Thursday, September 16, 2010

Speaker’s Position A Question Of Priorities

It’s difficult to see just how Rob Oakeshott could continue to function as an independent member of Parliament if he is appointed as Speaker of the House. To some degree it would sideline him from dealing with the very issues which he has claimed are important to him, and to his constituents. The Speaker of the House does not have a deliberative vote, so under normal circumstances which ever party the Speaker belongs to would be deprived of a vote. Among the reforms negotiated by the independent members has been an arrangement for the Speaker to be “paired” with a member of the opposing party so that the balance is maintained. However, if the Speaker is an independent it seems that he would have to indicate in advance his voting intention on every single deliberative vote so that he can be paired with a member from whichever side he is voting against. It sounds awkward and inconvenient, and may well prove to be unworkable.

However, the Speaker does have a casting vote, so that a deadlock can be broken. Traditionally, the Speaker is appointed by the government from among the ranks of their own party, so a casting vote could normally be counted upon to favour the government. However, that’s only tradition, and there is nothing to prevent the appointment of an independent Speaker, at least on that basis. If Mr. Oakeshott does become Speaker, there is no guarantee that his casting vote would go one way or the other. Whether or not that is something that the government would be willing to embrace remains to be seen. There is also some doubt about the level of participation in private members’ business, and whether or not the Speaker would be entitled to put a motion or introduce a primate member’s bill.

While some might be dazzled by the extra $100 000 or so that is added to the Speaker’s pay packet, and wonder whether or not that is the motivation for Mr. Oakeshott’s interest in the position, there are legitimate reasons in favour of the move. All three of the so called country independents have expressed a keen interest in bringing about reform to the parliamentary process, and sitting in the Speaker’s chair is one way of promoting that cause. But, while parliamentary reform might be a good idea, and it might well improve the quality of parliamentary process, the question is one of priorities. If taking the Speaker’s chair means that Mr. Oakeshott’s ability to represent his constituents on the issues about which he is apparently so passionate is in any way diminished, then perhaps it would be better to pass up the opportunity.

After all, he still has considerable influence from where he sits now on the cross benches.

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