Federal Politics

Burqa announcement damages Bronwyn Bishop's chances for global gig

Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's bid for a prestigious international job may have suffered a blow after controversial announcements about the wearing of burqas and niqabs at Parliament House.

The Speaker is campaigning for the presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organisation that promotes democracy. She is running against candidates from Muslim nations Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Maldives. Ms Bishop is reportedly the frontrunner.

Burqa blunder risks chance of global gig: Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.
Burqa blunder risks chance of global gig: Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.  Photo: Andrew Meares

The IPU places an emphasis on the empowerment of women, especially when it comes to politics and government. At October's assembly, a debate has been scheduled on "achieving gender equality [and] ending violence against women".

Ms Bishop came under criticism on Thursday for her decision – made with Senate president Stephen Parry – to confine women wearing "facial" or "identity coverings" to glass-enclosed viewing galleries in Parliament House, separate from other visitors. It looks set to be reversed after overwhelming condemnation and a request from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

A source familiar with the IPU told Fairfax Media they "couldn't believe that Bronwyn Bishop would associate herself with this idea of segregating women because of what they are wearing. There are plenty of Muslim nations in the IPU and she might find it tough to win them over now."

"This is contrary to all the principles and the aims of the IPU ... You can't just to do it for the status of it, you have to be there for the right reasons."

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The source also made the point that Muslim women from burqa-wearing societies are exactly the kind of women the IPU is trying to empower and get into public office.

"She may have damaged Australia's reputation for understanding cultural differences and sensitivities and what role women can play in parliamentary processes."

Outspoken anti-burqa and anti-multiculturalism senator Cory Bernardi will be accompanying Ms Bishop in Australia's IPU delegation. It was his formal request that the religious face coverings be banned that led to the decision.

Fairfax Media understands that the Speaker has been assisted in her international campaign by a handful of serving and former Labor MPs, in a surprising bout of bipartisanship. Member for Hunter and former government whip Joel Fitzgibbon, Member for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby and former Senate president John Hogg have been using their international connections to gather support for Ms Bishop.

This bipartisan support comes despite the Speaker's controversial adjudication of the House of Representatives, where she has kicked out more than 200 opposition MPs – including Mr Danby and Mr Fitzgibbon - and only a handful of from the government since taking the reins in September.

On Friday, a spokesman for Ms Bishop said that the "Speaker is very happy that that her candidature for the IPU is valued in a bipartisan way and has good support from both sides of the house. She's grateful for that support."

Ms Bishop has said she would stay on in the role of Speaker if she is successful in her campaign.

Ms Bishop flew overseas on Friday night for a week of bilateral meetings ahead of the IPU assembly that will take place from October 12-16. She could not be reached for comment.