Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives

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Speaker of the House of Representatives
Speaker's chair, House of Representatives, Canberra.jpg
The Speaker's chair in the House of Representatives
Incumbent
Anna Burke

since 9 October 2012
Style The Honourable
(Diplomatic)
Madam/Mister Speaker
(within the House)
Appointer Elected by the House of Representatives
Inaugural holder Sir Frederick Holder, KCMG
9 May 1901
Formation Constitution of Australia
9 July 1900


The Speaker of the House of Representatives is the person in charge of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Parliament of Australia. The person in charge of the upper house is the President of the Senate.

The current Speaker is Anna Burke. She is the second female Speaker of the House of Representatives, after Joan Child.

The current Parliament is the first Australian federal parliament to have had three Speakers:

  • Harry Jenkins, September 2010-November 2011
  • Peter Slipper, November 2011-October 2012
  • Anna Burke, October 2012-

The office of Speaker was created by section 35 of the Constitution of Australia. The role of Speaker was copied from the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

Election[change | change source]

The Speaker is elected by the House of Representatives in a secret ballot. The Clerk of the Australian House of Representatives holds the election. There must always be a Speaker, and if the position becomes vacant, then an election must take place before the Parliament can do anything else.

In Australia the Speaker generally remains an active member of their party. They continue to attend party meetings, and at general elections they stand as party candidates. However, Sir Frederick Holder and Peter Slipper, resigned from their parties and sat as independents.

The Speaker can be opposed at a general election. Three Speakers, Groom in 1929, Nairn in 1943 and Aston in 1972 have been defeated at general elections. Because the Speaker is always a member of the governing party, they have not continued as Speaker following a change of government. The Opposition sometimes selects one of its own members for Speaker after a general election. This is a symbolic act, and the governing party always supports its own candidates.

Speakers do not have to resign from Parliament at the end of their term. Two Speakers, Makin and Scholes, have become Cabinet ministers after having been Speaker.

Most Speakers have been long serving party members. Four Speakers have been former government ministers Watt, Groom, Cameron and Sinclair. Martin had been a former Parliamentary Secretary. Snedden had been both a former minister and Leader of the Opposition. Holder and Watt were former state premiers.

Anna Burke was elected as the Speaker after Peter Slipper's resignation on 9 October 2012.

Origin[change | change source]

The name "Speaker" comes from early times in the United Kingdom House of Commons. "Mr Speaker" was the Member of Parliament chosen to speak for them to the King. The first recorded use of the term "Speaker" was in 1377. In earlier times when the King was very powerful, he would usually only call the Parliament together in order to get it to agree to new taxes. The Speaker would report parliament decisions to the King. This was dangerous if it was not what the King wanted to hear. It was not uncommon for early speakers of parliament to be beheaded, with another being "murdered". This has led to the modern symbolic show of refusal by a Member on being elected Speaker. In early days a Member’s struggle to avoid being forced into the Chair could have been completely genuine. In Australia the tradition is continued by the act of the new Speaker being escorted to the Chair.[1]

Role[change | change source]

The Speaker's main duty is to be the person in charge of the House. He helped by two Deputy Speakers and a group of Acting Speakers. The second Deputy Speaker is elected from an opposition party. These often take charge during routine debates. The Speaker's role is to:

  • keep order in the House
  • uphold the Standing Orders (rules of procedure)
  • rule on points of order
  • protect the rights of backbench members.
  • be in charge of Parliament House, with the President of the Senate.

Australian parliaments can be very noisy and often members behave badly. The Speaker has powers to control their behaviour as part of the Standing Orders. The Speaker can tell a Member to leave the House for one hour. For more serious offences, the Speaker may "name" a Member. The Speaker will say "I name the Honourable Member for X." In Parliament Members are always called by the name of their electorate. The House then votes on a motion to remove the Member for 24 hours. The House also had the power to permanently expel a Member. This happened once to Hugh Mahon in 1920. In 1987 a new law was passed and Members can no longer be expelled from the Parliament.[2]

Impartiality[change | change source]

Australian Speakers are supposed to be impartial; they are meant to be fair and not to take sides in arguments. They do not take part in debates and they do not usually vote, unless in a rare case the vote is tied. They do not speak out in public about party politics except as part of their own election campaign.

Although not an active political position, the Speakers see it as part of their duty to get the Government's legislation passed through the House. They usually agree with the Government on points of order brought up by Opposition members. If the members are unhappy with the Speaker they can try to pass motions of dissent, or even of no confidence. These are nearly always defeated as members vote to support their party.

There have been several famous clashes between Speakers and the government.

