In the Westminster system of Parliamentary process, after which the parliaments of Australia are supposed to be modelled, the Speaker is independent of the process, being above the cacophony of debate, chairing the debates and providing an unbiased approach to the whole system.
This seemed ok for the young parliament of the ACT until the cracks appeared in about 2001, widened in 2008 and again in 2012. But it is an abyss in the Federal Parliament and this is totally unacceptable.
Wayne Berry, with whom I served for many years in the Legislative Assembly, was a very capable Speaker, in my mind one of the best. But he maintained a right to come down from the Chair to debate the occasional issue and to make the occasional Adjournment Debate. I admired his commitment to his principles and the issues he held dear but not at the sacrifice of the convention of Speakers’ behaviour.
Shane Rattenbury went further, distributing the hours of occupation of the Speaker’s Chair among the Deputy and Assistant Speakers so that he could enjoin debate on many issues. I didn’t agree with this breaking of the convention and said so on many occasions. But credit where it is due. He was a very fair arbitrator, if anything a bit shy of disciplining members and marching them for a holiday.
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The current Speaker seems to ignore the convention even more than the previous two Speakers. It is not for a Speaker to lecture Members, or to indicate an agreement with a position taken by either side. It is to be assumed that she will enjoin debate on the prostitution issue, given a reopening of that debate, since she had that very expensive detour to study more of the Swedish model.
But the behaviour of these three Speakers pales into insignificance with the bias and outright favouritism dispensed by Speaker Bishop in that campsite on the hill. 100 holidays to nil is a great cricket score but a bit rich in a parliament containing the likes of Christopher Pyne. Let us parliamentary purists hope for the day when a return is made to the dignified non-partisan approach to the role of the Speaker is once again a blessing on all parliaments.