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Julie Bishop on leaders, life, Liberals and libertines

Julie Bishop was Australia's first female foreign minister and was also Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. Among her many achievements after a career in law, she led the international response to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Today, she manages her own advisory firm and is the first female chancellor of the Australia National University.

She spoke at the International Women’s Day annual event for CFA Societies Australia on 5 March 2021.

She also appeared on ABC TV's 7.30 on 8 March 2021 and shared her views on recent events in Canberra. The video and extracts are added at the end of this article.


The CFA presentation was Julie Bishop’s first trip to Sydney for over a year, and for someone who spent much of her career travelling the world, being grounded in Western Australia was a big change. She sees reasons for a bright future after the pandemic, especially for Australia, but warns that shocks will continue for some time. The World Bank is predicting that the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (under $2 a day) will increase from 700 million people to 800 million due to the pandemic.

There will be long-term fundamental changes from developments in technology, which will disrupt our lives in unimaginable ways. Workers will need reskilling and retraining as businesses adopt technology to their advantage. There will be new jobs and new workplaces, offering opportunities for a bright future.

“Another mega trend that will impact on all our lives is a great power competition between the United States and China. As the Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, put it: it's like a great fracture. The world's splitting into two. The two largest economies are creating separate and competing worlds, each with their own dominant currency, their own AI and internet capacities, each with their own zero sum geopolitical and military strategies.

In the past, Australia has always said, ‘We don’t have to choose.’ But increasingly, China and the US are forcing a choice. And for the first time in our history, our major trading partner is not also our major defense and strategic ally. And for the first time in our history, our major trading partner, China, is in direct economic conflict with our major strategic and intelligence ally in the United States.”

Bishop identified a third global megatrend as a pushback against globalism, as more people feel they are missing out on increasing wealth. The gap between the haves and the have nots leads to a feeling of unfairness and inequality. It has also led to the rise of populism, with seemingly attractive short-term policies adopted to solve an immediate problem but with long-term poor consequences, such as trade wars and restricting migration.

Bishop reflected on the many world leaders she has met (“Boy, should I write a book!"), but she identifies the major characteristic of strong and resilient leaders:

“I think those who best served their community were those who could understand the consequences of their decisions by putting themselves in the shoes of the person they were dealing with. They could appreciate the impact of what they were doing on individuals.”

She characterised her life as a series of ‘sliding door’ moments, where a seemingly inconsequential decision led to significant changes in her career or life. She had always been fascinated by foreign affairs and to eventually become Foreign Minister was her dream role. She had been raised to believe that entering public office was the highest calling. She persevered and after 15 years in Parliament and 11 years as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, she was able to choose her preferred portfolio.

While not wanting to generalise, she saw different characteristics of male and female leaders. Women are more transformational, and they tend to focus on the needs of the individual. They build a team from the ground up and they focus on professional development with empathy for individuals in the team. Men are more transactional. They set goals, and then build a team and hold the individuals to account. They are less focused on the individual and more on the big picture.

She believes there are lessons for business. Both styles have strengths and weaknesses, and boards are far more effective if there is a diversity of views and styles around the table. Greater diversity is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing. Every business must embrace the talents and abilities and energies of 50% of the population.

She also made a surprising comparison between Barack Obama and Donald Trump to show the need to be decisive and understand the consequences of decisions.

“Let me give you two examples. Complete contrast within the one country. President Obama was an extraordinary man, very elegant, very cool kind of leader. And he consulted widely. He would listen to experts, he would seek out advice. He would gather all the evidence and information before making a decision. That is great. But he then didn't make the decision. His serious critics called him the ‘Ditherer in Chief’.

Then look at the style of President Trump, his successor. He didn't get briefed, didn't want to know about expert opinions. He went on his infamous gut instinct and would shoot from the hip or shoot from Twitter. But he would just go with his gut instinct.

