bishop to leave. SO I guess the media are also happy they have a scalp.

As for the Liberals, well they, lose, lose. They have lost the positive momentum they had following Shorten's appearance the TURC and the ALP conference, and they have lost their speaker. Admittedly this is a mixed blessing. Bishop has been a tough but partisan operator and while she remained as speaker the integrity of the parliament was in question.

Could the Libs have handled this better? Certainly! Earlier action would have helped retain momentum. Other tactics may have been face-saving and may have even left the speaker in place. But lets face it, Bishop had damaged herself by both her inexcusable claims and her stance once they were exposed. She has simply faced the consequences.

So we the public are winners. Yes, many others of the ALP (and Libs) have avoided the consequences of their prior 'rorting'. And, yes, some were equally, if not more, egregious than Bishop's. And, yes, it would have been better if the media had spent more time on that aspect of the expense affair.  But, Bishop's forced departure has set an example a precedent.Future miscreants will be held to a similar standard, I hope.

Review must be robust

As for the future, we will have a review of 'entitlements'. That sounds great, but I have concerns. Already, just one day after the review was announced, several MPs have tried to deflect its focus. I heard one declare that the system is not the problem, it was how MPs abused it. Or that the problem with the system is that it has high running costs. Or even to claim the issue with Bishop was not her travel claims but her role as a speaker. So the vested interest of MPs faced with possible loss of 'entitlements' is already evident. No doubt we will hear many more counter arguments as the review approaches some concrete suggestions on how to clamp down on the looseness of the current system.

Don't expect the MPs to create a tight system, as it is to their personal disadvantage. But perhaps this is where the media can earn its crust. The scalp of a speaker was not the main game, although it did seem that way. The underlying aim is to bring integrity into the MP entitlement system. This will only be achieved if the proposed review can introduce clearly defined tests of legitimacy and accountability for all MP expense claims.  (See my previous post titled "Conflict of Interest" for further suggestions as to what constitutes legitimacy and accountability.)

Alas, I fear, this is not the last we have heard of this topic


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