Julie Bishop gathers support as next Lib leader

Joe Hockey, not looking like the heir apparent he once was. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Joe Hockey, not looking like the heir apparent he once was. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

COMMENT

For the first two days of ritualised hostility in the new session of parliament, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has ignored the Prime Minister and focused on Treasurer Joe Hockey, accompanied by a stream of concerted heckling from the Labor benches.

Day one, question one, Tuesday, Shorten: "My question is to the Treasurer. Is it really the case that the poorest people either do not have cars or actually do not drive very far in many cases?

Joe Hockey: "I dealt with that last week."

Ready to lead: Julie Bishop. Photo: AFP

Ready to lead: Julie Bishop. Photo: AFP

Uproar in the house.

Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop: "There will be silence!"

Hockey: "[Our] policy asks Australians … to pay 40 cents a week in order to help us build the roads that are going to make the economy stronger. Forty cents a week!"

Speaker: "The member for Charlton [Pat Conroy] on a point of order?"

Conroy: "Is it fair that everyone is against the Treasurer?"

He was immediately told to remove himself from the chamber for abusing standing orders. Conroy departed amid general tittering.

Hockey did not look good and took a pounding. As one of my colleagues in the gallery noted, correctly, at the end of question time: "Joe has lost his mojo." In politics, it can be very hard to retrieve a lost mojo.

Day two, question one, Wednesday, was again Shorten to Hockey. In the moment of silence as Hockey walked to the dispatch table to reply, a voice from the Labor side called out: "The weakest link."

The opposition is certainly not treating Tony Abbott as the weakest link. For the past two months the prime minister's agenda has been dominated by international security and diplomacy, issues that have been above parochial domestic politics

He has also performed well on counter-terrorism, national security and border security. These are solid gold issues for the Coalition, especially given Labor's $10 billion budget-busting, credibility-shredding asylum-seekers debacle.

So while the Treasurer has been pummelled, defensive, accident-prone and even apologetic at one point last week, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has appeared serene, above-the-fray, always-elegant as the winds of the international statecraft have billowed in her political sails.

So much so that Bishop is seen among the Liberals as an alternate prime minister, whereas until recently it had been Hockey who was seen as the default replacement leader should Abbott flounder.

Then there is Malcolm Turnbull, whose road back to the eventual leadership continues to be paved by patience, polls, policy and Hockey's missing mojo.

On Tuesday, Sportsbet installed Turnbull as warm favourite to be the next leader of the Liberals, at $2.20, well ahead of Hockey ($5.00) and Bishop ($6.50). The betting agency installed Tanya Plibersek as favourite to be next Labor leader at $3.00, ahead of Chris Bowen ($3.50) and Anthony Albanese ($5.00).

A majority inside the Liberal party would put those odds as too short on Turnbull and too long on Bishop. She has firmed in the betting.

Hockey also looked a bit firmer on day two after having 24 hours to stabilise. He was back to being ebullient: "The leader of the opposition is just dead wrong … Hello, earth to Bill. Are you there son?"

It helped that Shorten kept hitting Hockey with a feather duster. As unpopular as the Hockey budget remains, Labor has offered no plan and no credibility for ending the debt and deficit blow-out it left behind.

Except for one big thing: it hates Abbott's paid parental scheme. The opposition has been directing questions to Hockey about the scheme while the Prime Minister sat studiously reading his notes.

Chris Bowen to Hockey: "Is the paid parental leave scheme going to cost $62 billion over the next 10 years?"

It is not. Because Abbott's PPL scheme is never going to survive in its current budget-busting form. Labor opposes it, crossbench senators oppose it and, critically, at least five Liberal senators would cross the floor to oppose it.

The proposed scheme has already been trimmed back and I was told it is going to get another trim, bigger than the first. One of the Liberal senators who will cross the floor to kill the scheme told me it will not pass unless payments are whittled back to six months on the equivalent of unemployment benefits.

One more thing. Julie Bishop is not the only West Australian woman who is nailing it in parliament. So is Senator Michaelia Cash. This is something to file away for the rapidly-approaching time when Abbott needs to freshen up his ministry - his excessively male-dominated ministry.

SMH

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