Under the Hairdo – Bronwyn Bishop

A first draft. There is so much more to be added.

And it will be, over time.


Sydney Sunday Times, 9th Dec, 1928

Sydney Sunday Times, 9th Dec, 1928

The Setright‘s were a theatrical and artistic Catholic Sydney family who had been active in SydneyTown since the 1860’s. [3] The earliest of them to reach public notice was Mr. J. R. Setright, scenic artist, who was the best known theatrical and mural artist of the time. He was apparently born in the colony. [3] In 1882 Thomas Setright of Morella, 51 Jersey-road, Woollahra, music warehouseman of Elvy and Co married Helen Adelaide Hamburger. He died in 1914 after working for Elvy and Co for close on 50 years. He was the Great Grandfather of our current Speaker of the House.[3] During the 1890’s the wider Setright family suffered a number of bankruptcies which may point to a reason for later family concerns about monetary security.[3]

Tickets printed by the Setright Ticketing Machine

Tickets printed by the Setright Ticketing Machine

Henry Roy and Selena Helen Setright emigrated to England where Henry founded an engineering business. He invented the “Setright Ticketing Machine” which was in use until the 1970’s on the British transport system.


Thomas Francis Selfright married Kathleen Congreve [1] who was a noted Australian Soprano (Marriage Rego#2278/1936 SETRIGHT Thomas Francis CONGREVE Kathleen ANNIE NORTH SYDNEY). Kathleen seems to have been at least a supporter, and possibly a member of the Women’s UAP (precursor to Menzies “Liberal Party) in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. [3] They lived in North Sydney and later at Bradfield. Thomas may have served in the RAAF rising to the rank of Seargent during World war 2. He died in 1959.




BORN TO PERFORM BRONWYN BISHOP was born to perform. The daughter of an opera singer, she learned how to breathe properly while listening, as a child, to her mother rehearse in her bedroom. Kathleen Congreve was a dramatic soprano with the Australian Opera Company who also sent her daughter to singing lessons. If young Bronwyn never excelled as a songstress she can thank those lessons for her immaculate delivery. The same child never put her face to the sun and her complexion remains creamy white to this day. And she never blushes. [1]



Bronwyn Setright undertook a five-year LLB program at the University of Sydney. However, she was deemed ineligible to continue after failing a number of subjects multiple times. Bishop failed a total of 11 subjects over six years. In her first year in 1960, she failed all four core subjects. In 1964, she failed four subjects again, and repeated them in 1965, in which she failed three again. The policy of the University of Sydney at the time was that a student was required to show cause why a student should be allowed to repeat a subject for a third time, and Bishop was deemed ineligible to continue. [2] Bishop confirms that, at that time, women in law school were “an exception, a pretty rare breed – maybe ten out of the class of 300” [5]


Having formed an ambition to become a politician, she joined the Liberal Party at the age of 17. Heavily involved in organised politics, Bishop joined Killara Young Liberals in 1961 and during her association with that branch, she became Vice-President. [2]


In 1966 she married Alan Bishop with whom she had studied law at Sydney University. [1] A Alan went on to become a Alderman of the City of Sydney and later, was appointed Judge of the Compensation Court in 2000. He died in 2010.


In 1967 she appeared several times as a lawyer in “Divorce Court” a Channel 9 drama which used actors to portray divorcing couples based on real cases. She filmed one series while pregnant with her first daughter. [1] Bishop first worked as an articled clerk. She was admitted to practise law in 1967 as a solicitor and became a company director before entering politics.


Bishop admitted to few regrets about her decision to become a working mother, virtually from the outset, while doubling as a society wife _ her close friends include high-profile Sydney socialites Lady (Mary) Fairfax and Glen Marie Frost _ from her long-time home in Sydney’s North Shore suburb of Mosman. “I never got to be the tuckshop mother,” she says. “My friends thought I was unusual but they weren’t critical.[1]


Bishop first became a Liberal Party office-holder in 1973 as President of the Balmoral branch [2] Bishop the performer moved from commercial TV to ABC radio where, during the early 1970s, she wrote, produced and broadcasted a series entitled `Law for Mr and Mrs Everyman’. [1]



official Liberal Photo after 1987 election.

Official Liberal Photo after 1987 election.