  • In 1929 Speaker Sir Littleton Groom would not come come into the House and vote. His vote would have saved the Bruce government from defeat. 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 Jim Cope when he named government minister Clyde Cameron. Normally the minister would have been suspended. The Speaker resigned on the spot. This is the only occasion on which a Government failed to support a Speaker after a Member had been named.[3]
  • In 1982 Speaker Sir Billy Snedden refused to make Bob Hawke take back his claim 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.

In 2011, the Speaker Harry Jenkins survived after the House did not support his decision to name Liberal MP Bob Baldwin. The Government moved that Baldwin be suspended, but he was supported by the Coalition, independent MP Rob Oakeshott and WA Nationals MP Tony Crook. The vote on suspending Baldwin for 24 hours failed 71–72. Normally the Speaker would have resigned, but the House of Representatives immediately approved a motion of confidence in the Speaker which was passed. Speaker Jenkins continued in office.[4][5][6][7]

Independent and non-government speakers[change | change source]

There have been Speakers who were not members of the government. Former LNP member Peter Slipper became an independent when the Labor Government offered him the job in 2011. Frederick Holder was elected for the Free Trade Party at the first federal election in 1901. He resigned from the party and was an independent speaker until his death in 1909. After the 1940 election, the United Australia Party's Walter Nairn was speaker during the John Curtin's Labor government that was formed in 1941. Opposition MP Carty Salmon was the speaker for Andrew Fisher's Labor government after the 1910 election. At the 1913 election, Labor's Charles McDonald was asked to remain as speaker by the incoming one-seat-majority Commonwealth Liberal Party. He refused but became speaker again after Labor won the 1914 election. McDonald stayed in the job even when the Nationalist Party took government.[8][9]

Benefits[change | change source]

George Mackay as Speaker (1932–1934), wearing the full traditional dress.

A Member who is elected Speaker is given the title 'The Honourable'. With the approval of the Sovereign, this title can be used for life. It is usually only given to those who have served as Speaker for three years or more. Harry Jenkins, was the first Speaker to ask that "The Hon." not be used for him.

Copying the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the traditional dress of the speaker is a Court dress. This can include a black silk gown (similar to a Queen's Counsel gown), a wing collar and a lace jabot or bands (another variation included a white bow tie with a lace jabot), bar jacket, and a full-bottomed wig. The wig used by the speaker was donated by Herbert 'Doc' Evatt when he was elected to the House in 1951. He had worn the wig when he was a High Court Justice (1930–1940). The wig is currently on loan from the speaker's office to the Museum of Australian Democracy.[10] On formal occasions they may also wear court shoes and hose. The dress of Speakers has often changes according to the party in power, but it is the personal choice of the Speaker. All Labor party Speakers have worn business suits, following the example set by their first Speaker, Charles McDonald.

The Speaker, currently, no longer wears the full traditional dress. Billy Snedden (1976–1983) was the last Speaker to do so. The Labor practice resumed from 1983 until the election of the Howard Government in 1996. The new Speaker Bob Halverson chose to wear the court dress of the Speaker upon his election in April 1996, but without the wig.[11] Speaker Ian Sinclair chose wore normal business dress during his brief term in 1998. However Speakers Andrew and Hawker brought back the wearing of the silk gown. Speaker Jenkins resumed Labor practice from 2007 until the election of Peter Slipper in late 2011. Speaker Slipper wore traditional dress with a white long tie or bow tie.[10] He wore a wing collar with white bow tie and bands on the occasion of his first formal procession into parliament.[12] Speaker Burke returned to the Labor practice of wearing normal business clothes.

List of Speakers[change | change source]

