End of era as Julie Bishop leaves cabinet

Long-serving foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop has stepped down from cabinet

You’d be hard pressed to accuse Julie Bishop of disloyalty. But it was disloyalty that ultimately ended her time at the highest level of government.

For more than 10 years, the West Australian lawyer with the killer stare and snappy suits was the Liberal Party’s second in command.

She served as deputy to three leaders, watching from close proximity as each copped the knife.

But it was never Bishop bearing the fruits of the killing by stepping into the outgoing leader’s shoes.

Last Friday, after a turbulent week in the Liberal party that ended with the end of Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership, she tried for the top job.

But she fell well short, winning only 11 votes – including her own – in the partyroom vote of 85 MPs.

It emerged on Sunday that she never had a hope, with moderates urging each other to put their votes behind Scott Morrison to stop Peter Dutton becoming prime minister.

“(Mathias) Cormann rumoured to be putting some WA votes behind Julie Bishop in round one,” Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher wrote to the group on WhatsApp.

“Be aware that this is a ruse trying to get her ahead of Morrison so he drops out and his votes go to Dutton.

“Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one.”

On Sunday, the superfit 62-year-old ran in Perth’s City to Surf race before announcing she was calling time on her successful tenure as foreign minister.

Her 20 year career in federal politics will end when the next general election is called.

She entered parliament at the 1998 election as Perth’s member for Curtin and it’s where she opted to stay.

Though WA is her political home-ground, Bishop was born to cherry farmers in Adelaide and attended the city’s St Peter’s Collegiate Girls’ School.

She studied law at Adelaide University and practised as both a solicitor and a barrister before moving to WA with her husband, property developer Neil Gillion.

They later divorced but Bishop stayed put.

Years later in parliament, Labor would query Bishop’s role during her legal days in defending building product company CSR from compensation claims by asbestos victims.

She claimed she only acted in accordance with her client’s instructions and on advice from some of WA’s most senior barristers.

It was in the Howard government in 2003 that Bishop joined the front bench as aged care minister.

John Howard rewarded her with the education portfolio and made her responsible for women’s issues in 2006 but it was short-lived with the government falling in the November 2007 Ruddslide.

She was elected deputy Liberal leader under opposition leader Brendan Nelson after the 2007 poll and was handed the shadow employment and workplace relations role.

When Nelson’s leadership imploded 11 months later she remained deputy under Malcolm Turnbull and took on the shadow treasury role.

Widely considered a failure in the portfolio, she stepped aside months later and shifted to foreign affairs – a job in which she thrived.

Incoming leader Tony Abbott kept her by his side after his one-vote partyroom win over Turnbull in December 2009 and she kept the portfolio after Labor scraped into minority government in 2010.

As Abbott shunted the train wreck that was federal Labor in 2013, Australia’s first female foreign minister faced some tough challenges.

But she reaped the benefits of Labor’s lobbying for a United Nations Security Council seat, making the most of it to tackle issues including Iran, Islamic State’s rise in Iraq and Syria and shaming Russia over the MH17 tragedy.

The families of the Malaysian Airline disaster victims appreciated her deep and ongoing interest and sympathetic response.

She undoubtedly played a key role in healing the damage caused to relations with Indonesia by Labor’s live cattle debacle, turning back boats and the Indonesian president phone tapping scandal.

At times, her profile put her ahead of Turnbull in the popularity stakes.

In a March 2017 poll by Roy Morgan, 30 per cent of people surveyed said she was their preferred Liberal Party leader, compared to 27 per cent for Turnbull and 5 per cent for Peter Dutton.

Asked in 2013 if she could withstand several terms of government as foreign minister, the reportedly indefatigable Bishop was unwavering.

“Absolutely,” she said without a moment’s hesitation.

“You have to have inexhaustible supplies of energy to be a federal politician from Western Australia anyway.”

She has made no decision on whether she will stand at the next election.

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