Posted by: jkirkby8712 | November 25, 2011

Thursday, 24 November 2011 – Speaker resigns in Federal Parliament

I didn’t realise it until early afternoon, but there were more sensations in our Federal Parliament this morning and throughout the day. Apparently, soon after Parliament resumed this morning, the Speaker, Harry Jenkins, announced his retirement from the role, wanted to move to the ‘back bench’ and be an active member of the Labour Caucus again.  To top that off, Labour then nominated a member of the Liberal to be the Speaker, and that member accepted the nomination. Despite the Liberals then proceeding to nominate up to nine members of the Labor Party for the role [all of whom declined], in an attempt to defeat the Labor inspired nomination, Peter Slipper [the Liberal member] was eventually elected unopposed!!

What this meant, for the government was that the Gillard minority government will get two extra votes and a little more breathing space. Since last year’s election, Labor has had to rely on the votes of three independents and a Greens MP to survive and get its legislation through the lower house.  But the resignation of Speaker Harry Jenkins, to go to the Labor backbench, allowed caucus this morning to put forward Queensland Liberal MP Peter Slipper as their nomination for the role  Having him in the role gives Labor those extra two votes, which will improve the government’s position in getting its measures through parliament.

Mr Slipper is expected to resign from the coalition, to sit as an independent, after federal colleagues in a meeting in Canberra on Thursday voted that any member who put their name forward for the Speaker role would have to resign from the Liberal or National parties.  Mr Slipper was in the chair on Thursday morning and did not attend the coalition party room meeting.  Mr Slipper was also  under pressure from Queensland Liberal National Party colleagues to resign over a series of issues involving travel and electorate allowances, and while this matter had been under some consideration by the federal Liberals, Tony Abbott had been reluctant to take the matter any further, for fears that the Labor Party would act in the manner it eventually did.  Labor member, Anna Burke, was eventually appointed to the Deputy Speaker’s role, even though she had earlier declined a Liberal nomination that she be the Speaker.

And my feelings on all that – well, I find the whole situation a little distasteful, and  I think I made that clear on Face Book this afternoon  –  ‘So one of the best H. of R. Speakers we have had, Harry Jenkins, has resigned – or was he pushed, in order to strengthen Ms Gillard’s hunger to retain power? He was a strong and fair Speaker, although both Gillard and Rudd constantly ignored his requests that they follow standing procedures, particularly at Question Time. Constantly frustrated by the tactics on ‘both’ sides’.  I received a brief response from friend Ruth, and followed my earlier comment up with this  –   ‘I’m sure your status update will get a more favourable response Ruth, than mine, which  is likely to antagonise most names on my list – but all seems rather suspect, with the outcome leaving the Government with a clearer majority and extra votes [2] in the House, by nominating a Liberal Speaker [who I guess is no longer required as a member of his Party] strengthened the Government’s position. against normal Westminister procedures – the Government of the day normally provides the Speaker?? Oh well, Parliament just continues to be one farce after another, since 2007, in my view!! Pity, and like everyone else, I will miss Harry’s wit and responses to the occasional rabble he had to deal with – from both sides of the House! Now, think I will withdraw from here before the slings and arrows start arriving ‘

Meanwhile, the Liberals were quite clear in their feelings on the outcome.  Mr Abbott [leader of the Opposition] said Labor should provide the Speaker from its own ranks, in line with the age-old Westminster convention. “This is bad day for democracy in Australia,” he told reporters in Canberra. Mr Abbott said it should have been Ms Gillard who resigned, not Mr Jenkins. “The Speaker has resigned so that the government can shore up its numbers in the parliament,” Mr Abbott said, “It’s lost its way, it’s lost its majority, and now it’s lost its speaker”.  While, Dennis Shanahan, Political editor for the Australian newspaper would describe it in the following terms, in Friday’s paper –    Today ‘the world of Realpolitik collided with the lofty ideals of Westminster traditions and conventions. Not surprisingly, the cold brutality of political numbers won over the ideals, producing in the short term one of the most chaotic days in parliament for decades, and in the long term a vital one-vote cushion for the life of the Gillard government’.

Julia Gillard defended the claims of a deal –  her story along the lines of  ‘according to the government, the drama began at about 7.30am when Mr Jenkins told the Prime Minister he wanted to “participate in policy and parliamentary debate” and could not do so as Speaker, a role he had held for four years.  Within an hour, Labor’s leader in the House of Representatives, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, had offered the job to Mr Slipper. The Queensland MP, Deputy Speaker under Mr Jenkins, had been under pressure in his Sunshine Coast electorate of Fisher by opponents wanting to dump him in favour of former Howard government minister Mal Brough, who lost his seat in 2007. Mr Slipper’s acceptance of the nomination and subsequent resignation from the LNP robbed the opposition of one vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, while Mr Jenkins’s return to the backbench added a number to Labor’s minority government’.

 Despite such claims of a ‘Labor deal’ etc,  to bring this all about  – with reports along the lines of   ‘Julia Gillard has snared a crucial extra vote on the floor of parliament but faces opposition claims she engineered the resignation of Harry Jenkins as Speaker in a grubby deal to replace him with renegade Liberal Peter Slipper’  –    there was plenty of praise flowing around the parliament towards Harry Jenkins, for the manner in which he had always undertaken his role as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and having watched him in action, even up until yesterday, particularly during ‘Question Times’, all of that praise of fairness, knowledge of  parliamentary procedures, etc, was well deserved. His presence and ‘personality’ in the Chair will be sorely missed.  This is the way in which one ‘associate’ on Face Book [a very much Labor  man of course] described the former Speaker  –  ‘To my boss, Harry Jenkins, congratulations on a remarkable 1,382 days as Speaker of the House of Representatives. A Speaker respected by Member’s from all political parties who will continue to be a great advocate for familles in Melbourne’s north as the Member for Scullin’.  Seems a fair enough description of the man.