Bishop was elected as the Chairman of the Liberal Party Convention Committee from 1981 to 1985 and as the first female President of the NSW Liberals from 1985–1987. [2] After the retirement of Sir John Carrick at the double dissolution of 5 June 1987, Bishop was nominated by the Liberal Party to contest the vacant seat in the Senate for New South Wales at the election on 11 July 1987. She won the seat and her term was deemed to have commenced from 1 July. She was the first woman to be popularly elected as a Senator for New South Wales. [2]


She was elevated by Andrew Peacock to the shadow ministry in 1989 as Shadow Minister for Public Administration, Federal Affairs and Local Government (1989–1990). [2] She proved an aggressive debater against the Australian Labor Party, particularly with Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, who during one debate exclaimed to the chamber “Why do you take an instant dislike to Senator Bishop? … To save time”. [2] In return, Bishop’s opinion of Gareth Evans:`He needs psychiatric help. ” and on the ALP,`They call themselves the True Believers. I call them the True Deceivers.’ [1]



In 1992 Bronwyn Bishop’s marriage ended, an event she refused to discuss for many months and of which she will only say: `My husband and I came to a mutual parting of the ways last year with mutual respect intact …’ Here the senator’s light brown eyes become fixed, her lips almost pursed…. and that’s IT. [1]


In 1993 she was back in Channel 9’s Melbourne studio to film an episode of `What’s Cooking with Geoff Jansz’ and took the opportunity to re-create a recipe that saw her featured in a 1977 edition of the magazine `Gourmet’, brandied almond meringue cream. The original article, which Senator Bishop produces from her briefcase, is entitled `Bronwyn and Alan Bishop The Entertainers’. It features a ’70s photograph of the then legal appointee with the NSW Government’s Publications and Classifications Board leaning over an extremely grand dining room table arranging flowers. The hair is a little blonder but the distinctive style is the same. [1]


Bishop admitted at the start of the year to `Good Weekend’ journalist Roy Masters that she slept with her hairstyle intact and only let it down to redo it. She concluded that article by adding: “That’s not when I let it down figuratively, of course.[1] Mrs Bishop’s image endured a severe body blow as a result of her blatant _ and occasionally childish _ attempts at political point- scoring during the `Four Corners’ Republican debate in April (1993). Her performance clearly angered the program’s host Andrew Olle, not to mention dozens of ABC viewers who wrote and telephoned their disapproval. Bishop’s thick skin emerges when she refuses to acknowledge that her performance damaged her image. [1]


After the Liberals’ defeat at the 1993 election, Bishop began to be seen as a possible leadership candidate, a view she shared. Shortly after the 1993 election, Jim Carlton, the member for Mackellar, resigned. In a move widely seen as furthering her leadership ambitions, Bishop resigned from the Senate on 24 February 1994 to contest the ensuing by-election for the safe Liberal seat. Although she was comfortably elected, her campaign against John Hewson for the Liberal Party leadership faced a setback when she did not poll as well as expected against author and filmmaker Bob Ellis, who ran as an independent in the by-election.[2]


In July 1993, there was a summary of her current status. Admirers: Ita Buttrose, Andrew Peacock, Shirley MacLaine, Nick Greiner, John Elliott, Lady Fairfax, Margaret Fletcher, Glen Marie Frost, Gary Punch (grudgingly). Detractors: Malcolm Turnbull, John Howard, John Hewson, (former Liberal senators) Chris Puplick and Peter Baume, Trevor Boucher. Interests: opera, theatre, wine, art galleries, museums, gardening, antiques, classical music. Bronwyn Bishop’s recent TV appearances: `Four Corners’, `Tonight Live’, `What’s Cooking’, `Burke’s Backyard’, `World Series Debating’, `Sunday’, `Good Morning Australia’, `A Current Affair’, `Real Life’, `Business Sunday’, Channel 9’s Election Night Coverage.[1] When Hewson called a spill for the Liberal leadership in 1994, Bishop opted not to stand as a candidate, and Alexander Downer successfully challenged for the party leadership.[2]


When Downer became leader, Bishop became Shadow Health Minister, a senior position, but caused controversy on her first day in office by announcing her support for tobacco advertising, drawing criticism from both the Australian Medical Association and her own party, which supported the Keating Government’s legislation to prohibit tobacco advertising in 1992. Her remarks were attacked by the then AMA president and soon-to-be Liberal MP for the neighbouring seat of Bradfield, Brendan Nelson, who said that: “Mrs Bishop has a lot to learn about health…there are now more than 50,000 pieces of medical research and literature supporting the view that smoking is injurious to humans.” Bishop was dropped from Health and moved to Privatisation and Commonwealth/State Relations (1995–1996). [2]


