GASP: Can't keep Holden on

The treasurer plays bully with Holden, Billabong's new boss plays it cool and Bronwyn Bishop engages in furious acts of parliamentary privilege.

He may have been rolled by his esteemed Nationals colleagues on GrainCorp, but Treasurer Joe Hockey was keen to flex his ministerial muscle this week as speculation over Holden’s future in Australia reached fever pitch.

Hockey, who previously said he wouldn’t be bullied by anyone, was himself accused of bullying Holden. The treasurer ‘dared’ Holden to leave, telling parliament: “There is [sic] a hell of a lot of industries in Australia that would love to get the assistance that the motor vehicle industry is getting.”

Reports that the prime minister’s office would replace its fleet of executive Holdens with BMWs only added to the provocation. Talk about jumping off a sinking ship (although, a good taste in lifeboats, it has to be said).

Holden’s Mike Devereux was in the most difficult position of all. But his reasoned, articulate contributions to the fray elevated him from media whipping boy to media’s most valuable player – most notably for saying the decision to exit was not only taken in Detroit but was “years in the making”.

Nothing to sea here

If you can tell a lot from a person by their attire, then Billabong’s new chief executive Neil Fiske thinks the surfwear retailer’s ongoing troubles are like lying on a Lilo in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, someone left him floating on a discounted model with a nasty hole in it.

Where Billabong’s previous boss Launa Inman looked uneasy spruiking the brand while clad in pearls, Fiske fronted this week’s annual general meeting in a colourful floral shirt.

He outlined his new strategy for the brand – namely, slashing product lines by up to 30 per cent – and explained to shareholders that 40 per cent of the brand’s styles generated just 5 per cent of sales. It was a line remarkably close to Inman’s claim at last year’s AGM that “34 per cent of our styles account for one per cent of sales”.

But Fiske was quick to distance himself from his vanquished successor in more than just the fashion stakes: “With all due respect to Ms Inman,” he said, “the strategy’s a little bit different.”

Billabong’s new executives also survived a challenge on their remuneration report from activist shareholders, but if there is one thing Inman can teach Fiske it’s that at the head of the good ship Billabong, there’s always another tidal wave – and it’s rarely too far away.

Balancing Bronwyn

Hell hath no fury like the Member for Mackellar. If there was any doubt about that, Speaker Bronwyn Bishop dispelled it this week – particularly for the members on her left, geographically and ideologically.

Bishop faced accusations of partisan bias on Tuesday that persisted throughout the week. In fact, by week’s end she’d survived the third dissent motion lodged against her by the opposition since the election.

But it was on Wednesday that Bishop really outdid herself, calmly and methodically ejecting 10 Labor MPs. The feat saw her fall just short of the 2005 record for the most ejections in a single day, when Speaker Richard Hawker gave eight MPs the boot during question time and Deputy Speaker Ian Causley ordered out three MPs during a general debate. All 11 MPs belonged to the Labor Party, motley bunch that they are.

Bishop has a long way to go if she wants to attract the kinds of barbs aimed at the speaker of the Victorian Parliament, Ken Smith. He has been called a “coward”, an “embarrassment” and beholden to his "puppet master", Victorian Premier Denis Napthine, by various Labor MPs.

But it’s early days.

Meanwhile, the government was on hand to remind us of the Labor Party's true motives in attacking Bishop: it can’t handle powerful women.

Kelly O’Dwyer – one of several mid-tier female Coalition MPs who was praised ceremoniously pre-election before being locked out of the cabinet – said Labor’s actions toward the Speaker showed how hypocritical they were on the issue, while another lamented the opposition’s “breathtaking cognitive dissidence”.

While the class war raged on over the treatment of automotive workers over in Elizabeth, Canberra decided to give the gender wars another go. Perhaps it had something to do with Bronwyn’s earrings, which bore a striking resemblance to miniature blue ties.


Graph for GASP: Can't keep Holden on

Tweet of the week


Graph for GASP: Can't keep Holden on

One-line wonders

  • “I’m sorry, but a point of order isn’t what is in the Sydney Morning Herald.” House of Representatives Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.

  • “We have been trying to do too many things and none of them particularly well.” Billabong chief executive Neil Fiske.

  • "This was never about early years, this was never about quality, this was never about educators, this was never about the children, this was only ever about the union.” Assistant Education Minister Sussan Ley.

  • “This is a betrayal, this is a broken promise that will hang like an albatross around Malcolm Turnbull’s neck.” Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare responding to the Coalition’s national broadband network strategic review.

The last gasp

With Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten away for the Mandela celebrations, it was time for their deputies to shine. For many members of the public, it was an introduction to second-in-charge Warren Truss, while on the other side of the chamber the more well-known Tanya Plibersek held court for Labor.

Truss was vague and dismissive in his dealing with the Holden crisis, which forced him even more into the limelight. Plibersek, by contrast, was less visible – her presence in question time was less authoritative and her press conference following the announcement of Holden’s withdrawal was dominated by a clearly enraged Kim Carr.

In what was a trying week for both sides, Truss and Plibersek held their own, but neither showed a particular flair for full-blown leadership.