'I hope to be Australia's first female foreign minister'
Leader in waiting? ... Julie Bishop. Photo: Stefan Gosatti
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the terracotta walls of Perth's Mediterranean Restaurant protected the privacy of the Friday lunches of Western Australia's rich, powerful, and political.
Set on a corner block in upmarket Subiaco, and owned by prominent West Australian businessman Laurie Connell, and later Alan Bond, this was the quintessential clubhouse.
Disgraced former premier Brian Burke was a frequent client, and those who joined him at his table in the courtyard, in the words of a former staff member, ''dined large''.
Julie Bishop with Tony Abbott. Photo: Stefan Gosatti
It was here the good old boys gathered in 1997 to welcome Bondy home from jail - the first time. It was also here that Bond's first wife Eileen engaged in a fiery confrontation with the woman who would later become Bond's ''rock'', Diana Bliss. As the story goes, ''Big Red'' demanded that Bliss be ejected from the premises when she arrived for lunch with a mutual friend, greeting Bond with a kiss, who was dining with his then wife and friends.
This was a place reeking of money, testosterone and fine wine. A place where backroom deals were done in the cocktail lounge, and cocktail hour often spilled over into the early hours of the morning.
These days the restaurant is long gone, the framed caricatures of Bond, Connell, Robert Holmes a Court, and other Perth notables have been taken down from the walls. The fish pond - where it is said many high jinks took place after a few cognacs - has been filled in.
Make no mistake, though, this is a place of power, still. This is Julie Bishop's electorate office and, today, it is buzzing.
''When I saw that the Med was up for rent, well, I just had to have it,'' she says, leading me through its airy insides.
''When I won Curtin in '98, I wanted to make sure the electorate office was actually in the electorate. The previous MP had his office in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in the CBD.
''People were scandalised and said to me, 'You can't have the office there Julie', you know, because of the history of the place. But it was just too delicious and my mind was made up,'' she says.
It is a delicious irony indeed that today the stench of Cuban cigars has been replaced with that of the perfumed scent of some of Perth's most influential, connected and best-dressed women. And all for a political cause.
Bishop has invited 50 of her closest female friends and constituents to the old Med for a morning tea to mingle with the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, in town for a keynote speech to a mining forum.
''These are the 50 shades of Curtin electorate women,'' Bishop says as she introduces Abbott, the reference to the racy S&M novel received with delight by the well-heeled crowd.
They have gathered in the paved courtyard, sipping on iced tea, lattes and nibbling on smoked salmon, cream cheese and dill on blinis and white pillows of turkish delight. Among the throng are: Cheryl Edwardes, the former Court government attorney-general; Wendy Marshall, the wife of Geelong football legend Denis Marshall and the owner of prestigious Elle boutique; philanthropist Annie Fogerty, of the Fogerty Foundation; Adrienne Marshall, wife of the 2005 Nobel Prize winner Dr Barry Marshall; the Hancock Prospecting executive Ailan Tran; Melissa Hasluck, the granddaughter of Sir Paul Hasluck; Rhonda Wyllie of Wyllie Group boutique investments; Fortescue Mining Group executive Deidre Wilmott; Laurance Wines, Dianne Laurance; and former tennis star, the impeccably dressed Margaret Court.
Clad in a floral frock and beaming out at ''her girls'', Bishop seems oblivious to any discomfort Abbott might feel being the only man in the room - save for a couple of journalists herded to one side. Instead, Bishop seizes on the occasion to launch another salvo in the ''misogyny wars''.
''In these days of wild accusations of sexism and misogyny, I am pleased to introduce Tony Abbott, who will be a great leader of the next Coalition government,'' she says, going on to describe Labor's attack on Abbott as sexist as ''a nonsense''. ''And I wanted to tell you that I hope to be Australia's first female foreign minister under a Tony Abbott-led government.''
If there was any doubt Bishop's hold on the foreign affairs portfolio - should the Coalition take government - was shaky, it has dissolved under this blue Perth sky.
Staring out at 50 expectant pairs of eyes, Abbott responds to the blunt statement telling Bishop: ''Alexander Downer, watch out. Your record is about to be usurped.''
One of the women in attendance raises an eyebrow and remarks: ''Nice move Julie. Try and see him back out of it now. She got a commitment for the job she wants in front of a bunch of pretty up-and-up Perth women, and if there is one thing Abbott doesn't need, it is any sort of fight with women. She gets what she wants and he looks good with the ladies. Well played.''
After Abbott concludes his remarks and the pair give the media their soundbites - on the mining tax, asylum seekers and Bishop's growing interest in Julia Gillard's difficulties with media reports of the AWU slush fund affair - the opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs is out the door and on her way to another key event, her third of the day. It is not yet 11am.
Although she is undoubtedly one of Perth's most recognisable figures today, Bishop was born and raised in South Australia - as was Australia's other most famous female politician, Julia Eileen Gillard (although Gillard was born in Wales but settled as a small child in Adelaide).
Bishop attended the upmarket and academically rated St Peter's Collegiate Girls' School in Adelaide before studying law at Adelaide University. She practiced law in Adelaide before moving to Western Australia with her husband, property developer Neil Gillion, in the early 1980s.