As for the man himself, this what he had to say on his parliamentary blog and speech at the parliament today, about ‘his’ decision to  leave the role of Speaker: –

“Today marks my 1382nd day as Speaker of the House of Representatives. I have at all times tried to uphold the fine traditions of Speaker, and to the best of my ability have attempted to carry out my duties in the most independent and non-partisan manner possible.
As members are aware in this the 43rd Parliament, to further avoid controversial party political matters I have divorced myself from involvement with the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. In this era of minority government I have progressively become frustrated at this stricture. My desire is to be able to participate in policy and parliamentary debate, and this would be incompatible with continuing in the role of Speaker.
As a consequence, when I vacate the Chair at the end of this short statement I will visit the Governor-General to tender my resignation as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

I thank all members for their co-operation which they have dispensed to varying degrees depending upon the individual. I thank everyone who works for the Department of House of Representatives under the capable leadership of the Clerk Bernard Wright and the Deputy David Elder; they serve us well. My gratitude goes to the diverse range of officers of the Department of Parliamentary Services: from gardeners to guards, technicians and tradies, researchers to reporters, Hansard; they serve us well. To presidents Hogg and Ferguson with whom I served as co-presiding officer, and the members and officers of the other place with whom I had interaction, I thank them for their forbearance. All these people ensure that the Australian Parliament remains an enduring effective institution. My staff in the Speaker’s Office have assisted me and kept me well grounded; I believe that members would agree with me that they carry out their duties with integrity and professionalism. Finally I acknowledge my eternal indebtedness to my “trouble and strife” Michele and the four generations of my family without whose support I would never have been able to achieve the high office I hold.
Late yesterday I ascertained that the Governor-general is available for my call before 9.30 therefore I must depart. I go placidly with my humour intact. I wish you all well’.

 Well, pushed or not, Harry’ like his father before him, who was also a Speaker of the House of Representatives, ensured that he departed in his usual genuine style which as always, earned the appropriate  respect and admiration of all.

.An interesting event [and continuation of some of the farce situations that have dominated Parliament this year] took place once Question Time got under way. On most occasions this year, Tony Abbott has interrupted Question time [which is televised nationally] towards the end of the televised hour, by moving a motion to suspend standing orders to allow him to move a motion of ‘No Confidence’ [or motions of similar nature] against the Prime Minister and her Government – because of the slight numerical advantage on the government’s side, those motions have always been defeated, but Abbott persisted with the procedure time after time. While I personally felt that was another case of Abbott going ‘overboard’ with his style of political tactics, the thing I found most distasteful, was that every time he did this, Julia Gillard would get up and leave the Chamber, which I thought poor tactics, and left her looking ‘gutless’ and unable to face what was being said about her and her government. She did the same thing yesterday – got up, and left her deputies to face the music and respond to the motions of no confidence.  However today  – perhaps she was advised to remain, or personally felt it would look better for her to remain behind  –  Tony Abbott rose to the despatch box after just one question had been raised [about the ‘secret deal’ involving the Speaker], and immediately it became clear that he was going to move another ‘Suspension of Standing Order’, the PMs deputy [Treasurer, Wayne Swan] joined her at the Government bench, while amazingly, the majority of the rest of the Labor members began to walk out.  The result left Tony Abbott almost speaking to an empty set of Government benches, apart from the Prime Minister and her Deputy  –  his speech [another virtual motion of no-confidence] was supported by his deputy, Julie Bishop, whom I find has quite a ‘bitter’ tongue at times, and today was no exception – perhaps because she is a woman speaking and directing her vitriol towards another woman means she can get away with a little more a man making the same speech would  – anyway, despite being a supporter of the Liberals, I’m not convinced that either Tony Abbott or Julie Bishop would be the appropriate duo to be running this country, were the Conservatives to regain  power. Meanwhile, during Julia Gillard’s response to this two-pronged attack [yes, for a rare change, she had remained in the parliament to defend both herself and her government rather than leaving that up to one of her deputies] the new Speaker made his presence felt, with constant warnings towards many of his former colleagues, and in fact, suspending at least three Liberals from the House for an hour or so!! And I think that had Julie Bishop not being the Deputy Leader, she would not have been given a couple of extra warnings, that others in her Party did not get before being suspended. Perhaps it might have done her some good to have been thrown out for a while, I sometimes feel she deserves it!! Needless to say, by the time the vote was taken on this ‘motion of no confidence’ or whatever, all of the Government members were back in the Chamber to ensure a clear defeat of the motion.

This week is basically the end of the parliamentary year, but I can’t help feeling, that in looking back over the 2011 Parliament sessions, that so much time has been wasted by endless debates purely of a political and personal nature, time that should have been better spent on debating and working at the real issues of national significance – too often, we have seen legislation rushed through before the end of parliamentary sessions, as time for completing business runs out, and this has not almost being the government’s doing  –  the constant negativity that has become the style of current Opposition leader, Tony Abbott – a negativity that has overshadowed real meaningful arguments and alternative policy proposals – has led to this situation and seen many parliamentary hours wasted, and sometimes I wonder, to what purpose!

Now I briefly got away from all of this parliamentary turmoil, and went into the city late this afternoon, for another concert  –  we might raise the details of that occasion on the morrow.






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