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So it seems that rural independent Rob Oakeshott, having helped the ALP into government and turned down a ministerial position, wants to be Speaker.

Legally and procedurally, it seems that becoming Speaker is going to be a very thorny problem for Mr. Oakeshott (though it is apparently Constitutionally possible).

Firstly, how can he advocate best for his rural electorate if he is stuck in the Speaker’s chair, unable to enter debate himself and unable to advocate directly for his electors?

Secondly, there are issues about when the Speaker’s vote can be paired with another (under the Parliamentary reform agreements passed last month). Under the Constitution, the Speaker does not get a deliberative vote (ie an ordinary vote) but only gets a casting vote when neither side has a majority of the votes. It seems that Oakeshott wishes to have a de facto deliberative vote by having his vote always paired with the vote of someone who intends to vote the opposite way to what Oakeshotte intended to vote. The Opposition argues this is foolish because of what the Constitution says – the Speaker only has a casting and not a deliberative vote (s 40). It makes no sense to interpret the agreement as giving pairing rights to both deliberative and casting votes. Without having studied the agreement, I am inclined to agree. I have no idea about the case law in this area (I doubt there is any). I would wonder the Oakeshott interpretation of the agreement actually breaches the Constitution by giving him what is effectively a deliberative vote. After all, s 40 of the Constitution is both a procedural section and a section designed to stop the House Standing Orders attempting to circumvent it (which is what the Parliamentary reform agreements would do).

Thirdly, there are practical problems (assuming his interpretation prevails and is found Constitutional). People change how they intend to vote as debate progresses, as amendments are passed, etc. Or else, why even bother debating? If, at every stage, Speaker Oakeshott must indicate whether he is changing his mind, or even if he must keep fixed in his own mind which way he will vote, how can he discharge his duty to be a totally independent arbiter of debate? He will, by definition, be favouring one side. (This, by the way, is not a strong a point as it might seem since the Speaker is almost always on the Government’s side and therefore the Speaker is not a wholly neutral position).

Stepping back from the legal and Constitutional issues, I wonder how doing this benefit’s Rob Oakeshotts cause. He is a weaker advocate for his constituents and for country Australia. He weakens his own influence over Parliament. The only advantage is for Rob Oakeshott himself in terms of the higher pay and privileges accorded to the Speaker. We all know he’ll face a tough election next time around. And that’s not just me being cynical and parroting the Liberal line. I cannot think of any advantage Oakeshott hopes to gain from this. Does he think he will be a more independent Speaker than the current Speaker? Does he think he can shepherd in a new paradigm by being a truly independent Speaker? That is a plausible idea – but one which is unlikely given that he is pushing for a de facto deliberative vote.


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