You’ll forgive (I hope) my slight obsession with the agreement to pair the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but I couldn’t let today’s announcement that Rob Oakeshott wants to be Speaker of the House go by without comment.
I would put Oakeshott as last among the current crop of 150 members of the House as being capable of being Speaker. He is ponderous, self indulgent, egotistical, intellectually challenged and verbose. And unfaithful to his electorate.
Oakeshott was quoted on the ABC website as saying
Essentially establishing the status of pairing rights and whether it is based on goodwill between all parties or whether it can be codified at a higher level. This is a tight Parliament and there will be at various times tricks played and we’ve just got to make sure we manage that.
What does he mean by saying that pairing of the Speaker should be ‘codified’ beyond the signed agreement? Surely this would lend weight to my argument that the pairing was Constitutionally dubious?
And how would this play out?
Since Oakeshott proclaims to be an Independent, he would need, on every division, to decide which side he supported (the Coalition or Labor) and then get a person from the other side to pair with him.
Let’s say that the Government proposes some Bill which the Opposition doesn’t support and Oakeshott also doesn’t support. Then there would be in the chamber 75 people in support of the Bill (assuming the other independents and the Green support Labor) and 74 plus Oakeshott against.
Then Labor would have to pair with Oakeshott, bringing the vote to 74 – 74. And of course Oakeshott gets a casting vote.
Alternatively, if the Government proposes a Bill which the Opposition doesn’t support and Oakeshott does support. Then there would be in the chamber 76 people in support (including Oakeshott) and 74 against. Then the Coalition would need to pair resulting in a vote of 75 – 73 and the Bill passes.
So Oakeshott can hold the Government to ransom even more. The agreement would make the Speaker even more political – when the Speaker is supposed to be apolitical.
I checked the practice in a number of other countries that have a Westminster system of Government. In all cases the Speaker is not paired – he or she does not have a deliberative vote but does have a casting vote. In the UK, the Speaker uses his casting vote according to the Speaker Denison’s Rule (which is close, but not exactly, to voting for the status quo).
Pairing of the Speaker’s vote is anathema to an independent speaker.
If the Speaker wishes to discuss a particular bill (for example on something concerning his or her constituency), he or she simply needs to relinquish the Chair to the Deputy Speaker and sit in the chamber as an MP. Following discussion and vote, the Speaker then resumes the Chair.