Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is being accused of throwing a “hypocritical, petty dummy spit” and undermining Australia’s relations in the Pacific after canning a bipartisan overseas trip that dates back to the Howard government but Ms Bishop says her “packed agenda” is to blame for the cancellation.
The spat stems from last year’s trip to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Nauru after Labor said Ms Bishop told Pacific leaders she wouldn’t cut their foreign aid. Ms Bishop angrily disputed Labor’s account at the time.
The annual cross-party visit has been a tradition ever since it was introduced by Ms Bishop’s coalition predecessor Alexander Downer. The new coalition government kept up the convention and invited Labor’s Foreign spokespeople Tanya Plibersek and Matt Thistlethwaite on the 2013 trip.
But Labor says it was uninvited from this year’s tour as payback over the argument about foreign aid.
In a letter dated March 19, a clearly angry Ms Bishop wrote to Ms Plibersek and said Labor’s claims weren’t backed up by the official record of the meeting.
“Your false assertions of what was discussed in my meetings with Pacific Leaders, to which you were invited, clearly undermined the bi-partisan spirit of this tour,” she wrote.
And in a handwritten postscript, Ms Bishop adds “Tanya, I am very disappointed you have chosen this path, Julie”.
But the minister, who is currently in Papua New Guinea with cabinet ministers David Johnston and Scott Morrison, said the trip didn’t take place this year “due to the packed agenda, including the G20 in Brisbane”.
Ms Plibersek sought permission to attend the November summit but the government said it would grant only one representative from the Opposition access and that was given to Leader Bill Shorten.
Ms Bishop also named her recent trip to New York to chair Australia’s second and final Presidency on the United Nations Security Council as a reason the Pacific trip was cancelled. She said she would “consider” a bipartisan tour of the Pacific “should scheduling allow in the future”.
The minister said the Opposition had been told “weeks ago” that “due to scheduling it was not possible to undertake a Pacific visit this year”.
The details of the political squabbling comes to light just days after the government announced $3.7 billion cuts to the Foreign Aid budget, which, when added to the May budget reduction takes the total cuts to $11 billion.
Labor’s Spokesperson for the Pacific, Matt Thistlethwaite, questioned how the minister could allow her budget to be hacked into for the second time this year “without protest”.
“These cuts will hurt local communities and undermine the good reputation of Australia in that area,” he told Fairfax Media
“She’s got to able to cop criticism of her domestic policy decisions yet promote a bipartisan approach to our region and Julie Bishop has failed to do this with this petty decision,” he said.
“The foreign minister’s dummy spit has undermined the bipartisan nature to the pacific,” he said.
Last month, Ms Bishop decried Ms Plibersk’s approach to the portfolio and said she wasn’t bipartisan enough. The minister also said she would blame Labor for any further cuts to the foreign aid budget, because of what she said was the Opposition’s failure to support budget savings.
Mr Thistlethwaite said Ms Bishop’s complaints were “hypocritical” in light of the decision to cancel Labor’s travel.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.