Bronwyn Bishop’s apology is too little, too late

After three weeks of controversy Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has apologised for chartering a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal fundraiser. Photo: Alex EllinghausenLabor says Speaker ‘apologising to save her job’Bishop apologises for chopper flightBronwyn Bishop controversy: Full coverage

Bronwyn Bishop’s belated mea culpa is too little, too late and will not save her.

The question left hanging is why it took so long for Bishop to realise two things: her conduct was inexcusable and her refusal to apologise unsustainable.

The only answer is that Bishop finally realised that only an unqualified apology and a display of genuine contrition would give her the slightest of chances of keeping her job as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

To a cynical public and a sceptical Liberal backbench, this has all the hallmarks of an exercise in damage control 101, dictated by the Prime Minister’s office.

Bishop insists this is not the case, but consider the elements: an appearance on Alan Jones’ radio program; the heartfelt apology; the revelation that other disputed amounts will be repaid; the announcement that all other expenses will be audited to ensure they are above board.

And, the most important of all: leaving the listeners in no doubt of how chastened Bishop is by the experience – and how determined she is to win back their trust by “working hard for the Australian people”.

So convincing was Bishop in this department that a clearly concerned Jones remarked that she seemed “very distressed”. What a pity he was incapable of showing such empathy to Adam Goodes, whose only offence is that he is a proud Aboriginal man who responds to racism when he is confronted by it.

Twelve days ago, Bishop refused point blank to apologise for chartering a helicopter at huge expense to travel a short distance to attend a party fundraiser. The only concession during an extraordinary media conference was that she had made an error of judgment and repaid the $5000 cost of the flight.

When she was reminded that Joe Hockey had agreed with a radio talkback host that her actions did not pass the “sniff test”, her response was to deride Hockey. “Joe says some funny things, doesn’t he,” she quipped.

As Jeff Kennett has observed, Bishop would have probably survived if she had acted decisively when the story of the chopper flight and other apparent excess emerged on July 15. The truth is that she should have acted much, much earlier, when colleagues including Tony Abbott repaid expenses they had claimed.

An unqualified apology when the story broke, the return of money claimed that was technically within the rules but “just doesn’t look right” and a commitment to be vigilant in future might have saved her.

But the response was a mix of hubris and arrogance that only encouraged the pursuit of more awkward questions, many of which remain unanswered and could still cause her problems.

In the meantime, the damage to the Abbott government is difficult to overstate, with Bishop’s conduct seen as symptomatic of an administration out of touch – just like Abbott’s awarding of a knighthood to Prince Philip.

Kennett was right on something else, too. Abbott’s loyalty to friends is an endearing quality. Despite Bishop’s sense of entitlement dominating political debate for three weeks, he continues to stand by her.

When she realises her position is untenable, the onus will be on Bishop to reciprocate that loyalty. Until then, her presence in the Speaker’s chair will be a reminder of her own wanton extravagance and Abbott’s willingness to tolerate it.

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