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.

History of Speaker’s role in the UK House of Commons Responsibility for Parliament’s administration
Assembly’s first Speaker Electorate responsibilities
Current Speaker Procession at the start of a sitting day
Electing the Speaker Official dress
Role in the Chamber in the Chamber Deputy Speaker and Acting Speakers

Assembly's official representative

Former Speakers

 

History of Speaker’s role in the UK 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.

 

Assembly’s first Speaker

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.

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Current Speaker

The Legislative Assembly elected the current Speaker, Colin Brooks, Member for Bundoora, in March 2017. He is the Assembly’s 37th Speaker.

 

Electing the 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.

 

Role in the Chamber

Speaker’s impartiality

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.

Chairing debates

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.

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Assembly’s official representative

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.

 

Responsibility for Parliament’s administration

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.

 

Electorate responsibilities

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.

 

Procession at the start of a sitting day

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.

 

Official dress

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.

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Deputy Speaker and Acting Speakers

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.

 

Former Speakers

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
Peter Lalor 1880–1887
Sir Matthew Henry Davies 1887–1892
Sir Thomas Bent 1892–1894
Sir Graham Berry 1894–1897
Francis Conway Mason 1897–1902
Duncan Gillies 1902–1903
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
Maurice Blackburn 1933–1934
William Hugh Everard 1934–1937
Thomas Tunnecliffe 1937–1940
William Slater 1940–1942
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
Alex Andrianopoulos 1999–2003
Judy Maddigan 2003–2006
Jenny Lindell 2006–2010
Ken Smith 2010–2014
Christine Fyffe 2014
Telmo Languiller 2014–2017

 

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