Now history will judge who is a better president. Sure, get the evidence, but sometimes you do have to trust your gut instinct."

She then described a leadership structure she admired, developed by Thomas Sowell, a Stanford philosopher and economist. She used this approach when faced with difficult decisions. Sowell asks three questions:

  1. What are the alternatives? What else could you do? 
  2. At what cost? Is this the best allocation of scarce resources?
  3. What’s the hard evidence? If there is no evidence, then it may be taking a risk.

And she added her own fourth: What could possibly go wrong?

Then during question time with Sandi Orleow, she faced the inevitable focus on recent events in Canberra that have dominated media for weeks. She was asked for some strategies to deal with these cultural problems.

She said she feels a sadness and emptiness hearing the stories. She is frustrated that such events are occurring in this day and age. She said Parliament House is where lawmakers gather to make laws on workplace relations and what workplaces should look like across Australia. Parliament House should be the model workplace, the gold standard of workplace behavior. It's not, and the reasons go back to the cultural attitudes and environment that have evolved over time when there were no women in Parliament.

She said they don't have an induction programme for new people coming into the House. There’s nothing about how to behave, there is no moral code. People need a reminder of the rights and responsibilities. It needs ongoing training with feedback and an independent counselling service. She said:

“Political parties are absolutely focused on preserving their party’s prospects and they will do anything to manage risk, to manage a crisis, and not necessarily in a textbook way because the political party’s prospects are at stake. The only authority with the competency and the capability to investigate is the police. And yet, people don't inform the police of allegations of serious illegal conduct in the workplaces. Now, when I was a managing partner of a law firm, I understood it was my duty to inform the police. And if the complainant didn't want to press charges or wanted confidentiality or privacy, they would have to work it out with the police and the lawyers. But as the employer, it’s not up to me to cover up an allegation. I had a duty not to the person but to the entire workforce to tell the police.”

On a lighter note, she was asked about her advice to someone starting their career now.

“I would start by urging them to not let others define who they are, or define what you can achieve and what you can do, set your own standards, set your own benchmarks and then work hard to achieve them. You need to be true to yourself. What do you feel passionate about and what is going to keep getting you up every morning and getting out in the world?

Julie Bishop is an example of what can be achieved when you believe in yourself and tread your own path.

“My mother, who was a huge influence in my life, had this saying, ‘You go this way but once.’ And I took that to mean, do everything you can. If you've got one opportunity, sure you’ll make mistakes and you learn a lot, but just try it. Get out there and live every day, and I do. I get up in the morning, I go for a run, and I do a bit of yoga. I just feel excited by the opportunities that are out there and the things I can do and the people I can meet, and I just love life. I don't have any difficulty being driven.”


Graham Hand is Managing Editor of Firstlinks and attended the CFA Institute event as a guest of MFS International, a sponsor of Firstlinks.


Video: Julie Bishop also appeared with Leigh Sales on ABC's 7.30 Report on 8 March 2021. Selected parts of the interview are reproduced below to avoid repeating points already made above.


LS: Can I ask you broadly for your assessment of the workplace environment for women in Canberra in Parliament House?

JB: There's a powerful culture within all political parties to ensure that no individual does anything that would damage the party's prospects, the party's image or its reputation, particularly at election time. There's so much at stake. One party forms government, ministerial careers are in the balance, marginal seat holders could lose their seat, hundreds of staff jobs are on the line if you lose the election.

So this culture has developed where there's a very low tolerance for mistakes, that people are encouraged not to do anything or say anything that is out of line with the party's prospects.

And so that puts enormous pressure on staff, on members of Parliament, in fact, on everyone, to toe the line, don't rock the boat, don't do anything that would damage the party's prospects.

LS: So for women then who are mistreated or harassed or things of that nature, what effect does that environment have on them and also what message does it send to men in power in Canberra?