# Name Party Term in Office Comments
1 Hon. Sir Frederick William Holder Independent (formerly Free Trade Party) 9 May 1901 – 23 July 1909 Elected to parliament as a member of the Free Trade Party, became an independent. Died in office.
2 Hon. Dr (Charles) Carty Salmon Commonwealth Liberal 23 July 1909 – 30 June 1910
3 Hon. Charles McDonald Labor 1 July 1910 – 8 July 1913 First time in role.
4 Hon. Sir (William) Elliot Johnson Commonwealth Liberal 9 July 1913 – 7 October 1914 First time in role.
Hon. Charles McDonald Labor 8 October 1914 – 13 June 1917 Second time in role.
Hon. Sir (William) Elliot Johnson Nationalist 14 June 1917 – 27 February 1923 Second time in role.
5 Rt. Hon. William Alexander Watt Nationalist 28 February 1923 – 12 January 1926
6 Hon. Sir Littleton Ernest Groom Nationalist 13 January 1926 – 11 October 1929 Defeated in his own seat.
7 Hon. Norman John Oswald Makin Labor 20 November 1929 – 16 February 1932
8 Hon. George Hugh Alexander Mackay United Australia 17 February 1932 – 7 August 1934
9 Hon. Sir George John Bell United Australia 23 October 1934 – 19 November 1940
10 Hon. Walter Maxwell Nairn United Australia 20 November 1940 – 21 June 1943 Continued as speaker when the Curtin Labor government formed in 1941. Defeated in his own seat.
11 Hon. John Solomon (Sol) Rosevear Labor 22 June 1943 – 21 February 1950
12 Hon. Archie Galbraith Cameron Liberal 22 February 1950 – 9 August 1956 Died in office.
13 Hon. Sir John McLeay Liberal 29 August 1956 – 31 October 1966
14 Hon. Sir William John Aston Liberal 21 February 1967 – 2 November 1972 Defeated in his own seat.
15 Hon. James (Jim) Francis Cope Labor 27 February 1973 – 27 February 1975
16 Hon. Gordon Glen Denton Scholes Labor 27 February 1975 – 16 February 1976[13]
17 Rt. Hon. Sir Billy Mackie Snedden Liberal 17 February 1976 – 4 February 1983
18 Hon. Dr. Henry (Harry) Alfred Jenkins, Sr. Labor 22 April 1983 – 11 February 1986 First Speaker whose son was a later Speaker.
19 Hon. (Gloria) Joan Liles Child Labor 11 February 1986 – 28 August 1989 First female Speaker.
20 Hon. Leo Boyce McLeay Labor 29 August 1989 – 8 February 1993
21 Hon. Stephen Paul Martin Labor 4 May 1993 – 30 April 1996
22 Hon. Robert (Bob) George Halverson Liberal 30 April 1996 – 3 March 1998
23 Rt. Hon. Ian McCahon Sinclair National 4 March 1998 – 10 November 1998
24 Hon. (John) Neil Andrew Liberal 10 November 1998 – 16 November 2004
25 Hon. David Peter Maxwell Hawker Liberal 16 November 2004 – 12 February 2008
26 Hon. Henry (Harry) Alfred Jenkins, Jr. Labor 12 February 2008 – 24 November 2011 First Speaker whose father was a previous Speaker.
27 Hon. Peter Neil Slipper[14] Independent (formerly Liberal National Party) 24 November 2011  – 9 October 2012 Elected while still a member of the Liberal National Party, but resigned his membership on the day of his election. Resigned from the Speakership in the midst of court proceedings.
28 Hon. Anna Elizabeth Burke Labor 9 October 2012  – Former Deputy Speaker

References[change | change source]

  1. Speaker of the House of Representatives, second edition: APH
  2. Scaleplus
  3. Ian Harris, Clerk of the House of Representatives, ed. "The Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and officers". House of Representatives Practice. Australian House of Representatives. p. 197. http://www.aph.gov.au/house/pubs/PRACTICE/5Ch06.pdf. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  4. Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 31 May 2011, 5286–86.
  5. Shanahan, Dennis (1 June 2011). "Oakeshott nearly brings down the house". The Australian. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/people-in-politics/oakeshott-nearly-brings-down-the-house/story-fn6aq95y-1226066808233. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  6. "Coalition takes credit for saving Speaker". ABC News. 1 June 2011. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/06/01/3232209.htm?section=justin. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  7. Osbourne, Paul (31 May 2011). "Abbott averts Speaker crisis". The Sydney Morning Herald. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/abbott-averts-speaker-crisis-20110531-1fe8q.html. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
  8. "Appendix 2 Speakers of the House of Representatives". House of Representatives Practice Fifth Edition. Parliament of Australia. http://www.aph.gov.au/house/pubs/practice/appendix2.htm. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  9. Megalogenis, George (25 November 2011). "Rats prepared to ditch their parties to survive". The Australian. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/rats-prepared-to-ditch-their-parties-to-survive/story-e6frgd0x-1226205383175. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Miller, Barbara (8 February 2012). "Pomp-seeker Slipper told to get on with job". ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-08/former-senate-clerk-slams-slippers-ceremonial-changes/3819000?WT.svl=news0. Retrieved 9 February 2012.
  11. Commonwealth Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 30 April 1996, 7.
  12. Griffiths, Emma (14 February 2012). "New procession ushers in Slipper era". ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-14/new-procession-ushers-in-slipper-era/3828928. Retrieved 14 February 2012.
  13. "Biography for Scholes, the Hon. Gordon Glen Denton, AO". ParlInfo Web. Parliament of Australia. http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/view_document.aspx?id=7937&table=BIOGS. Retrieved 24 August 2007.
  14. "Peter Slipper has been formally elected Speaker of the House of Representatives". The Australian. 24 November 2011. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/peter-slipper-has-been-formally-elected-speaker-of-the-house-of-representatives/story-fn59niix-1226204792858. Retrieved 24 November 2011.