Bishop too ‘heavy handed’ for Speaker role?

NOT HAPPY: George Bell of East Lismore with a portrait of his grandfather, Colonel Sir George Bell who was a famed Federal Speaker. A portrait of him won the Archibald.
NOT HAPPY: George Bell of East Lismore with a portrait of his grandfather, Colonel Sir George Bell who was a famed Federal Speaker. A portrait of him won the Archibald. Marc Stapelberg

THE "heavy-handed" conduct of Federal Speaker Bronwyn Bishop is threatening the position's impartiality, according to the Lismore grandson of a Tasmanian MP who was Speaker in the 1930s.

Mrs Bishop has ejected 107 Labor MPs during her seven months on the job, some for as little as laughing, and only two Coalition MPs.

George Bell is grandson of Colonel Sir George Bell, who served as Speaker for the conservative United Australia Party from 1936 to 1940.

Mr Bell said Mrs Bishop was "wanting to score points for the Government" during Parliament.

"She has quite an aggressive manner towards the Opposition... last session Bronwyn appeared to have the attitude that she was there to shore up the Government, and a Speaker shouldn't do that," Mr Bell said.

What also worried him was news she'd been using the Speaker's office for party fundraisers and attending party political meetings - the former an unprecedented move, the latter frowned upon.

The conduct contrasts with a man once depicted as "an oasis of dignity in a desert of shouting members" during a particularly aggressive parliamentary session before the 1937 election.

Sir George was an MP for the United Australia Party - the forerunner to the Liberal Party - who shared his electoral boundary with the UAP Prime Minister, Joe Lyons.

Despite their close relationship, on this day, Bell was forced to go up against a very angry PM over a perceived slight by two Opposition MPs.

They alleged the PM had been withholding information about an oil find in Dutch New Guinea, when he also allegedly held shares in oil companies.

The PM demanded a withdrawal, but the Speaker overruled him, because he deemed the slights political rather than personal.

After a struggle where one Labor MP was ejected, the PM eventually backed down.

"He didn't shout at anyone, he just calmly went about doing what he thought was the Speaker's job, and did it very well," Mr Bell said.

"In those days they tended to try and work together."

Mr Bell, a swinging voter, warned swinging voters would not like it if Mrs Bishop kept up her form.

"I still don't think she should be attending party meetings and she shouldn't be using the Speaker's office for party fundraisers.

"If she keeps performing in that way, that if and when Labor wins again that it could start a trend.

"No one wins then - they might all score points, but no one will win."

Topics:  bronwyn bishop government parliament

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