JB: Paradoxically, it can mean that a culture develops whereby those who are prone to inappropriate or unprofessional or even illegal behaviour get a sense of protection. They know that people aren't going to complain because that would damage the party, it would damage the party's prospects, and this is across Parliament.

It makes it a very unusual workplace in that regard but also, we don't have the structures in place to counter that. For example, staff are employed by the taxpayer and answer to the Department of Finance. The Department of Finance answers to the Minister for Finance and the Finance Minister is a political figure.

So people are concerned that if they raise a complaint, if they raise an issue, then it may well become politicised, it will become public, it will be the subject of an FOI application. They won't have their complaint dealt with.

LS: When you heard about the Brittany Higgins case, and the aftermath of it and the way it was handled, did it surprise you, or did it strike you as entirely consistent with what you see going on in Parliament?

JB: In my experience, an allegation of that nature, a serious indictable offence, would be brought to the attention of the Prime Minister immediately and that it would have been handled by Prime Minister and Cabinet, the public service side of it.

I'm surprised that no-one thought to inform the Prime Minister. It's the kind of information that prime ministers, in my experience, want to know about and I know there's an inquiry into what the Prime Minister's office knew and why they handled it the way they did. So I guess we'll know why it was that this information was withheld from the Prime Minister.

LS: Do you have any theories as to why that kind of information wouldn't go there?

JB: I think the inquiry will have to give us those answers. But also as someone who has employed many people over many, many years, if someone had come to me with an allegation that a rape occurred, as it turned out, in my office, but in a workplace for which I'm responsible, I would have felt a duty, not only to that person, but to others in the workplace to inform the police.

Now if the person making the complaint wanted privacy, didn't want to press charges, wanted to maintain utmost confidentiality, then that was a matter that person should raise with the police or their lawyers.

And I would have felt that I had an obligation to inform the person who is telling me that I must put it in the hands of the authority.

Nobody else in Australia has the competency or the capacity or the legal authority to investigate such serious complaints and allegations and be able to bring people to justice, both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator.

LS: That is a particularly serious allegation. More broadly, though, how widespread do you think the issue is of sexual harassment and discrimination in Parliament House?

JB: A culture has developed over many years, I think it is embedded in Parliament, because the environment, the conventions, the protocols, were all established at a time when there were no women in Parliament or very few women in Parliament and it's taken a very long time for there to be a change.

Getting more women into the Parliament is not the immediate answer, but it will help. When you have a critical mass of women who put forward their views and state what is acceptable or not acceptable behaviour, then you may well see change and I, for one, would continue to encourage women to consider politics as a career. It can be the most rewarding and satisfying career, but behaviour that is unacceptable, unprofessional, it's not accepted in workplaces across Australia and what concerns me is that Parliament House is where the laws are made. We, in Parliament, we, I was in Parliament, are the legislators.

We make the laws that we impose on workplaces around the country. Parliament House should be the exemplar, the gold standard, the place where people can see how best practice in workplaces should be carried out.

LS: Your former colleague, the former Liberal minister, Sharman Stone, said that when you were in politics a group of male politicians who called themselves the 'swinging dicks' sought to block your career aspirations. Were you aware of this at the time, does it strike you as credible, what did you make of it?

JB: Well, actually, I believe 'big swinging dicks' so there was obviously an overexcited imagination on the part of some I would suggest. Look nobody self-identified to me, thank goodness for that, but if they were seeking to block my aspirations, well they didn't succeed because my ambition was to be the foreign minister of Australia, and I am very proud to say that I served in that role for five years and likewise I was deputy leader of the party for 11 years.

LS: In the matter of Christian Porter, do you believe that he can continue in his role as Attorney-General without further investigation?

JB: This is such a difficult area and I feel so unspeakably sad for everyone involved and there are families and friends who are still suffering and there will be trauma for some time.

The challenge, of course, is that the allegations are historic, that the woman who made the allegations took her own life, and now a serving Cabinet Minister has been informed that the police investigation is at an end.

