Fact Sheet H2
Fact Sheet H2: The Speaker
Summary: The Speaker is a member of Parliament, elected by other members to chair debates impartially, and enforce the Legislative Assembly’s rules. He or she is the most important officer in the Assembly, and is often called the ‘presiding officer’. Outside the Chamber, the Speaker carries out ceremonial duties and is responsible for Parliament’s administration. The role has a long and colourful history, developing over centuries in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons.
The King’s agent
The United Kingdom’s House of Commons appointed the first Speaker in 1377. Then, the Speaker did not chair debates to keep order, but listened to speeches, often for the King. Sometimes described as a ‘mouthpiece’, the Speaker passed the King’s wishes to the House of Commons, and vice versa.
It was a dangerous role. Some Speakers were executed or murdered, and others were imprisoned, accused of treason or expelled from office.
Struggle between the King and Parliament
In 1642, a famous incident during the English Civil War established the Speaker’s duty to the House, rather than to the King.
King Charles I, accompanied by an armed escort, entered the House of Commons to arrest five members for treason. He ordered the Speaker to hand over the members. The Speaker refused, saying ‘I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me’.
Speakers become impartial
From the late seventeenth century, Speakers were often political allies of the government. Some Speakers also held government roles.
In the eighteenth century, Speakers reduced their links with the government and, by the mid-1800s, members saw them as impartial and above politics. That approach is the basis of the Speaker’s role today.
The Hon Sir Francis Murphy was originally a member of the Legislative Council. In 1856 he was elected to the newly established Legislative Assembly, as the Member for Murray Boroughs. He became the Assembly’s first Speaker, and served from 1856 to 1871.
The Legislative Assembly elected the current Speaker, Colin Brooks, Member for Bundoora, in March 2017. He is the Assembly’s 37th Speaker.
Under the Constitution, the Legislative Assembly must elect a Speaker before it can carry out any business. Therefore, the election for a Speaker takes place at the start of a new parliament, immediately after members are sworn in. If there is more than one nomination, members vote in a secret ballot to choose a Speaker.
To carry out the role properly, the Speaker must be respected by all members. He or she is above party political matters, and does not show any bias to particular members, whatever their political views.
This means the Speaker must interpret the Legislative Assembly’s rules objectively, and deal with all members in the same way. Consequently, the Speaker does not normally take part in debates. The only time the Speaker votes is to break the tie if the votes are equal, see Fact Sheet D3: Speaker’s Casting Vote.
The Speaker’s chair is on a small platform at the head of the Chamber, making it a focal point in the Chamber. The clerks sit at the table immediately in front of the chair, the government to the Speaker’s right, and the opposition to the left.
In debate, members address their comments to the Speaker. The Speaker ensures debates run smoothly and fairly.
One of the Speaker’s responsibilities is selecting which members can speak, known as giving the call. The Speaker makes sure that, within the rules, members with different views have the chance to speak.
Enforcing the rules and keeping order
During debates members can take points of order, claiming that another member has broken the Assembly’s rules. The Speaker normally decides straight away if a rule has been broken, and tells members his or her decision. This is known as giving a ruling.
Debates can sometimes be heated and difficult for the Speaker to control. There are a number of rules about behaviour which members must obey. When they break the rules, the Speaker can enforce them and, if necessary, punish the member.
If a member uses offensive or unparliamentary language, the Speaker can ask the member to withdraw the remarks and apologise. For more disorderly behaviour, the Speaker can suspend a member from the Chamber for up to one and half hours.
The most serious punishment is when the Speaker ‘names’ a member, leading to suspension for the rest of the day, see Fact Sheet E1: Behaviour in the Chamber.
The Speaker is the Legislative Assembly’s representative in official matters and on ceremonial occasions. He or she regularly attends official functions, and entertains distinguished Australian and international visitors at Parliament House.
The Speaker also signs the formal documents the Assembly sends to the Governor or the Legislative Council, see Fact Sheet F4: Communicating with the Governor and the Council.
The Speaker is responsible for the Department of the Legislative Assembly and the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS). DPS provides support services and resources to members, their staff and parliamentary officers.
Within the Department of the Legislative Assembly, the Speaker’s role is similar to the relationship a minister has with a government department. The Speaker oversees major policy decisions, and the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly manages the day-to-day operations.
As a member of Parliament, the Speaker also has electorate responsibilities. The Speaker has an electorate office where constituents can visit and raise matters of local or personal concern.
The Speaker is also involved in community events in the electorate. These include opening fetes, meeting the local media, and talking to school students and other constituents.
One of the Speaker’s tasks is to start each Legislative Assembly sitting day. Accompanied by the Serjeant-at-Arms who carries the mace, the Speaker enters the Chamber, stands in front of the Speaker’s chair and reads the Lord’s Prayer.
On a Tuesday, the first sitting day of the week, most Speakers make a traditional procession through Queen’s Hall, and then enter the front of the Chamber. The Serjeant-at-Arms, carrying the mace, leads the procession.
This is a tradition that comes from the United Kingdom’s House of Commons. It is unclear how the tradition started. It could be that, in early more violent times, the Speaker saw the Serjeant-at-Arms as a bodyguard, and entered the Chamber with protection.
Speakers have chosen various styles of official dress over the years. Before the 1980s, they traditionally wore a wig and gown over a morning suit, and a tie or laced neckwear.
In 1982 Speaker Edmunds started wearing a lounge suit instead. Some later Speakers have gone back to the formal dress, but not since 1999.
At the start of a new parliament, the Legislative Assembly elects a member as Deputy Speaker to help with the Speaker’s duties.
The Deputy Speaker’s main duty is to help chair debates in the Chamber. He or she chairs the consideration in detail stage of bills. During this stage, members debate clauses of bills in detail and consider amendments.
The Speaker also appoints some Acting Speakers. Traditionally, the Speaker chooses experienced members from all political parties. They help the Speaker and Deputy Speaker by chairing some debates.
The portraits of all Speakers are on display in the Speaker’s corridor, at the front of the Chamber. The names of all Speakers are also engraved on the mace.
|Name||Period of Office|
|Sir Francis Murphy||1856–1871|
|Sir Charles MacMahon||1871–1877|
|Sir Charles Gavan Duffy||1877–1880|
|Sir Charles MacMahon||1880|
|Sir Matthew Henry Davies||1887–1892|
|Sir Thomas Bent||1892–1894|
|Sir Graham Berry||1894–1897|
|Francis Conway Mason||1897–1902|
|William David Beazley||1903–1904|
|Sir Frank Madden||1904–1917|
|Sir John Emanuel Mackey||1917–1924|
|Sir John Bowser||1924–1927|
|Oswald Robinson Snowball||1927–1928|
|Sir Alexander James Peacock||1928–1933|
|William Hugh Everard||1934–1937|
|Brigadier Sir George Hodges Knox||1942–1947|
|Sir Thomas Karran Maltby||1947–1950|
|Sir Archie Michaelis||1950–1952|
|Patrick Keith Sutton||1952–1955|
|Sir William John Farquhar McDonald||1955–1967|
|Sir Vernon Howard Colville Christie||1967–1973|
|Sir Kenneth Henry Wheeler||1973–1979|
|Sidney James Plowman||1979–1982|
|Cyril Thomas Edmunds||1982–1988|
|Dr Kenneth Alistair Coghill||1988–1992|
|John Edward Delzoppo||1992–1996|
|Sidney James Plowman||1996–1999|
- Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2017 11:28