When the Liberals returned to Government in 1996, Prime Minister John Howard appointed Bishop a Minister in junior portfolios. She was the first Liberal woman from New South Wales to become a minister. She was Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel from 11 March 1996 to 21 October 1998 and Minister for Aged Care from 21 October 1998 to 26 November 2001. [2]



It was in this role of Minister for Aged Care that she endured her greatest scandal, the kerosene baths controversy of 2000. The revelation that some residents at Melbourne’s Riverside Private Nursing Home had suffered blistering after being bathed in a weak kerosene solution as a cure for scabies led to a national outcry over the standards of care maintained by Bishop’s department. She was dropped from the ministry after the 2001 election.[2]bishop1 In 2004 Bishop unsuccessfully ran for the Speakership in Howard’s re-elected Government. Mrs Bishop, then 61, from NSW, said she believed it was important for the speaker to “keep a tidy House, because question time goes into everybody’s loungeroom”. “I would like to elevate the respect people have for the political process and politicians in particular,” she said. “We don’t rate very high. That’s not good for democracy.”[8] Bishop was a Member of the Speaker’s Panel from 16.11.04 to 17.10.07.[6] She enjoys singing and dancing, having appeared in several charity productions including The Sound of Music (as Baroness Elsa), and Grease (as the Headmistress). In 2007, she sang a duet of Irving Berlin’s A Couple of Swells with then Health Minister, Tony Abbott, at a fund-raiser in Sydney. Bishop is also a patron of Opera Australia and was 2008 President of the Sydney International Piano Competition Committee.[2]


In 2006, following a flag-burning incident during the 2005 Cronulla riots and a burnt flag display by a Melbourne artist, Bishop introduced the Protection of the Australian National Flag (Desecration of the Flag) Bill 2006. This bill sought to make it “a criminal offence to wilfully destroy or otherwise mutilate the Flag in circumstances where a reasonable person would infer that the destruction or mutilation is intended publicly to express contempt or disrespect for the Flag or the Australian Nation.” The bill received a second reading but subsequently lapsed and did not go to vote in the House of Representatives. [2]


In the 2007 federal election, Bishop was re-elected to her seat with a 0.62-point primary swing and 3.04-point two-party-preferred swing against her on slightly redistributed boundaries. After his appointment as Liberal Leader, Brendan Nelson appointed Bishop to the Shadow Ministry portfolio of Veterans’ Affairs.[2]

Not always a blonde

Not always a blonde

Nelson bringing back Bishop to the frontbench was in contrast to their past conflict in 1994 when Bishop as Shadow Health Minister defended tobacco advertising which was contrary to the position taken by Nelson, then President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).[2] After the election of Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the Liberal Party, she was dropped from this portfolio, to return to the backbench. Despite speculation that she would be challenged for preselection in her seat of Mackellar for the next election, this did not eventuate and she later reaffirmed her intention to contest the next election. On 5 May 2009, Bishop criticised Turnbull’s leadership, saying that “Malcolm seems to have been strong at the beginning but now he has gone soft.” However, with Turnbull’s loss of the party leadership and the election of Tony Abbott as his successor, on 8 December 2009 Bishop was appointed as Shadow Minister for Seniors. Bishop was re-elected at the 2010 Election and was appointed to the outer shadow ministry as Shadow Special Minister of State and Shadow Minister for Seniors.



March 2o11 and the oh so correct Bishop was standing there, under THAT sign! bishop11


During her time in Opposition Bishop became famous for raising Points of Order and referring to “The Practice”. On occasion she was so forceful that she had to be ejected from the House under Rule 94a.

In 2013 before she became Speaker of the House in the Abbott government, Bishop appeared on episode 2 of series 2 of Annabelle Crabbe’s “Kitchen Cabinet”. The woman once touted as a future prime minister, Bronwyn Bishop served up a mushroom lasagne and some political insights. [4]bishop6

Appointed Speaker by abbott when the Parliament finally sat some months after the September 2013 election, she lost no time in applying the Rule 94a which had so vexed her prior to the election. She has done so with such effect that she has already ejected opposition members over 400 times. As a proof of her lack of bias, she has, in the same time applied the penalty to FOUR Government members.


