10/10/2014 - 05:15

Bishop duly makes her mark

10/10/2014 - 05:15


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The foreign affairs minister must be thankful she didn’t take up Richard Court’s offer of the state Liberal leadership in 2001.

Bishop duly makes her mark

IT has been a tough first year in office for Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his coalition government, particularly when it comes to getting some of the less-popular budget measures through the Senate.

One bright light, however, has been the performance of Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.

In the delicate area of international diplomacy, she has hardly put a foot wrong.

Ms Bishop has also become increasingly assertive in domestic matters, including clearly stating there was no need for a new super homeland security portfolio, which was considered a threat to the authority of her friend and fellow Western Australian, David Johnston, the defence minister.

Ms Bishop has been able to tiptoe through the diplomatic minefield, and also talk tough when required.

And there have been tests. For example Indonesia's foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, a graduate of the Australian National University, caused some mischief when it emerged that Australian intelligence officers had tapped the phones of senior Indonesians in 2009.

After the initial embarrassment and public posturing, work behind the scenes and the appropriate words of regret helped get relations back on an even keel.

The biggest test came in July after the downing of Malaysian airlines MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board including more than 30 Australian residents. Ms Bishop delivered the goods in the international spotlight, leading the condemnation at the United Nations Security Council in New York.

She was also on the spot in Ukraine, assuring the grieving relatives and friends that no stone would be left unturned to get to the bottom of the atrocity. That might prove easier said than done, but it was rare for a senior Australian minister to so strongly attack the lack of cooperation of a superpower such as Russia.

Big things were expected of Ms Bishop when she won the blue ribbon western suburbs seat of Curtin in 1998. She had been managing partner in Perth for a national legal firm and was clearly ambitious.

However if former premier Richard Court had his way Ms Bishop could now be premier of WA instead. After losing power in 2001, Mr Court proposed that Ms Bishop move to state politics – possibly in a seat swap with Colin Barnett – and become the new Liberal leader. She consulted then prime minister John Howard, among others.

"I advised her against it," Mr Howard told me in 2011. "I said to her 'have you any idea how hard it is to lead a political party?'. I think she is glad she didn't take it. She could be number three in the next federal government."

That last point was based on the fact that Ms Bishop was already deputy leader of the Liberal Party, and would rank in seniority in a coalition government behind Mr Abbott and National Party leader Warren Truss.

Now she is being seriously touted as Mr Abbott's successor; a meteoric rise indeed.

Credit where it's due

Premier Colin Barnett and Health Minister Kim Hames were ecstatic at the recent official opening on the $2 billion Fiona Stanley Hospital in Murdoch, with Mr Barnett even describing it as the most important hospital development in the state's history.

While they, rightly, have their names on the plaques to mark the event, the FSH is yet another example of a major project started under one government and completed, and opened, by its successor.

The decision to build the hospital was made during the first term of Geoff Gallop's Labor administration. At the urging of then health minister Jim McGinty, more than $1 billion from several massive budget surpluses was earmarked for the project. With interest, this grew to $1.7 billion.

A further $250 million was provided under the Rudd government's stimulus package for the rehabilitation centre.

While Mr McGinty was in the front row of guests at the opening, he's not the first minister to start a project, only to be left in an observer's role as the ribbon is cut or the plaque unveiled.

John Tonkin, as works minister, had overseen the construction of the Narrows Bridge and stage one of the Kwinana Freeway in the late 1950s, only to see it opened after the election of the Brand government in 1959.

The tables were turned at the completion of the Ord River Dam in 1972 when prime minister William McMahon did the honours and Mr Tonkin was premier. Sir Charles Court had championed the project in the 1960s, but was in opposition for the official launch. And there are other examples.

On a slightly different note, Labor premier Peter Dowding promised the Joondalup railway line during the 1989 election campaign. The first trains ran in December 1992, but by then he had been dumped and his replacement, Carmen Lawrence, filled in. New premier Richard Court officially opened the line three months later.


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