Julie Bishop on leadership, women and her future

12/10/2018 - 12:37


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Former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop says it’s too early to speculate if she’d run for the Liberal leadership after the next election, but she believes the party needs to do more to recruit women and keep a broad base of talent, speaking at today’s Success & Leadership breakfast.

Julie Bishop says Australia won't reach its potential until it embraces the energy and ideas of women. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira.

Former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop says it’s too early to speculate if she’d run for the Liberal leadership after the next election, but she believes the party needs to do more to recruit women and keep a broad base of talent, speaking at today’s Success & Leadership breakfast.

Ms Bishop said it had been 70 years since the country had had a Western Australian as prime minister, and that it was important for the state to have representation in the leadership team because it was the key driver of the national economy.

She said that people were still struggling to justify why former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was removed as leader.

“I think Scott Morrison has done a very good job, he came to the prime ministership… in difficult circumstances,” Ms Bishop said.

“He certainly has shown the energy and the commitment to fighting very hard to keep Labor from winning the next election.”

The removal of Kevin Rudd in 2010 set a low bar for the removal of a prime minister, she said, and in Mr Turnbull's case in particular, she indicated that the arguments for change hadn't stacked up with the public.

Business News coloumnist Peter Kennedy interviewed Ms Bishop. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

On Sunday, the former deputy leader of the Liberal Party will head to Sydney to fundraise for the Liberal candidate in the Wentworth by-election, Dave Sharma, while she said it was “currently the plan” that she would recontest her seat of Curtin at the next election.

Despite criticisms of Mr Turnbull's departure potentially leaving the government open to losing a majority in the lower house, Ms Bishop said he had been very clear that he would leave if removed from office, and that the government was better off without a former prime minister on the backbench.

But one key thing for the Liberals would be having greater representation of women in parliament.

“The Labor party now have about 45 per cent of their federal members and senators (that) are female, we’re less than 24 per cent,” Ms Bishop said.

“I think in 2018 that's unacceptable and the Liberal party is working very hard I know to attract more women to politics.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure parliament is a more inviting place.

“It’s hard enough coming from WA to be in the federal parliament because you spend half your life on a plane or in Canberra, so it does narrow down the talent pool.

“We have to make it more attractive, more inviting, particularly for women because we’re nowhere near 50 per cent.

“I happen to believe that no nation reaches its potential unless it fully engages with the ideas, the skills, the ability, and energies (of) the 50 per cent of its population that is female, in Australia’s case 51 per cent.

“It is both sides of politics to be fair, there was a Labor backbencher who was accused of all sorts of horrendous behaviour.”

Ms Bishop was deputy leader of the Liberal Party for more than a decade. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

High office

Ms Bishop, who served as foreign minister for nearly five years, gave inside detail about her interactions with Russia and Ukraine in the aftermath of the MH17 disaster, and her relationship with the Chinese government.

It was July 2014 when the world was shocked by the downing of a passenger jet over Ukraine carrying 27 Australians.

“We obtained a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution in record time, in under three days, which took an enormous effort on the part of our diplomats,” Ms Bishop said.

“I was in New York at the UN working around the clock to convince all 15 members of the Security Council to back a resolution that enabled armed police to go into Ukraine, essentially into a war zone, and that was against the Ukrainian constitution.

“I then had to convince their parliament to pass a resolution recognizing that (armed) Australian and other law enforcement officers, investigators and police could come in to collect the bodies.

“It was incredibly dangerous because the Russian backed separatists and the Ukrainians were at war where the plane came down.

“We had it all organised, ready to go and suddenly the president told me, the parliament is rising for a summer break.

“We had to go to each party leader and beg them to bring their members of parliament back… and they did… and (they) voted virtually unanimously to enable us to enter Ukraine.

“We’re still fighting for justice for the families of those killed.”

Ms Bishop said she was the first Australian to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin after then prime minister Tony Abbott’s famous shirtfront comment.

That was at a conference in Milan, where she managed to catch him at a moment without advisors.

“I delivered Australia’s message as forcefully as I could and he stared at me, his steely blue eyes never left my face.

“When I finished this message, he said ‘so this is what you call a shirtfront’.

“I said, well it's more of a diplomatic button holing."

Describing him as a strong man, Ms Bishop noted Mr Putin had previously said the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century was demise of the USSR.

Ms Bishop campaigning during the 2013 federal election.

When asked of the low point of her five years as foreign minister, she said even the most difficult moments were great experiences in retrospect.

One was when her Chinese counterpart took issue with comments she had made about that country’s air defence zone in the East China Sea.

“I met him (Foreign Minister Wang YI) in Beijing, and he was very cool, and I thought ‘ooh this isn’t going too well’,” Ms Bishop said.

The two participated in a media conference where he was speaking about her in Mandarin.

“I had no idea what he was staying so I’m just smiling, and my ambassador Frances Adamson… starts writing furiously because she speaks Mandarin… he was attacking me,” she said.

Mr Wang then tried to push the media out before she could respond, but Ms Bishop managed to ensure Australian journalists stayed long enough for her to say that he had been very rude and that she would not be lectured by him.

“We didn't speak for the rest of the meeting but because I had stood up to him, he obviously showed me a level of respect because we became firm friends thereafter,” she said.

“We met on regular occasions after, and he would often say things to me like ‘tough woman’.”

Trade and technology

Ms Bishop said US President Donald Trump was delivering on his promise of a disruptive administration, encapsulated in the slogan ‘drain the swamp’.

“You’re never quite sure where the US president is going to come down on a particular issue, whereas in the past, we knew where the US stood,” she said.

“The US was the standard bearer and you lined up either (behind them or against them).”

A potential trade war between the US and China was a deep concern, Ms Bishop said.

“A trade war between two great powers does not assist anyone, it would have a huge impact on global economic growth… (Australia) would not be well served by a trade war at all,” she said.

“Our urging of the Trump administration has been to settle its disputes, and it does have legitimate concerns, through the World Trade Organisation.”

But the appeals mechanism for the WTO was currently down two judges, and Ms Bishop said the US was refusing to endorse replacements.

That made the process moribund, and it was an issue which had minimal media coverage, she said.

Locally, there was plenty of opportunity in the technology sector, particularly big data and in the space industry, Ms Bishop said, notably for Western Australia if it is selected as the base for the country’s space agency.

Data she had seen suggested about a million people globally would lose their jobs due to the rise of automation in coming years, but a further 1.75 million jobs would be created.

“We have to face the reality that technological advances are disrupting the way we live, the way we work, the way we travel, engage… at a scale and at a pace unprecedented in human history,” she said.

“We have to start thinking about where technological advances will take us.

“I set up within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade an ideas hub, we called it the Innovationxchange… looking at the workplaces of the future in developing countries, but the work we were doing is equally as applicable in Australia.

“Australia is going to be one of the most significant nations when it comes to creativity and innovation, we have an entrepreneurial spirit, we are risk takers, as a nation.

“If government just got out of the way we would be an even more enterprising country.”


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