Take opportunities: Bishop

“If an opportunity comes along, weigh it up then go for it – don’t wait for the circumstances to be exactly right.”

This approach to life by Federal Member for Curtin Julie Bishop has resulted in her becoming managing partner of one of WA’s biggest law firms, gaining a seat on the board of the Special Broadcasting Service and, ultimately, cast her into Federal politics.

Ms Bishop started her professional life with an Adelaide law firm after graduating from the University of Adelaide in 1978. Five years later she became a partner.

She moved to WA in 1983, joined Perth law firm Robinson Cox as a commercial

litigator and was made a partner within 18 months. The firm became Clayton Utz in 1992 and two years later Ms Bishop was elected managing partner.

Ms Bishop said the 1980s were an interesting and exciting time to be practising law.

“Up until 1987 there was an enormous amount of business done in WA,” she said.

“After the crash there was a lot of work being done by lawyers and others.”

Ms Bishop spent 1985 to 1998 consolidating her legal career and management skills.

“We were very hands on with management then. Now it’s changing with law firms employing professional managers,” she said.

“In 1996 I decided it was time I acquired some management skills.”

Ms Bishop studied the Advanced Business Course at Harvard – the course Wesfarmers CEO Michael Chaney has on his CV.

“In one sense, I was heading into a more corporate scene,” she said.

“Then an opportunity arose at the end of 1997 when there was the discussion of

preselection for the 1998 Federal election.

“It was suggested to me that the seat of Curtin could be won by the Liberals.”

Curtin had originally been a Liberal seat but sitting member Alan Rocher opted to contest the election as an independent.

“I can’t say I’ve harboured an ambition to go into politics from an early age,” Ms Bishop said.

“It’s something that crystallised when I was at Harvard. My leanings towards politics were enhanced when I was appointed by the Federal Government as a representative at the Constitutional Convention.”

Ms Bishop said political life meant a major change from her corporate existence.

“It’s almost like a mid-life career change but there are fundamental things that stay the same,” she said.

“You could say the Federal Government is the biggest business in the land.

“There’s also a similarity between being a lawyer and being a politician. People come to you with a problem. You have to find your way through the bureaucratic maze as opposed to the legal maze. You become an advocate for your constituents.”

Ms Bishop said she had always preferred national politics to the State scene.

“I’ve always been interested in Australia’s place in the international scene. Plus a lot of work I was doing with Clayton Utz involved Federal laws.”

Ms Bishop believes people have trouble accessing Federal politicians.

“Most people don’t know who their Federal member is,” she said.

“I think there is much more members of parliament can do for people.

“One of the most useful tools I’ve found for getting in touch with my constituents is e-mail. I’m interested in using technology to enhance voters’ access to government.”

Since her election in 1998, Ms Bishop has been widely regarded as a politician that could ‘go all the way’ but she is quick to play down such talk.

“One thing I’ve learned is never talk about your own ambitions in politics. It can be used against you later,” she said.

“I want to be judged on what I’ve done.”

Ms Bishop said her appointment as a director SBS was one of the most exciting times of her life.

“I had been doing a lot of commercial litigation work in the media,” she said.

“An opportunity came to get a media lawyer onto the SBS board and I jumped at it. I think SBS is one of the best public broadcasters around.”

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