In MidJune, 2015, Bishop was a panellist on the live ABC show, “Q&A”. Also on the panel was the Commissioner for Human Rights, Gillian Triggs. A most unseemly exchange followed. “The trigger from Triggs: asserting the apparently radical position that parliament was there to protect and defend our legal liberties. Both parties had been lacking in this area in the years since 9/11, she said. “These are the moments when we really have to defend our key liberties and freedoms even more strongly,” Triggs said. [7]

It was all too robust for the liking of Speaker Bishop, whose declarations of affection for the democratic process were tempered by her repeatedly stated opinion that Gillian Triggs was exercising her rights to free speech with an enthusiasm that rendered her position untenable. “Sometimes it can overstep the mark, too. There is a time, and I think Gillian recognises it, that as a statutory officer you have to decide whether you’re a statutory officer, fulfilling that role with security of tenure, or whether you wish to say, ‘I want to be part of the political debate’ and stand for office and run to become part of that political process.” Translation: suck it up or get out. Bishop returned to the theme again later, a remarkable exercise in public denigration [7]


THAT helicopter disgorging B. Bishop at a Golf Course in Geelong.

THAT helicopter disgorging B. Bishop at a Golf Course in Geelong.

In mid-July 2015, Bishop became embroiled in controversy surrounding her use of taxpayer-funded travel entitlements. It had emerged that she had taken taxpayer funded chartered helicopter flights from Melbourne to Geelong and back to attend a state Liberal party fundraiser on 5 November 2014. The cost of the flights was $5,227.27 for a journey that typically takes an hour each way by road. Bishop refused to resign over the expenses claim, describing it as an “error of judgement” while expressing disappointment that the controversy had become a distraction from the opposition and its policies. However, she agreed to pay back the sum of the helicopter flight plus a penalty of $1,307. The controversy was fueled by further revelations of spending on travel. In 2014, Bishop and four parliamentary delegates spent $88,084 on a two week trip to Europe in her bid for presidency of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, including almost $1,000 a day on private limousines. Bishop also charged taxpayers over $3,300 for car expenses in order to attend the opera and other arts events from 2010 to 2013 and charged taxpayers $800 for flights to the wedding of Sophie Mirabella in Albury. [2]

At another wedding for which expenses were claimed.

At another wedding for which expenses were claimed.

In response to the controversy, Tony Abbott declared Bishop was on what he termed “probation”, calling her behaviour “out of line”, though maintaining his confidence in the Speaker. A transcript of Tony Abbott’s comments calling for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to make Peter Slipper resign over a travel expenses scandal was also removed from the Liberal Party’s website.[2]. On 31 July, Tony Abbott announced that the Department of Finance would be reviewing all expenses claimed by Bishop over the past 10 years. This includes the $800,000 claimed during 2014. [2]


On 2nd August, 2015, tony abbott announced that Bronwyn Bishop had tendered her resignation as Speaker.
“I have today written to the Governor-General and tendered my resignation as Speaker of the House of Representatives effective immediately,” Mrs Bishop said in a statement. “I have not taken this decision lightly, however it is because of my love and respect for the institution of Parliament and the Australian people that I have resigned as Speaker. I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Mackellar as their local member, the job that has always been my first responsibly despite other positions I have held within the Parliament.” [9]

On 10th August 2015 Bronwyn Bishop was already having a pretty lousy day on Monday, watching on from the backbench as Tony Smith eased himself into the Speaker’s chair that had been her domain until recently.Then came the disastrous news from the Avalon Beach RSL Club, in the heartland of Mrs Bishop’s Mackellar electorate on Sydney’s northern beaches. Just after 6.15pm on Monday, the former Madam Speaker’s badge number was plucked out in the weekly members’ badge draw, and she was announced as the lucky winner of a $2500 cash prize. The problem was, club rules stipulate that the winner must be in the room to claim the jackpot, worth roughly half a helicopter ride from Melbourne to Geelong. And of course Mrs Bishop was in Canberra, after witnessing her colleague take up her prime seat at the front of the House of Representatives.[10]


[1] Caroline Wilson, The Sunday Age, July 3rd, 1993

[2] Wikipedia (1st Aug, 2015 version)

[3] Trove (Advanced Searches for Setright and Congreve)

[4] ABC

[5] digital.library.adelaide.edu.au

[6] trove “people”

[7] Sydney Morning Herald

[8] the Age 2004/10/14

[9] ABC 2nd Aug 2015

[10] SMH “The Pulse”

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