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No one is arguing Bronwyn Bishop is the latest rage. Long gone are the "Bronwyn for PM" headlines, the thousands of letters to her office from the Australian public urging her to make a run for the leadership. During those heady days in the early 1990s, Bronwyn was the most popular MP in any parliament in the nation, state or federal. Those days are mere memories now.
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Money money money, always sunny, in Bronwyn's world. Denis Carnahan and Rocco Fazzari, with apologies to ABBA.
Fast-forward two decades. Yes, Bronwyn made a mistake last year. And she will admit she erred. But she has paid a big price for that error of judgment. She paid back the money (even though it wasn't required under the rules), she resigned from the speakership and has been ridiculed by the media and the political commentariat. They want her to move on, replace her with a younger factional player. If this happens, it will be a great loss for the people of Mackellar, the Liberal Party and Australia.
I know that this isn't popular to say. Overwhelmingly, the 150 MPs who sit in the House of Representatives are hard working people. The hours they spend away from family, the late nights in Canberra and in the electorate are gruelling. While we see and disapprove of many of the theatrics of our political system, what we don't see is the increasing volume of demands from constituents. Access to MPs is easier than at any time in history. The digital age has ensured we are closer to our elected representatives today than ever.
Of all the MPs past and present over the past 20 years, I would argue that Bronwyn has been among the hardest working, dedicated and energetic MPs the Parliament has seen. She has that rare ability to connect with people. She can still upstage many a minister at public gatherings. Her ability to connect is why each election campaign she continues to be one of the biggest crowd pullers, particularly with older voters. Business groups, women's groups, school groups, Liberal Party functions, community groups – Bronwyn is always willing and happy to attend and more importantly, people want to hear her speak. How many backbench MPs (or even ministers) continually get called upon to attend so many functions, across so many parts of our nation?
Like Bronwyn or not, you know where she stands and what she stands for. You know she works hard to push her point and make change happen. She is indefatigable.
Bronwyn has that rare ability to explain to people the complex issues we face in a way that makes people feel part of the process and, more importantly, empowers them to become part of the solution.
Bronwyn has always lived up to her Liberal values and has made a significant contribution to the Australian political landscape. As a minister, she implemented a mandate that foreign defence contractors must have a large presence of local employees if they wish to win tenders. In the last few years of the Howard government she invigorated the backbench to get active on tax reform (with Senator Fifield), which forced the cabinet to back the reforms. Now she chairs a parliamentary committee hearing into the quality and quantity of local news services for regional Australia.
Australia needs politicians like Bronwyn. I am a firm believer in the two-party system. Yet both parties seem to be on trajectory of alienating and disempowering Australians who are or want to be part of our political journey. National politics is becoming a club of insiders that is foreign and daunting for everyday Australians.
What message are we sending when on the one hand we are saying now is the time for older Australians to do more, be active and continue in the workforce, while at the same time we are willing to push out one of the most talented and successful members of Parliament? Some of the leading candidates in the US presidential elections will be in their 70s if they secure the keys to the White House. Taking into account all the recent retirements in the Australian Parliament, there are now only two MPs out of the 150 that are aged over 65. Yet 15 per cent of the Australian population is aged 65 or over. And this is growing every year. Bronwyn represents an important constituency, but more importantly she is a role model for that constituency.
Yes she made a mistake, but if we continue to raise the bar of recrimination we will end up with political droids, with no real passion or ability to inspire Australians to be active in our polity.
Like her or loathe her, there is a simple yet undeniable fact. Bronwyn has the ability to bridge the divide between the political class and the electorate. Political parties need people who can connect with Australians to bring them back into the national debate. Bronwyn has that ability to connect, motivate and draw people to her. Her drive and capability is as strong today as it was when she first became the member for Mackellar. To lose it, would be churlish and the nation, and national political debate would be the poorer for it.
Jeremy Mitchell was an adviser to Bronwyn Bishop from 1993-97.