Bronwyn Bishop has made a grovelling on-air apology for her excessive use of parliamentary entitlements, conceding her interstate travel bills do “not look right” and agreeing to repay money spent on attending friends’ weddings.
Mrs Bishop’s apology comes more than two weeks after revelations she billed taxpayers for private aircraft to attend three Liberal Party fundraisers — including $5227 for a luxury helicopter flight to a golf club outside Geelong — and claimed entitlements for overnight trips where she attended the weddings of Liberal colleagues Teresa Gambaro, Sophie Mirabella and Michael Kroger.
The capitulation comes a day after cabinet ministers publicly made clear their displeasure at Mrs Bishop’s extravagance, which threatens to overshadow the government’s agenda when parliament resumes from August 10.
Mrs Bishop, interviewed by 2GB’s Alan Jones today, insisted she was technically “right” to claim the benefits although she was sorry they did “not look right”.
“I want to apologise to the Australian people for my error of judgment and to say sorry,” the Speaker said.
“I am a strong woman, Alan, but I love this country and I feel very, very sorry that I’ve let the Australian people down.
“Therefore I will be working very hard to ensure that I can again make sure that things are being done and look right as well as being right.”
Mrs Bishop — who had previously refused to say sorry because she felt entitled to the benefits — acknowledged it was difficult to apologise and she “should have said it” when the scandal broke.
“I do understand the anger of people, I do understand how they feel, and I would be perfectly happy for people to look at the rules … because there are lots of grey areas and I think it would be helpful to have certainty,” she said.
Mrs Bishop said she has asked Tony Abbott to have all her expenses vetted by the Finance Department.
Mrs Bishop claims it is within the Speaker’s “official purposes” to address party fundraisers about the workings of parliament.
She claimed the 2007 Gambaro and 2006 Mirabella weddings were attended on trips where she met confidential sources in her capacity as chair of a parliamentary committee. The 1999 Kroger wedding was during her time as aged care minister.
Bill Shorten predicted Mrs Bishop would not sit in the Speaker’s chair when parliament resumes.
“I suspect that the Speaker will be gone before the parliament resumes. I don’t see how the Government can keep propping up this situation any further,” the Opposition Leader told ABC Radio.
Mr Shorten said it was “a weak defence” to argue the entitlement rules were too vague.
“I don’t accept that this is another day at the office. I don’t accept that the performance of this Speaker and her conduct is what everyone does,” he said.