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Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives

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Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives

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 presiding officer of the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Parliament of Australia. The presiding officer in the upper house is the President of the Senate. The office of Speaker was created by section 35 of the Constitution of Australia. The authors of the Constitution intended that the House of Representatives should as nearly as possible be modelled on the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.


The Speaker is the presiding officer of House of Representatives debates, determining which members may speak. The Speaker is also responsible for maintaining order during debate, and may punish members who break the rules of the House.

The office of Speaker is currently held by Tony Smith (Liberal) since 10 August 2015. The Deputy Speaker is Mark Coulton (National), who was elected Deputy Speaker on 30 August 2016. If the Speaker is absent the Deputy Speaker becomes the Acting Speaker. The Second Deputy Speaker is Rob Mitchell (Labor).


The Speaker is elected by the House of Representatives in a secret ballot, with an election held whenever the Office of the Speaker is vacant, as set out in Chapter 3 of the House of Representatives Standing and Sessional Orders. The Clerk of the Australian House of Representatives conducts the election. In accordance with longstanding tradition, the MPs who move and second the nomination of the successful candidate "drag" him or her to the chair after his election.

Unlike the Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain, the Speaker generally remains an active member of their party. If a party member, the Speaker will continue to attend party meetings, and at general elections will stand as a party candidate. There were two exceptions to this: the first Speaker, Frederick Holder (1901) and Peter Slipper (2011), who resigned from their respective parties upon election as Speaker, and sat as independents.

A Speaker ceases to hold that office if, for any reason, he or she ceases to be a member of the House. There is no convention in Australia that the Speaker should not be opposed in his or her seat, and three Speakers have been defeated at general elections: Littleton Groom (1929), Walter Nairn (1943) and William Aston (1972). Because the Speaker is always the nominee of the governing party, there is no expectation that a Speaker will continue in office following a change of government. While the Opposition usually nominates one of its own members for Speaker after a general election, this is understood to be a symbolic act, and party discipline is always followed in any ballot.

By reason of section 40 of the Constitution, while in the Chair, a Speaker does not have a deliberative vote, but if there is a tie in votes, the Speaker has a tiebreaker vote.

Most Speakers have been senior backbenchers of the party holding office at the start of a new Parliament, or at the time of the death or resignation of an incumbent Speaker. Five Speakers have been former government ministers: William Watt, Littleton Groom, Archie Cameron, Ian Sinclair and Bronwyn Bishop; one a former Parliamentary Secretary: Stephen Martin; and one both a former minister and a former Leader of the Opposition: Billy Snedden. Two were former state premiers: Holder and Watt. There is no convention in Australia that Speakers should resign from Parliament at the end of their term; two Speakers have become Cabinet ministers after having been Speaker: Norman Makin and Gordon Scholes.

Bronwyn Bishop was elected Speaker on 12 November 2013, as the Coalition's first female Speaker of the House and the third female Speaker, after Labor's Joan Child (1986–89) and Anna Burke (2012–13). The (43rd) Parliament (2010–13) was the first Australian federal parliament to have had three Speakers: Harry Jenkins (elected September 2010), Peter Slipper (November 2011), and Anna Burke (October 2012).


The name "Speaker" originates from olden times in the United Kingdom House of Commons. "Mr Speaker" was a description rather than a title, the speaker being the Member of Parliament chosen to speak for them to the king. The first recorded use of the term "Speaker" was in 1377. During earlier times when the king was very powerful, he would usually only call the Parliament together to get it to agree to levy taxes. The speaker would report parliament's decisions to the king, which proved to be 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". The traditional token reluctance shown by a member on being elected speaker dates from this time, when a member's struggle not to be physically forced into the Chair could have been completely genuine. The practice in the House of Representatives that the newly elected speaker is escorted to the Chair by his supporters derives from this tradition.

All male Speakers have been addressed by members as "Mister Speaker" while in the Chair. Joan Child chose to be addressed as "Madam Speaker", as female Speakers are usually referred to in other parliaments. The former Speaker, Anna Burke, broke with this tradition and ruled that her official form of address is merely "Speaker."


The Speaker's principal duty is to preside over the House and maintain order in the House, uphold Standing Orders (rules of procedure), rule on points of order, and protect the rights of backbench members.

The Speaker is assisted by two deputies, both also elected by the House: the Deputy Speaker and Second Deputy Speaker, the latter of which must be elected from an opposition party. If the Speaker is absent, the Deputy Speaker would become the Acting Speaker and the Second Deputy Speaker the Acting Deputy Speaker. If both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are absent the Second Deputy Speaker would become Acting Speaker. The Speaker also appoints members to serve on the Speaker's Panel, who often take the chair during noncontroversial debates, and also preside over deliberations in the Federation Chamber.

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, saying "I name the Honourable Member for X," following the House's convention that Members are always referred to by their electorate. The House then votes on a motion to suspend the Member for 24 hours. (The House also had the power to permanently expel a Member, but this happened only once, in 1920: the member was Hugh Mahon. The House no longer has the power to expel a member from membership of the House under Section 8 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987.)

