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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11644

Mr SLIPPER (FisherSpeaker) (19:19): I would like to take this opportunity to thank the House this afternoon for its continued support and for the great privilege of serving as the 27th Speaker of the House of Representatives. I thank particularly those honourable members who spoke in support of me. I appreciated the references to the friendships I have enjoyed with members across the spectrum over many years. It is indeed a great privilege to serve in this place, particularly as Speaker.

Despite the vote of the House in support of my continuation in office, I wish to advise that with great sadness I have decided that I should not continue as your Speaker. Accordingly, I am having arrangements made to tender my resignation to Her Excellency the Governor-General.

As honourable members know, I was very honoured to have been chosen unanimously by the House as its Speaker. I have believed deeply in the importance of the House and our constitutional, political and wider national life. Believing so strongly in the role of the House, I was determined to do my part to improve its operation, and I suspect that the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business would concede my endeavours in that area. I am most grateful for the support of honourable members from all sides for my endeavours in this regard. I refer, for example, to the changes in relation to both questions and answers; to the efforts to introduce greater civility into the House; and, of course, to the long-awaited renaming of the Federation Chamber. I wanted to expand the role of supplementary questions. I also wanted to turn our House into being like the House of Commons, where we had more interactivity and more spontaneity and where the government of the day—whoever was in government—was in fact held accountable to the people of Australia.

I regret that recent proceedings have prevented me from continuing to pursue these reforms. I believe so strongly in the importance and the role of the House of Representatives in Australia that it is far more important than my own future or my own continuation as Speaker. Nevertheless, I am confident that, because so many members want the House to continue to improve, the cause of reform will be continued.

In particular I would like to thank Madam Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for Chisholm—I am searching for her in the chamber because I suspect that the moment of greatness is about to descend upon her shoulders—who has worked so diligently as Deputy Speaker in the recent difficult circumstances. She has been loyal. She has not sought to have her own position advanced. She has done everything that a Deputy Speaker should do; in fact, she has done more. I want to thank her for her personal friendship and personal support over the last six months. No-one would have expected, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you would have had thrust upon you the responsibilities that have been thrust upon you in your capacity. I think we should all publicly thank you for the role that you have played.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

The SPEAKER: I would also like to thank Mr Second Deputy Speaker, the honourable member for Maranoa—I am sure he is here somewhere—who is a long-time friend. I am sure all of us, particularly those on my right, would join me in congratulating him on staring down the challenge from Senator Barnaby Joyce.

I would like to express my appreciation to all members of the Speaker's panel for the additional work they have done in recent months. I think it is regrettable that it was necessary to draw the entire panel from the government party, particularly when, following the agreement after the last election, it was obvious that the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker or the Second Deputy Speaker would take the chair for divisions. I think that is unfortunate. I hope, following my departure from the speakership, that the opposition will take up the longstanding invitation to participate in being part of the Speaker's panel. Having said that, I do not want any of my Speaker's panel to be dismissed, because I think they have done a great job. I personally want to publicly thank them for the role they have played and for the additional work they have carried out because of the difficult circumstances of the recent six months.

I would also like to thank the staff of my office, who have worked so hard, particularly in recent months. I want to express publicly my thanks to the staff of the parliamentary departments—in particular, to the Clerk, who is here, the Deputy Clerk and the Serjeant-at-Arms. I really have enjoyed working with them and serving as their political head and representative. I would also like to thank my colleague Mr President, of the Senate, for our good working relationship.

I do believe that it is important for parliament to engage with the diplomatic community and, as Speaker, I have endeavoured to interact with representatives of other countries to the best of my ability. In fact, I have tried to adopt the practice of former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer. Tim used to go to diplomatic events; he would drop in for two minutes. They called him 'two minutes Tim'. I spoke to Stephen Brady, who is the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, and said, 'I'm sure the ambassadors of the home countries wrote back to their government saying that the Deputy Prime Minister dropped in for two minutes.' He said, 'No, Mr Speaker, they would have written back to their home countries saying that the Deputy Prime Minister attended a function,' which of course was a substantial difference. As Speaker I have endeavoured to follow Tim Fischer's example.