So, there are no answers. I do know, however, that the South Australian coroner is considering an inquest and to me that is the next logical step. It's within the criminal justice system. There are checks and balances and there are statutory powers. It has legal standing and so, that is the next step and I understand from media reporting that that's what the family would welcome.

JB: I knew him, in fact, when he was a young lawyer in Perth and he was a highly intelligent young man. He had a bright future ahead of him. People often spoke of Christian Porter as someone who would go on to greater things and of course, he did become state treasurer, state attorney-general and then he came into federal politics.

I didn't work closely with him and no-one made complaints to me. The first I heard about these particular allegations was about six months ago from an informal source.

So, people hadn't raised these issues with me. Obviously, as a senior female in the Liberal Party and as a deputy leader, had serious allegations been brought to my attention, I would have reported them to the Prime Minister, to the police, and continued down that path.

LS: What about the Prime Minister and Mr Porter both saying they have not read the letter that was sent?

JB: I have not seen the material. I have not seen any of the documentation and I haven't read media articles about it, but I wonder why they haven't. I think in order to deny allegations you would need to know the substance of the allegations or at least the detail of the allegations.

LS: Do you think that we are at a moment in politics of genuine change or do you think it will be business as usual in Canberra when this current storm passes?

JB: If the events of the last few weeks haven't led political parties to embrace change, I don't know what has to happen.

They are very serious allegations, and they seem to be continuing, and there are changes that can be made. I talked about the structural changes that we could make to ensure that Parliament House is a model workplace.

There are things that can be done but also there has to be education at every level. I'm aware that schoolchildren, schoolgirls and schoolboys, are talking about this issue and that the schools are taking positive steps to have conversations with young people about issues of consent and healthy sexual relations and respect and I think this is, well I know as Chancellor of the Australian National University, these are conversations we have at universities in the higher education sector, where young men and women are together.

So, Parliament House must also have this conversation.

And, you know, Leigh, it's always been a mystery to me why political parties don't appreciate that over 50% of the voting public is female and that a party that embraces and supports and respects women will be a very popular party indeed.

LS: Julie Bishop, thank you.


Elisabeth Hamilton
March 16, 2021

Hi Firstlinks, I am astounded that for some on this forum JB's and LS's speeches don't seem to be relevant to investors. I call myself a 'lucky' German migrant to Australia and self employed and running my own Superfund since years. And I often encounter disbelief with males and females in the same way. Men think its a mens world, females often don't trust themselves to deal with investments. It reminds me of comments were made when Angela Merkel was elected to be Chancellor In Germany: There were widespread comments about her looks: How drab she was! Just a puppet for her party..... She has become the longest serving Chancellor navigating the problems in the European Union with great success mostly. Having her education in communist Germany she has outperformed with great success in the "West" in a Capitalist and Democratic Europe. In year 12 in Germany I was asked which career I would like to take and I said "Chancellor" of Germany. The male teachers laughed but saw and supported my talents. I became an academic and become confident in my skills including dealing with investments. As somebody said on this forum men and woman have different capacities and there is the need to bring those different ways in an equal way of thinking together. Elisabeth

March 16, 2021

The fact that you are a woman and you manage your investments, good for you. But it would not be accurate to suggest that you represent all women. For example, I look after my mother’s investments because she simply does not understand the complexity. That’s not a slight on her part, it is just the way it is. But nor she nor I are out there banging chests about the fact that it is some gender equality nonsense. I think this rhetoric is highly misguided by a people projecting their ideology onto everyone else. Individuals (men or women) can do almost anything if they apply themselves. The fact that they can’t or won’t is no one's problem except their own.

