Speaker of the House of Representatives
The Speaker is a member of the House of Representatives who is chosen as the Presiding Officer. This means that in addition to representing their electorate, the Speaker is responsible for running the meetings of the House of Representatives.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate are both Presiding Officers of the Parliament. The Speaker is addressed as Mr or Madam Speaker.
Choosing the Speaker
All 150 members of the House of Representatives vote to elect a new Speaker. This is conducted by a secret vote in the House after the official opening of Parliament following a federal election. The Speaker is a member with a lot of parliamentary experience, usually nominated by the government. They are expected to treat all members of the House fairly and equally. A Deputy Speaker is also elected to assist the Speaker. The major parliamentary parties nominate a panel of Acting Deputy Speakers to share the load of chairing the House of Representatives throughout the day.
The Speaker has several responsibilities within the chamber, including:
- running meetings of the House of Representatives, much like a chairperson runs a meeting
- making sure that the rules of the House of Representatives, known as the standing orders, are obeyed
- participating in ceremonial occasions, such as the hosting of foreign heads of state who address the Parliament.
When not in the chamber, the Speaker works from an office in the House of Representatives and has several responsibilities, including:
- overall responsibility for the Department of the House of Representatives, including budgets, staffing and allocation of offices to members of the House of Representatives
- working with the President of the Senate to ensure that many services in Parliament House are maintained, including broadcasting and computing services and the cleaning and upkeep of Parliament House and its surrounds
- representing the House of Representatives in dealings with the Senate, the government, the Governor-General, other parliaments or foreign heads of state.
Representation in the House
The Speaker does not usually participate in debates. In accordance with section 40 of the Australian Constitution, they do not vote unless there is a tie, in which case the Speaker has the casting vote.
The Speaker's Chair is located at one end of the House of Representatives facing the U-shaped seating. It is the focus of parliamentary meetings, positioned so that the Speaker can see and hear everything that happens in the chamber and so that everyone in the chamber can see the Speaker.
The Speaker's microphone is always switched on, unlike those of other members of the House. This means that the Speaker can always be heard and so is able to maintain order in the chamber.
The Mace is the symbol of the Speaker's authority to preside over meetings of the House of Representatives. It is placed on the central table in the House whenever the Speaker or their deputy is in the Chair and the House of Representatives is meeting (see Mace).
The office of Speaker dates back to 13th century England. In early English parliaments the Speaker informed the monarch about the decisions of the Parliament. The role of the Speaker in those times was a dangerous one. Some Speakers were murdered, imprisoned or exiled as a result of speaking on behalf of a parliament that was beginning to challenge the authority of the monarch.
Although the Australian Constitution was drafted with reference to the English and United States (US) systems of parliamentary democracy, the role of the Speaker in the House of Representatives is different to that of English and US parliamentary presiding officers.
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