I also want to say what a great privilege it has been to serve as the Speaker of this place. As part of that role, given the paradigm—I hate that word; in fact, I abolished it 12 months ago, so I do not know why I used it now; maybe I am a bit overcome with emotion—of the new parliament, I want to say how great it has been to have chaired the Selection Committee. The Selection Committee in this hung parliament has helped to make sure that parliament works as it should, where the government is accountable to private members. We have more votes now on the issues put forward by private members. I think that is the way the people of Australia want this parliament to operate.

Madam Prime Minister, I just want to say to you that being chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Appropriations and Administration at a very important time has been a great honour to me. And I want to thank you for the fact that you have exempted the parliament from some of the unrealistic cuts that some people suggested should be imposed on this parliament. Our parliament is the reservoir of Australian democracy. Thank you, Prime Minister, for agreeing that, as a parliament, we ought to at least have reasonable funds to be able to operate to represent the people of this nation.

Despite my belief that the reforms I had initiated were gaining support, and my hope that those reforms would extend beyond the term of this hung parliament, I had hoped that much more would be done. When I discovered that a certain course of action was underway towards the end of April this year, which was a huge shock to me, what really upset me was the fact that it meant that what I wanted to achieve, the greater amount I wanted to achieve, was under threat.

Having said that, putting all that aside, I do discern from both sides of the House that people are listening to the Australian people and people liked the changes that were happening in the House. I hope that, despite the controversy which has arisen, we will see those changes continue to be made. It is, however, in the interests of the parliament that I choose voluntarily to stand down at this time. I do thank the House for its support this afternoon. I listened very carefully to the debate. I thank those who supported me. I do understand the arguments of those who argued against me. The Leader of the Opposition has been a friend of mine for a very long time. He came to my wedding. When he was overlooked, we sat and talked through the difficulties. I do not hold anything against the Leader of the Opposition, who I think is a person of fine character, and. I think we are singularly privileged to have as Prime Minister a lady of amazing stamina. I leave this position without rancour, with a great deal of sadness and, more importantly, with a great deal of regret, because I believe that, given the controversy which has occurred in recent times, it is in the interests of the parliament that I should take the course of action that I have personally chosen to take.

I expected this to be a two-minute speech, and I do apologise if I have taken more time than was expected, but I think that, across the political spectrum, the reality is that it is not sufficient that I should reject completely the claims that have been made against me. What is really scary is that those sorts of complaints can be made against any of us, and all of us would be in the same position. However, one has to deal with reality and what is not necessarily ideal. The circumstances make it clear to me that I should put the interests of the House before my own personal interests as Speaker. Whilst others have put partisan political interests before the standing of this parliament, I respect this parliament. I have been a member since 1984, with a gap between 1987 and 1993—owing to the lack of gratitude of my then constituents!—when I returned to legal practice. Having said that, it is a wonderful privilege to serve in the parliament, and of course the interests of the parliament are seriously more important than the interests of any of us. I respect this parliament too much not to put aside my personal interests. I do look forward to being vindicated of the false claims made against me

Finally, like so many other honourable members I value the support of my family and friends. The recent circumstances have created incredible difficulty for them. In particular, I express my heartfelt thanks for the loyalty and support from my wife Inge; my children, Nick and Alex; my parents, who are now 87 and 85; my former wife, Lyn, who is the mother of my son and daughter; and also my brothers and my extended family. I suppose at this stage of my career I am a bit beyond trying to make a good impression in a speech, so I am talking from the heart—as I think all of us do most of the time.

It has been a wonderful experience and a wonderful privilege to serve as Speaker. I thank my colleagues on both sides, even those who did not want me to accept this position, for their friendship, either present or in the past. I can look at some people who are possibly past friends. I hold no rancour. Perhaps once I have left the often solitary office of Speaker I will get to know them even better as the independent member for Fisher. I do thank honourable members for their indulgence and I invite Madam Deputy Speaker to retake the chair.