March 16, 2021

Many women of your mothers age were "protected" from a young age from "difficult financial decisions" because it was "beyond them ".
Many were not educated because it was a waste of fathers money.
More still were not in any way involved in family financial decision making and instead were given an "allowance for house keeping".
Many were humiliated by their husbands by the description of their careers ( limited by their lack of education and discriminatory workplace) as trivial and were to "just keep them busy" and allow them to "buy trinkets."
Mean while their brothers were complimented on their prowess and intellectual ability. Encouraged to finish leaving certificate and sent to university. And told the world was their oyster.
And the women's sons grew up thinking that their mother had the same opportunity they had to be able to grow into a financially literate adults.

March 17, 2021

Thank you for your response. I have rarely met a women of any age (in any location – I have worked abroad on and off for the past decade) that is interested in talking to me about the intricacies of asset allocation, dividend reinvestment plans or what percentage of gold in a portfolio is ideal to reduce drawdown. Most of them are university educated, and yet are not interested. It's nobody's fault. There is some nonsense floating around that men and women are (or should be) equal (in every way). Women (on the whole) are into different things, and finance is rarely one. For example, that's why this website is primarily filled with old blokes. I'm sure there are women who care to be interested in finance (it's a free world and any individual can do so). But the claim that there is some barrier to entry is false and a projection of an internal struggle with self.

SMSF Trustee
March 17, 2021

Oh my! And how many men have you met that are interested in those things? OK, possibly among the cohort of people who are interested in financial matters there are more men than women, but most blokes don't want to get into the intricacies of asset allocation either! Rather, they buy some term deposits and direct shares - the intricacies of AA being far too complex for them.
And, even if what you say has any truth in it at all, perhaps its the history of the way men have presumed that women can't deal with such things that's behind it and it's time for blokes to be much more respectful than we have been all these years.
Speaking personally, my wife leaves the management of the SMSF to me for the most part, but she's interested and is very much part of the decision process. When I make changes, I discuss them with her first, explaining my thinking. She rarely disputes anything, but she wants to and needs to be part of the process - as with everything else in our lives, we share things. And when she did make a suggestion it turned out to be one of the best performing assets in the portfolio!
Oh, one more personal story to counterbalance your little tale about your grandmother. I managed my father-in-law's money for the last 10-15 years of his life because he didn't have a clue. It's not a gender thing!

March 17, 2021

@SMSF Trustee, you've made my point for me. Of course this has nothing to do with gender. Any individual can choose to learn about these matters. That fact that (some) women don't – if that is indeed the case – is nobody's issue than their own. There are no barriers to entry. I don't have an issue with natural imbalance, but plenty of people apparently do. The only difference between the sexes that I can see is that one (some) continue to advocate for whatever the flavour of the month is while the other is busy getting things done. 

March 17, 2021

SMSF Trustee thank you for your comments. You and I know many, many women educated, capable, astute and with high levels of financial literacy and competency. I suppose it depends on the company you keep. What you, and I, need to realise is that these "old blokes" - the special group Biggusriggus identifies with and believes populate this publication - are precisely that. And so their numbers will dwindle . Their portfolios full of hot tips and tired ideas will provide us with amusement as they become fixed in their thinking, unable to recognise opportunities that come with change. 

Ken Ellis
March 15, 2021

I found Julies comments accurate and indicative of a culture which is win at all costs and to hell with any other implications. This is why for an increasing number the career as a politician is now lower than that of a second hand car sales person and will continue that way until all politicians learn they are not the beginning and end of all activities within our country.

March 14, 2021

Interesting comments by several males contributors PJ, IV, JD, MF, GH. So on this site contributors can complain about government decisions and the rules they make on superannuation that impact our society, yet we can’t talk about gender equity/pay or gender bias in government decision making or representation that impacts 50% of our population lifestyles. Interesting patriarchal entitlement continues to rule and defines our discussion and decision making process is made by the other 50% of population.

John Dakin
March 15, 2021

By all means, let's discuss the matters you raise, but let's not allow this journal to become a platform for politicians of any stripe..

