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From player to umpire: taking up the challenge of Speaker.

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The Hon Neil Andrew, MP

Speaker of the House of Representatives

From player to umpire: Taking up the challenge of Speaker


I welcome the opportunity provided by the invitation to share some thoughts on the Office of Speaker. It is a little over seven m onths now since I was elected to the office, and I certainly view the opportunity I have been given to perform the role and functions of the Speaker of the House of Representatives as the culmination of my parliamentary career to date.

Preparation for the role

To be eligible for selection as Speaker, a Member of the House in the normal course of events must pass through a number of fairly rigorous selection processes. In common with almost all other Members, preselection by the local electorate group is nec essary for a candidate seeking election to the House with the support of a political party. Next, the electors for the electoral division must give their assent. The parliamentary political party would then give its endorsement, and finally the House itself must agree to a Member’s appointment as Speaker. The strength of this rigorous process is that the Speaker is a Member of the House who has experienced the same electoral pressures as all other Members of the House of Representatives. This discipline is important. Much is rightly made of the need for the Speaker to be independent. I believe that the Speaker’s responsibility is to be impartial. This mind-set obliges him or her to recognise the fundamental right of all participants to be heard, and heard without interruption. Having being a “player”, anxious to he heard, I know how badly people want to have their contributions heeded.


Without the Parliamentary experience I have had, I may not be as accommodating of the aspirations of my colleagues.


I know that my personal preparation for the role was enhanced by the previous parliamentary experience as a member of the Speaker’s Panel of Deputy Speakers, the period I served as Deputy Whip and Chief Whip, and the Parliamentary Committees on which I was a member. Also, I am grateful for the continuity and apolitical assistance provided to me by the Deputy Speaker, Mr Nehl, the Second Deputy Speaker Mr Jenkins, and all members of the Speaker’s Panel.


My gratitude in preparing me for the role, and the discharging of the role itself, also include recognition of my family’s support. My wife Carolyn, our three children and I strive to operate as a cohesive unit. Their constructive criticism and their acceptance of me as I am, plays a key role in my sense of well-being. I am immeasurably indebted to them for their affection and support.


Considerations which the Speaker must clearly keep in mind in the discharge of his/her parliamentary duties are that good relationships with the leadership of all major political groups are important. It is vital in the discharge of this function that the Speaker acts, and is seen to act, in an even-handed way. The same consideration applies within the Chamber. However, the Speaker also has a responsibility to the individual Member, and must ensure that no one Member is oppressed by the majority. All that said, the Speaker in the final analysis is the instrument of the will of the House. Some of the Standing Orders and practices of the House provide the Speaker with discretion. However, once the House has come to a firm decision, the Speaker’s role is to be guided by the House in that decision.


My belief is that there are more things in common between Members of the House than there are things that divide them. The public perception largely centres on the political divide between Members rather than the aspirations and hope for all Australians that our Members share in common. It is inevitable, of course, that when at least two political perspectives are sharply drawn in opposition to each other that there will be tensions and heated debate. The Chamber in which we serve is, after all, a lively robust Chamber. Hotly contested defence of a position, occasionally leading to fierce exchange, is entirely responsible and defensible. It would be expected in the Australian tradition but is usually portrayed by the media as a weakness. However, I always strive to ensure that such exchanges occur according to standards of behaviour which the Australian public would expect of its elected representatives. This is the standard of behaviour which most normally occurs in the everyday workings of the House, when civility and concern for the common welfare of our nation dominate proceedings.

The Speaker’s leadership role

I believe that the Speaker has a limited role in relation to the leadership of Members. The Speaker’s role is to be the spokesperson of the House, and the communicator of the decisions of the House. Fortunately, days have lon g passed when the function of acting as a representative of the House in this way could lead to decapitation. However, the Speaker must be prepared to represent the House in a fearless and forthright manner.


The Presiding Officers of the Parliament do, in my opinion, bear responsibility for leadership of the parliamentary service. One of the greatest revelations I experienced on becoming Speaker was the large amount of administrative detail for which the Speaker, sometimes in conjunction with the President of the Senate, was responsible. In many of the aspects, the Presiding Officers are well served by their parliamentary officers, acting with delegated authority, but in many of them, there is no doubt that the buck stops with the Presiding Officers. I feel that the Presiding Officers have a responsibility to develop the professionalism and parliamentary values of the parliamentary service, so that Members are served by parliamentary service of the best standard possible.

Looking to the future

All of us who are engaged in serving the Parliament, and through the Parliament, the people of Australia, are very fortunate to be doing so at this particular time. We are approaching the commencement of a new century and a new millennium. We have the challenge and the obligation to make the preparations for ensuring that our institution is capable of moving into the new era. We also have the responsibility to look “down the track” and map where we would like to see the institution going.


No doubt, much of this will focus on the celebrations associated with the first 100 years of our Federation. I am mindful of the fact that the first occupant of the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1901, Sir Frederick William Holder, was like me also the Member for Wakefield. I consider myself doubly fortunate to be fulfilling both roles at the commencement of the second century of our Federation. As well as being a celebratory time and a time for personal satisfaction, I am very mindful that we will be looking outward to ensure that we are keeping pace with the expectation of current and future citizens of Australia.


I look forward to achieving these goals with your assistance.






jy  1999-08-25  16:38