Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives
The Speaker of the House of Representatives
is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Parliament of Australia
. The other presiding officer is the President of the Senate
The office of Speaker is not created by the Constitution of Australia, but is referred to in the Constitution a number of times. The authors of the Constitution intended that the Australian Parliament should be as nearly as possible a replica of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and it was automatically assumed that the House of Representatives would elect a Speaker.
The Speaker is elected by the House of Representatives in a secret ballot. The first Speaker, Sir Frederick Holder, sat as an independent after his election as Speaker, but since his death in 1908 the Speakership has been a partisan office and the nominee of the government party has always been elected. Unlike the Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain, the Speaker continues to attend party meetings, and at general elections stands as a party candidate. There is no convention in Australia that the Speaker should not be opposed in his or her constituency.
On the other hand, the Speaker is not a political figure like the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He or she does not take part in debates in the House, does not vote in the House except in the (rare) event of a tied vote, and does not speak in public on party-political issues (except at election time in his or her own constituency). He or she is expected to conduct the business of the House in an impartial manner, and generally does so. The Speaker is assisted by two elected Deputy Speakers, one of whom, by convention, comes from the Opposition party.
The Speaker’s principal duty is to preside over the House, although he is assisted in this by the Deputy Speakers and a panel of Acting Speakers, who usually preside during routine debates. The occupant of the Chair must maintain order in the House, uphold the Standing Orders (rules of procedure) and protect the rights of backbench members. The Speaker, in conjunction with the President of the Senate, also administers Parliament House, Canberra, with the assistance of an administrative staff.
Australian parliaments are notoriously rowdy, and the Speaker frequently exercises the disciplinary powers available under Standing Orders. The Speaker may summarily order a Member to excuse him or herself from the House for one hour. For more serious offences, the Speaker may “name” a Member. The House then votes on a motion to suspend the Member for 24 hours. (The House also has the power to expel a Member, but this has happened only once, in 1920.)
There have been several memorable clashes between Speakers and the governments which caused them to be elected.
- In 1929 Speaker Sir Littleton Groom declined to come into the House and cast a vote in committee when his vote would have saved the Bruce government from defeat. As a result he was expelled from the Nationalist Party and defeated in his constituency at the subsequent election.
- In 1975 the Whitlam government refused to support Speaker James Cope when he “named” a government minister for disrespect to the Chair: normally this would have resulted in the minister’s suspension from the House. The Speaker resigned on the spot, although he was under no obligation to do so.
- In 1982 Speaker Sir Billy Snedden refused to insist that an opposition frontbencher, Bob Hawke, retract an allegation that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, was a liar. Snedden stood his ground despite furious demands from government members that Hawke either be made to retract or be “named.”
Speakers of the House of Representatives
(This table shows the Speaker’s party, constituency and state in brackets)
Speaker Andrew has announced that he will retire at the next election, due in 2004
- Hon Sir Frederick Holder (Independent, Wakefield SA): 9 May 1901 to 23 July 1908
- Hon Dr Charles Salmon (Lib, Laanecoorie Vic): 23 July 1908 to 30 June 1910
- Hon Charles McDonald (ALP, Kennedy Qld): 1 July 1910 to 8 July 1913
- Hon Elliot Johnson (Lib, Lang NSW): 9 July 1913 to 7 October 1914
- Hon Charles McDonald (ALP, Kennedy Qld): 8 October 1914 to 13 June 1917
- Hon Sir Elliot Johnson (Nat, Lang NSW): 14 June 1917 to 27 February 1923
- Rt Hon William Watt (Nat, Balaclava Vic): 28 February 1923 to 12 January 1926
- Hon Sir Littleton Groom (Nat, Darling Downs Qld): 13 January 1926 to 11 October 1929
- Hon Norman Makin (ALP, Hindmarsh SA): 20 November 1929 to 16 February 1932
- Hon George Mackay (UAP, Lilley Qld): 17 February 1932 to 7 August 1934
- Hon Sir George Bell (UAP, Darwin Tas): 23 October 1934 to 19 November 1940
- Hon Walter Nairn (UAP, Perth WA): 20 November 1940 to 21 June 1943
- Hon Solomon Rosevear (ALP, Dalley NSW): 22 June 1943 to 21 February 1950
- Hon Archie Cameron (Lib, Barker SA): 22 February 1950 to 9 August 1956
- Hon Sir John McLeay (Lib, Boothby SA): 29 August 1956 to 31 October 1966
- Hon Sir William Aston (Lib, Phillip NSW): 21 February 1967 to 2 November 1972
- Hon James Cope (ALP, Sydney NSW): 27 February 1973 to 27 February 1975
- Hon Gordon Scholes (ALP, Corio Vic): 27 February 1975 to 11 November 1975
- Rt Hon Sir Billy Snedden (Lib, Bruce Vic): 17 February 1976 to 4 February 1983
- Hon Dr Harry Jenkins (ALP, Scullin Vic): 22 April 1983 to 11 February 1986
- Hon Joan Child (ALP, Henty Vic): 11 February 1986 to 28 August 1989
- Hon Leo McLeay (ALP, Grayndler NSW): 29 August 1989 to 8 February 1993
- Hon Steven Martin (ALP, Cunningham NSW): 4 May 1993 to 30 April 1996
- Hon Robert Halverson (Lib, Casey Vic): 30 April 1996 to 3 March 1998
- Rt Hon Ian Sinclair (NPA, New England, NSW): 4 March 1998 to 10 November 1998
- Hon Neil Andrew (Lib, Wakefield, SA): from 10 November 1998