Warren Bird
March 16, 2021

Huh? One of the best discussions we had on FirstLinks was about the ALP's franking credits proposal. It got very political, but it was robust and (mostly) respectful, and in the end I think helpful. (One of the articles was, I think, me responding to Chris Bowen's views.)

At times this journal has to 'be a platform' for politicians because that will enable us all to be better informed about how policy is made and issues of importance are dealt with. If someone disagrees with what's been said, then they have the opportunity to respectfully state their own argument in the comments.

Alternatively, everyone is perfectly free not to read those articles if they aren't interested! But please don't try to stop Graham and the team making them available to the rest of us who do want to read them and engage with the issues.

March 14, 2021

I am amazed at the comments you have received on publishing the article about Julie Bishop. We have a long way to go.

leigh atkinson
March 14, 2021

Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull are about "payback".

Paul Jenkinson
March 11, 2021

Where is our system of justice? A textbook exercise in ideological, political bastardry by the ABC and even Firstlinks! There was no reason to include a biased, Leftist ABC interview in a financial newsletter.

Ian Vickery
March 12, 2021

Hear, hear. The ABC runs a very narrow agenda concentrating on climate change, the rainbow community. There is strong evidence that 62% of the staff of the ABC support the loony Greens. The fact that they have so many television channel, 9 if you include SBS and so many radio stations the great majority of which will not accept paid advertising shows their complete lack of knowledge in financial matters.

March 11, 2021

If Michael and Stephen can’t see the relevance of JB’s topics and inclusion on a “Business” forum, that is EXACTLY why she (they) need to be here. Congratulations Morningstar.

John Dakin
March 11, 2021

I cannot see the relevance of Julie Bishop's comments on Parliamentary mores, the Christian Porter matter or women in leadership roles to Firstlinks. This is a financial journal, blessedly free of politics and personalities. Please keep it that way.

March 11, 2021

An ABC hosted interview with Julie Bishop is of minus zero interest First Links, especially now as it is part of Morningstar, must remain non political. How can the leading questions from Sales and Bishops replies regarding Obama and the current local situation be anything except pointedly political-no excuses. 

Graham Hand
March 11, 2021

Hi Stephen, if you believe 7.30 has no 'business' content whatsoever, then consider the massive industry focus on ESG, including what investors expect on 'social' issues. Many examples but this today from a leading asset consultant based on 'recent events':

"Frontier Advisors is putting investment managers on notice, warning them to expect a tougher appraisal of how they manage cultural and governance issues. While it has always assessed and considered culture when it formulates manager ratings and recommendations, the asset consultant said that recent events prompted it to "amplify the processes and weighting" of culture assessments."

March 11, 2021

Why publish Julie Bishop piece in Firstlinks? Firstlinks is excellent. But please remain focussed.

Graham Hand
March 11, 2021

Thanks for the feedback, Michael. Much of what Julie Bishop covered related to business, leadership and how to succeed. And the fact she presented to a CFA Institute lunch (hardly a fashion show) shows her opinions were interesting to people directly in the Firstlinks' audience. The politics is a bonus when it's the most topical issue in the news at the moment.

Stephen Chambers
March 11, 2021

I can only concur with Michael’s comments - While Ms Bishop’s presentation to the CFA Institute was perhaps warranted, the inclusion of her interview with the 7.30 report on Morningstar’s website which covered NO Business content whatsoever was totally unnecessary and unwelcome. Very very disappointing and perplexing decision by Morningstar to do this.

March 11, 2021

Shooting from the hip might be OK if your aim is as good as Annie Oakley's, but if not, you end up with a lot of collateral damage. Trump's gut instinct has been a lot more costly than Obama's considered approach.

john flynne
March 11, 2021

Her due diligence on Greensill left much to be desired.

Deley gyltsang
March 11, 2021

Greensill implosion currently unraveling. Due diligence was missing from her, unraveling is yet to hit hard, just like CDO which set off the gfc.


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