Former foreign minister’s career in politics

Former foreign minister’s career in politics

“Go get ’em Jules,” Peter Costello used to say cheering on Julie Bishop when she rose to answer a question in parliament.

She has had a significant role over 21 years as an MP, and was an important presence before she became Australia’s first female foreign minister, staying there for five years and 155 days.

Over the past 30 years only Labor’s Gareth Evans and Liberal Alexander Downer have held the job for longer.

She was a Coalition frontbencher from 2003 to 2007, a cabinet and shadow cabinet minister from 2006 to last August.

And her survival during all the internal Liberal ructions after the Coalition’s 2007 loss was in large part due to significant party backing.

However, that changed last August.

Julie Bishop’s muted profile after her failed leadership bid six months ago was so unlike the most senior woman in parliament, the speculation was immediate.

There is a perception that if Malcolm Turnbull hadn’t stood down in the face of a challenge from Peter Dutton — which itself failed and made Scott Morrison Prime Minister — Ms Bishop would still be fighting for Curtin.

Instead, she quit the ministry and appeared set to quit politics.

The suggestion was she would not recontest her West Australian seat and it was proved accurate this afternoon.

The dangling question was: Why?

There is now renewed speculation that Ms Bishop believed her male colleagues relied significantly on her ministerial leadership but would never make her leader; they valued the fact one of their leadership group was a woman but would not progress her beyond deputy Liberal leader.

At the last leadership challenge, Liberals fought out the prime ministership between two men who when compared Ms Bishop — the first woman to contest a leadership ballot in the party’s history — had limited public respect, recognition and authority.

In short, they did not want to reward a woman the way they would a man, and for some there would have been jealousy and possibly even trepidation over a woman being so popular with voters.

Further, Ms Bishop was a survivor with a record for emerging untouched from Liberal power clashes unscathed. She was deputy Liberal leader for 11 years through the post-Howard, Turnbull-Abbott-Turnbull years.

This was seen as evidence she didn’t actually stand for much. Her most savage critics referred to her as “the cockroach” because of her capacity to survive.

However, her record is of a substance most other MPs cannot boast of.

Her performance has been tested by major issues from the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine; the elevation of Donald Trump; the growing tensions from an expanding China.

In parliament today after the former foreign minister announced her departure, Mr Morrison said her work in the days after MH17 was shot down was her greatest achievement.

“Julie’s judgment, determination and energy helped secure a United Nations Security Council resolution that ensured Australia and its partners could repatriate the victims of that terrible crime,” he said.

In the role, Ms Bishop was expert in so-called soft diplomacy, the cementing of ties through personal and cultural contacts. One of her special achievements was the reverse Colombo Plan which is sending young Australians to live and work in our near region.

And she was a mentor to and promoter of women in parliament, successfully ensuring Marise Payne replaced her as Foreign Minister. Further, she expects to be followed in Curtin by a woman.

Ms Bishop was among the relatively few Liberals who sat with another woman minister, Kelly O’Dwyer, when she gave her final speech to parliament this week.

Ms O’Dwyer recently was quoted telling colleagues the government was being seen as anti-women, homophobic and climate change deniers. And her senior female colleague might have agreed.

One hint Ms Bishop would leave representative politics came at the start of this month when she used a speech in Hong Kong to criticise elements of the Liberal Party, and point to an empty space in energy policy.

“Our party is divided on the issue of climate change and whether, or how we respond, I don’t see a solution to the current impasse but investors need regulatory certainty given the large and long-term investment needed for building energy generating capacity,” she said.

Today she told parliament the Coalition would win the coming May election, but in Hong Kong she was more qualifying: “It is likely to become a much closer contest than many anticipate. My strong advice is do not write us off. That would be a mistake. Big mistake.”

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