While Australia’s governing center-right Liberal Party is facing an exodus of female talent after long struggling to include women in top positions, it still may have appeared like a role model to observers abroad not so long ago. Over the weekend, Bishop recalled how she and then-Defense Minister Marise Ann Payne faced disbelief when they both attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2017, as many male colleagues could not hide their surprise over seeing “two women in such senior and significant global roles.”
To make her point explicit, Bishop recalled a specific incident after President Trump’s U.N. General Assembly speech that year, at a cocktail reception hosted by Trump and his wife, Melania Trump.
When Bishop arrived at the venue with her partner, David Panton, “Melania, standing by, assumed that [David] was the foreign minister,” Bishop recalled during an interview Saturday with journalist Annabel Crabb at the Adelaide Festival.
Melania Trump, according to Bishop’s recollection, asked her: “Julie, will you be coming to my ladies’ lunch tomorrow?” Bishop said, imitating the first lady’s European accent.
“And I said: No, David is going to the partners’ lunch. She thought about that for a while, thinking: Why would Australia’s foreign minister come to the partners’ lunch?” Bishop described what she thought went through Melania’s head at the time.
“This went on for a while,” Bishop said, recalling that it was the president who finally explained to the first lady that she was in fact the foreign minister.
“This story is false,” Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman, wrote in an emailed response. “It is sad to hear that Mrs. Bishop felt the need to undermine the First Lady after Mrs. Trump graciously invited her to her United Nations luncheon,” she wrote.
On Sunday, Bishop spoke out on a separate panel about the challenges she faced during her career as a female politician, hampered by incidents back in Australia that made for far less amusing anecdotes.
“It can be pretty lonely. You keep very much to yourself as a woman,” Bishop said about her career in politics, according to the Australian ABC. “You don’t go out drinking with the boys — it’s just not the same camaraderie. … Parliament House is not a family-friendly place.”
Bishop has repeatedly spoken out against what she says is a flawed representation of women in Australian politics, which she says is a growing, instead of receding, problem. “It’s not acceptable for our party to contribute to the fall in Australia’s ratings from 15th in the world in terms of female parliamentary representation in 1999 to 50th today. There’s a lot to be done,” she said at an event in September.
“I have seen and witnessed and experienced some appalling behavior in Parliament, the kind of behavior that 20 years ago when I was managing partner of a law firm of 200 employees I would never have accepted,” she said last year.
The boys’ club mentality Bishop described has also been suspected to be behind her defeat during the conservative party’s leadership race last year, despite her lead in public approval ratings over the internal contest’s winner, Scott Morrison.
Even as a backbencher following her resignation from the cabinet last year amid her failed leadership bid, Bishop has remained popular among voters. Meanwhile, her party is facing a possible defeat during the upcoming elections.
Some say that the party might have fared far better under Bishop as leader.
If she ever eyed a top political role again, doing so after the Trump presidency might help avoid another awkward encounter. That’s especially true after Bishop made her version of events from the 2017 U.N. General Assembly public Saturday.
“I was introduced to him afterwards,” Bishop recalled of Trump’s U.N. General Assembly speech in 2017. “And it was all: You know, what did you think of my speech? What did you think of me?” Bishop described a seemingly self-consumed Trump, amid audience laughter.