Former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop announced her retirement from politics yesterday in a fresh blow to the conservative government already struggling just months ahead of general elections.
Bishop, widely considered the most popular politician in the ruling Liberal Party of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, stunned her parliamentary colleagues with the decision not to re-contest her West Australian seat in elections due by mid-May.
“I will leave this place, positive about the future, proud of the service that I have been able to give to my electorate of Curtin, my beloved Liberal Party, the state of Western Australia and my country,” she said to standing applause from both sides of parliament.
Bishop was the first woman to serve as Australia’s foreign minister, from 2013 to 2018, and as the deputy Liberal leader, a position she held for 11 years. She is the latest of several Liberal women MPs to either retire or quit the party to become independents.
Her standing in the party suffered when right-wing powerbrokers ousted moderate Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader and prime minister in August. Bishop was one of three candidates to run for the leadership in Turnbull’s place, but was snubbed by party colleagues despite opinion polls showing her as the most popular Liberal politician. “Thank you @JulieBishopMP for your service to our nation and our Party and, above all, your friendship over so many years,” Bishop’s close ally Turnbull tweeted soon after her announcement.
“You have been our finest Foreign Minister — eloquent, elegant and always courageous advancing our national interest in these challenging times,” he said.
Defections by female Liberal MPs and a by-election loss have put the Morrison government into the minority in parliament, while opinion polls show the opposition Labor Party comfortably ahead in the run-up to the elections.
But in announcing her decision, Bishop said she was confident the Liberals and their National Party coalition partners would still prevail in the election, accusing Labor of “learning nothing from its past failings”.
She said the current government “will be returned to office because it is focusing on the matters that matter to the Australian people.”
“On that basis I have reconsidered my position as the member for Curtin.” Morrison, who won the vote to replace Turnbull, heralded Bishop as a “ground-breaker” for women in public life. “Julie has been a good friend. I have valued her judgement, appreciated her insight and admired the tireless way she has served the party, the parliament and Australia,” he said.
The departure of Bishop and a number of other moderates from Liberal ranks since Turnbull’s ouster has coincided with a shift to the right by Morrison’s government on issues ranging from immigration and national security to climate change. It has also again put the spotlight on the Liberal Party’s difficulty in recruiting and retaining women in its top ranks.
Renowned for her steely gaze dubbed the “death stare”, Bishop’s highlights as foreign minister included her strong condemnation of Russia over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014.
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