In an emailed statement, Bishop said he wanted to put to rest all speculation and rumour regarding his political future and the future of the Democratic/One Cook Islands coalition. According to Bishop, the coalition remains strong.
Bishop does not make any personal references in his statement, commenting only on the opposition coalition he led for just three months before resigning a month before his trial.
The Aitutaki MP and former minister of Marine Resources says the High Court result is only a “minor” setback and doesn’t cloud the coalition’s objective of becoming government.
“The groundwork is already done with the foundations in place to establish a government of national unity.”
The question who will replace Bishop as leader has already been answered with the nomination of political party-hopper Rose Brown, a former Cook Islands Party Member of Parliament. Despite her departure for the opposition and her subsequent failed attempt to oust the Henry Puna government and take over as prime minister, the Cook Islands Party has said she’s always welcome to come back.
Bishop says his priority is to ensure the coalition relationship remains intact. Assurance of that, he says, was given during a joint caucus/executive meeting of the Democrats and OCI last week. All supported Brown becoming leader of the Parliamentary opposition and Tamaiva Tuavera remaining as deputy. Former opposition leader William Heather has been sidestepped in favour of Brown, a relative newcomer to politics. An opposition office spokesperson said all media statements would be issued from one source – the Demo Party headquarters. This could be an attempt to shield Brown from the media and the questions that she will inevitably face, amongst them the reasons for leaving the Cook Islands Party and her readiness to lead the country.
WITH BISHOP at the helm, the Democratic Party was heaved out of the doldrums and the media-savvy parliamentarian took the opposition to new heights in terms of governance and parliamentary etiquette.
Even the opposition office took on an atmosphere of activity, with George Turia the former chief executive of Bishops’ ministerial support office, taking charge. Office administrator Eddie Drollet remains in the opposition office, his six figure salary commanding a big slice of the opposition office budget of $202,000.
Turia says Bishop’s leadership “solidified” things. Under Bishop’s brief opposition leadership, Turia says he was able to pass on to other MPs a better appreciation of the economic issues that impact on Cook Islanders. Bishop has consistently said he was never interested in the $85,000 leader of opposition salary. “I don’t need the money, but if it comes with the job I’ll use it for the benefit of the team,” he told Cook Islands News earlier this year.
Once officially confirmed as the new opposition leader, Rose Brown will swap her $50,000 salary for $85,000 per year. She will also get a free car, cell phone and residential phone. The opposition parliamentary leader also gets an annual $5,000 clothing allowance and $4,000 housing allowance. But as a successful businesswoman, Brown may choose to contribute the extra $35,000 she’ll be paid to assist the opposition office, like her predecessor.
That William Heather has been bypassed a second time will have Finance minister Mark Brown repeating earlier comments that it signals the Democrats think themselves incapable of leading.
Brown has said choosing an MP outside of their Demo ranks to become opposition leader does not give the public any confidence in the opposition.