They divorced after five years but Bishop - who has no children and has not remarried - stayed in the West, becoming the managing partner of the Perth office of Clayton Utz in 1994, a decade after making partner with the firm.
At 6am, a tanned and trim figure - clad in crocus yellow running shorts, baby blue T-shirt and a white cap - pounds the sands of Cottesloe Beach, the Indian Ocean sparkling and splashing the runner's feet.
The first female deputy leader of the Liberal Party is thousands of kilometres from Canberra but as she is approached by runner after runner, it is clear that even across the country, politics is still the order of the day - every day.
After her workout, as she walks from sand to car park Bishop is stopped four or five times by passersby - her clients, as she refers to them. They bring up subjects ranging from blocked access to a car park, to grievances about drawn-out road expansions and concerns about the mining tax.
Socks and shoes in hand, she stops each time and patiently listens to each grievance.
''I suppose it is the lawyer in me,'' she says. ''I know they are my constituents but I work for them just as I would have at the law firm.''
Two men and a yappy Scottie dog watch as our photographer captures several images of Bishop engaged in her morning exercise. They heckle her, good naturedly, to run harder. One asks that if we can make her run for the cameras, ''can you make her swap leaders? We like Turnbull. Tell her to bring him back!''
Bishop gives no indication she has heard and instead points out where she met Hillary Clinton the previous week.
Metres down the road, the area was locked down for a week for Clinton's visit to the annual AusMin meeting, in which Bishop took part because of her shadow portfolio.
''Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice - they are my political heroes,'' she says.
All women and all the equivalent of US Foreign Ministers.
''It is a group I hope to be part of,'' she says.
Distracted for a moment, she laughs: ''Do you know, it has just occurred, I have all male advisers in the Canberra office, and all women in Perth. Make of that what you will.''
As the Liberal Party's first female Deputy Leader and only the third woman in Australian history to hold the title of Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Bishop is unafraid to tackle the thorny topic of the treatment of women in politics.
Her parliamentary career began in 1998 when she won the seat of Curtin against the sitting member and former Liberal-turned-independent, Allan Rocher, who had held the seat for 17 years. Rocher was also a close personal friend of John Howard, and Bishop admits this worked against her ministerial ambitions at first.
''Howard didn't warm to me at first, and that may have held back a promotion or two, because he was upset because I'd knocked off his mate. Not because I was a female,'' she says. ''The problem with Parliament at the moment is people need to know it isn't about gender - it is about competence.
''But I worked hard, proved to Howard I was worth it and I became a minister in 2003.''
Bishop remained a minister in the Howard government until the defeat of the Coalition at the election in November 2007.
When Peter Costello announced he wouldn't run for the Liberal leadership in the aftermath of the defeat, Bishop was devastated.
''I sat in my office and cried. And then I nominated for the deputy position and here we are.'' Bishop has been deputy to three leaders - Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull and Abbott - and she is quite aware of the nicknames the labor party has foisted upon her.
''Bridesmaid, I believe is one,'' she says, over a late-night drink.
Another Bishop nickname and an appalling example of what passes for political humour in the halls of Parliament House is cockroach. ''You know, would survive anything,'' a Labor staffer explains.
But it is widely known that should something happen to Abbott, Bishop will seek to shake the bridesmaid tag and put her name at the top of a leadership ballot. She will not take a fourth tilt at being deputy.
Hours after our stop at Cottesloe, Bishop makes a lightning visit to the campaign launch of a Liberal state candidate, Sean L'Estrange, who makes a blunder in his speech at the local bowling club. He thanks Bishop, calling her ''the great and good leader of the opposition''. A gleam in Bishop's eye indicates she receives the remark with good and gentle humour. A Liberal staffer later remarks that perhaps it ''was karma for Abbott referring to his own chief of staff as the de-facto deputy leader''.
But there is a buzz around Bishop at the moment. With the Coalition ahead in the polls, she will return to Canberra this week focused on the Prime Minister and AWU slush fund.
In the car on the way to her fifth engagement for the day - after four hours in her electorate office dealing with constituent and portfolio commitments - the Deputy Opposition Leader is in an effusive mood. She has spent the last hour on the phone to several key parliamentary players discussing the latest development in the AWU slush fund scandal. The so-called bagman of the affair, Ralph Blewitt, has arrived back in Australia and is preparing to make a full statement to the police (he does so on Friday). It is clear Bishop can smell blood in the water. She will not divulge the details of the latest information she has received but taps her fingers on a thick manilla folder on her lap.
Gillard has ''legitimate questions to answer,'' she says as she readies herself to spend the evening with some of the WA's most powerful mining figures. ''This is what next week will be about and I intend on getting these answers.''
Sweeping into the gala dinner at Perth's Crown casino, the MC refers to her later as the ''Coalition stayer and our Julie of the West.''
It's hard to disagree.
Julie Isabel Bishop
Born July 17, 1956.
Educated at the University of Adelaide and Harvard Business School.
Worked at Clayton Utz for 15 years, including four years as the elected managing partner of the Perth office.
Entered Parliament as the Member for Curtin in 1998.
Served as cabinet minister in the Howard government, including time as the minister for education, science and training.
Since 2007, Bishop has been deputy leader of the opposition to three opposition leaders – Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott.