The House of Representatives website carries a guide to parliamentary practice, now in its fifth edition, which spells out the role of Speaker and alludes to the expectations attached to it.
It states: “Traditionally, the Speaker in the House of Representatives has been a person of considerable parliamentary experience.”Oakeshott has been in federal parliament for two years. His record of non-attendance for votes is breathtaking (as is that of his Independent-Labor colleague Tony Windsor).
Oakeshott pleads that he was a member of the NSW legislature for 12 years, but anyone who believes service in that pitiful slum of dem- ocracy is akin to experience in the federal sphere is seriously deluding themselves.
The parliamentary guide continues: “One of the hallmarks of good Speakership is the requirement for a high degree of impartiality in the execution of the duties of the office.
“This … has been developed over the last two centuries to a point where in the House of Commons, the Speaker abandons all party loyalties and is required to be impartial on all party issues both inside and outside the House.”
Again, Oakeshott outstandingly fails this basic test. He has betrayed the trust of his former party, the Nationals, to which he once pledged his utmost loyalty, and he has spectacularly spat in the eyes of every conservative voter in his electorate – the overwhelming majority of those in Lyne – by supporting Labor and permitting it to form a government.
According to the guide, quoting from May’s, the standard reference for practice in the House of Commons since 1844: “Confidence in the impartiality of the Speaker is an indispensable condition of the successful working of procedure, and many conventions exist which have as their object not only to ensure the impartiality of the Speaker but also to ensure that his impartiality is generally recognised.
“He takes no part in debate either in the House or in committee. He votes only when the voices are equal, and then only in accordance with rules which preclude an expression of opinion on the merits of a question.”
It’s clear Oakeshott doesn’t come within cooee of the notion of being a person in whom anyone could possibly express any confidence, no matter how many tickets he may have on himself.
His whole political career has been one of dodgy premise and obfuscation of true principles. When it suits, he claims to be guided by this or that opinion – from another.
He hides his own opinions because he doesn’t wish to be tied to any view that he may one day have to stand up and justify.
Tomorrow, Oakeshott will meet Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to discuss, among other things, his hope of trousering an extra $100,000, gaining an office suite, a vast staff and the prestige of the Speaker’s job.
He is already squealing about the agreement the Government has reached with the Opposition over pairing – the practice of governments and oppositions agreeing to match members who cannot (for sound reasons) be present during votes.
His argument on this issue demonstrates exactly why he lacks the credentials to be Speaker. Under his proposal, his vote as Speaker would be paired on every division, meaning that on deciding which way he would vote, he would then ask the opposing side to pair with him.
This arrangement would give Oakeshott even more power, as he would be able to deliver the necessary extra vote whenever needed.
It is long-standing Westminster tradition – strenuously followed in the House of Commons and other Westminster-style parliaments around the world – for the Speaker not to be paired, not to have a deliberative vote, and, in the event of a tied vote, putting the casting vote effectively in support of the status quo. This tradition enshrines the true independence of the Speaker.
In the tradition of the Greens, with whom he has much in common, Oakeshott appears to be attempting to claim to be principled while riding roughshod over sound practice.
It wouldn’t surprise if he were to try to cling to power by proposing that the major parties endorse another House of Commons tradition: that Speakers not be challenged in their own seats by the majors (though this has not always been the case).
Finally, the guide states: “The Speaker embodies the dignity of the nation’s representative assembly.
“The office is above the individual and commands respect.
The degree of respect depends to some extent on the occupant, but it is fair to say that the office … has [generally] been shown to be respected on both sides of the House. It is unquestionably of great importance that, as a contribution towards upholding the impartiality of the office, the House chooses a candidate [with] the qualities necessary for a good Speaker.”
Oakeshott has lost any respect he may once have had. He’s not impartial and lacks all the necessary qualities for Speaker. He is not the candidate sound practice demands.