Former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop during question time after returning to the backbench. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Dick Smith Photo: James Brickwood
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They are both noted aviation enthusiasts.
But Dick Smith and Bronwyn Bishop could be on a collision course to fighting it out on the ground for the former Speaker’s federal seat of Mackellar.
Mr Smith has been approached by senior figures in the aviation industry urging him to stand against Mrs Bishop, one of his childhood friends, Fairfax Media can reveal.
According to Mr Smith, the group paid for polling of voters in Mackellar, which found the entrepreneur and former Australian of the year would win the seat if he stood as an independent.
Mrs Bishop, 73, has re-nominated and senior Liberal sources believe she is almost certain to be re-endorsed by local party members during the current preselection process.
But the infamous “choppergate” scandal that ended her tenure as Speaker and rocked the beleaguered Abbott government has dented her popularity with ordinary voters in Mackellar.
“They told me they spent money on polling and ‘you would romp it in’,” Mr Smith told Fairfax Media.
Mackellar, located on Sydney’s northern beaches peninsula, is known as a parochial seat but Mr Smith has lived in the electorate for decades and ran the Australian Geographic business from Terrey Hills, also inside the electorate.
“I have been asked to stand and I am thinking about it. I would only do it as an independent,” he said.
“The first person I would ring if I do decide to stand is Bronwyn, I still consider her a friend.”
The pair grew up in the same street in East Roseville and attended Roseville Public School. Mr Smith has previously revealed Mrs Bishop, who is 18 months older than him, was the “treasurer” of a cubbie house that neighbourhood kids had in local bushland.
Mr Smith endorsed a Sustainable Population Party candidate in the recent North Sydney byelection to replace former treasurer Joe Hockey and he believes his views on curbing population growth in Sydney would resonate in Mackellar where development density and growing travel times to the city have been persistent concerns.
But his main motivation, he said, would be to fight the “staggering increase” in red tape in non-airline aviation under Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, whose Infrastructure and Regional Development portfolio includes the sector.
“I’m concerned that the aviation industry is being completely destroyed under the Coalition,” he said.
Last year, Mr Smith declared he would challenge former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his seat of Warringah because the Coalition had backed away from a promise to install radar technology at regional airports. At the time, he said he did not want to win Warringah but hoped to draw attention to the aviation issue.
On Wednesday, he said there was no longer any point in challenging the dumped prime minister but said the issue of safety and rising costs had got even worse.
Mr Smith believes the Coalition’s appointments of former military leaders Angus Houston and Mark Skidomore to roles at Airservices Australia and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, respectively, is emblematic of an approach that has seen the imposition of “expensive rules” that have made flying costlier but failed to deliver commensurate safety improvements.
He said flight movements at Sydney’s second airport, Bankstown, had fallen from 500,000 a year to 270,000 since the change of government. Last week, the one remaining shop selling food at Bankstown Airport closed.
Mr Smith said he felt “too old” to begin in politics but said the polling suggested voters in Mackellar “can’t believe” Mrs Bishop at 73 intends to go around again.
“If it’s the only way I can get these [aviation] reforms, I will do it,” he said.
Sources from the Liberal Party’s moderate and centre right factions said there was now virtually no chance of persuading or preventing Mrs Bishop from running again.
Fairfax Media revealed in December that Mrs Bishop had told supporters at her annual Christmas drinks function at her Newport home that she wanted to stay in Parliament to fight the rising threat of terror.
Liberal branches are expected to overwhelmingly back her despite the likelihood of challengers from the hard right and moderates.
“Why get involved in a fight you can’t win?,” said a source.
Another said of the preselection process: “She will contest it and in my view she will win it.”
Her most ferocious opposition is likely to come from the hard right grouped around Mr Abbott.
The faction is still incensed that Mrs Bishop withdrew her support for Mr Abbott and voted for Malcolm Turnbull in September’s leadership spill after the former prime minister had sustained weeks of damage as he stood by her over her extravagant use of a helicopter to a Liberal fundraiser in Geelong.
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