The Speaker, in conjunction with the President of the Senate, also administers Parliament House, Canberra, with the assistance of an administrative staff. The Speaker has accountability obligations to the Parliament for the Department of the House of Representatives.

A member of the House who wishes to resign would tender his or her resignation to the Speaker (but not to an Acting Speaker), or if there is no Speaker to the Governor-General. During the Joint Sitting of 1974 the Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives Jim Cope was the presiding officer.


While impartial, the Speaker does not usually quit the membership of his or her party – as is traditional Westminster convention. The only two speakers to have not been formally a member of a party were Sir Frederick Holder (who resigned from the Free Trade Party upon taking the role) and Peter Slipper (who resigned from the Liberal Party the day after his election to the chair).

On the other hand, the Speaker is not an active 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.

There have been several memorable clashes between Speakers and the governments that caused them to be elected:

  • In 1929 Speaker 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 Jim Cope when he named government minister Clyde Cameron for disrespect to the Chair: normally this would have resulted in the minister's suspension from the House. 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.
  • In 1982 Speaker 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.
  • In addition, a notable occurrence in 2011, a Speaker survived being countermanded by the House. After a contentious debate on carbon pricing in which Speaker Harry Jenkins declared a "general warning" for all members, Liberal MP Bob Baldwin interjected and was named by the Speaker. The Government accordingly moved that he be suspended, but Baldwin was supported by the Coalition, independent MP Rob Oakeshott and WA Nationals MP Tony Crook. The resulting vote on suspending Baldwin for 24 hours failed 71–72. Convention would normally have required the Speaker to resign, but the House of Representatives immediately thereafter approved a motion of confidence in the Speaker, and as a consequence, Speaker Jenkins continued in office.

    Independent and non-government Speakers

    Precedents for independent MP Speakers are former LNP member Peter Slipper who was the second speaker in the hung parliament resulting from the 2010 election; Frederick Holder who was initially elected for the Free Trade Party at the inaugural 1901 election, serving as an independent while speaker until his death in 1909; and in the Senate, Labor's Mal Colston became an independent and Deputy President of the Senate following the 1996 election.

    In the previous hung parliament elected at the 1940 election, the United Australia Party's Walter Nairn was speaker during the Curtin Labor government that was formed in 1941. Opposition MP Carty Salmon initially served as speaker for the first federal Australian majority government, the Andrew Fisher Labor government, resulting from the 1910 election. At the 1913 election, Labor's Charles McDonald was offered retention of the Speakership by the incoming one-seat-majority Commonwealth Liberal Party, but declined – later however, after Labor's return to government at the 1914 election, McDonald regained the Speakership until the subsequent election despite the mid-term change to a Nationalist Party government.

    Honorific title

    A Member elected Speaker is entitled, while Speaker, to the title "The Honourable", which, with the approval of the Sovereign, may be retained for life. This privilege is usually only given to those who have served as Speaker for at least three years. Speaker Harry Jenkins (2008–11) was the first Speaker to ask that "The Honourable" title not be used in reference to him, while also making clear that he was not attempting to set a precedent for future Speakers; he was simply not personally comfortable with the title.

    Official dress

    Following the Westminster tradition inherited from the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, the traditional dress of the Speaker includes components of Court dress such as a black silk lay-type 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 available for use by the speaker was used by Herbert 'Doc' Evatt when he was a High Court Justice (1930–1940) and was donated to the Parliament by Evatt when he was elected to the House in 1951. The wig is currently on loan from the speaker's office to the Museum of Australian Democracy. Another addition used by earlier speakers, though only for the most formal occasions, included court shoes and hose.

    The dress of Speakers has often varied according to the party in power, but is determined on the personal choice of the Speaker. Most non-Labor Speakers have worn some variation of the traditional dress. All Labor Speakers have eschewed the traditional dress in favour of ordinary business attire as appropriate for a member of parliament, following the example set by their first Speaker, Charles McDonald.

    Billy Snedden (1976–1983) was the last Speaker to wear the full traditional attire of the Speaker, complete with the wig. On the election of the Howard Government in 1996, the new Speaker, Bob Halverson, chose to wear the traditional court dress of the Speaker upon his election in April 1996, but without the wig. Speaker Ian Sinclair opted to wear a gown, albeit of a simpler academic style, during his brief term in 1998, a practice mirrored by his successors, Neil Andrew and David Hawker. Speaker Harry Jenkins resumed Labor practice from 2007 until the election of Peter Slipper in late 2011. Slipper went one step further to restoring the traditional dress by the gown and the QC's bar jacket underneath his business attire. Slipper also took to wearing a white long tie or bow tie, in a variation from the lace jabot or bands. For example, he wore a wing collar with white bow tie and bands on the occasion of his first formal procession into parliament. The first speaker of the Abbott Government from 2013, Bronwyn Bishop, the first non-Labor woman to hold the post, continued wearing business attire with no gown, a practice continued by her successor, Tony Smith.

    List of Speakers

    The following is a list of Speakers of the House of Representatives.



    Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives Wikipedia