Monday, 10 August 2015

Election as Speaker of the House of Representatives - 10 August 2015

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The SPEAKER (11:18): I thank everyone for their generous remarks. I just want to make a few remarks in response. As everyone has done in this debate, I recognise the member for Mackellar, who I have known for nearly 30 years and who has been a wonderful servant of our party. I want to recognise her at the outset. I thank the House for the confidence you have placed in me. There is no greater honour within the parliament than to be elected by one's peers. I am a servant of this House and all of its members. There is, however, a mutual obligation between presiding officers and individual members. I want to say at the outset that I will give a fair go to all on the floor of this chamber. But in return I do expect a level of discourse that reflects that.

Parliament is a robust place. It should be a robust place. It is where we battle our view of a better Australia. It is the arena for the battle of ideas and ideals. I make that point because often people say parliament should not be robust. It should, but it need not be rude and it need not be loud. That is something I would like to see improve. I cannot do that, but together we all can. I wanted to make that point at the opening.

I also want to say I have many friends in this chamber. I have, Prime Minister, some friends on the other side.

An opposition member: You didn't say that before the election.

The SPEAKER: It was not part of my pitch—that is true. I have known the member for Corio for a very long period of time. I have known the member for Batman. We were at university together. They know I will be fair. They also know that I will bring to this place, to the best of my ability, a better parliament, and a better parliament is something we should all be striving for.

A couple of other points: I am going to make it a practice periodically to meet with the Leader of the House, the Manager of Opposition Business and Independent members to discuss the operation of parliament. I will have more to say on that during the course of this fortnight. I think that will be a practical forum for me to convey my expectations to representatives of all groupings within this place. It can be a forum where parliament's expectations of my office can also be conveyed and it will serve as a mechanism for some mutual accountability.

Can I reiterate that I will not be attending weekly party meetings. I have said that in discussions with colleagues during the course of the last seven days. It is my view that the Speaker should not only be but also be seen to be independent of the partisan day-to-day fray. I think the decision is symbolic, but it is also practical.

My role, and that of the President in the other place, is unique. The President of the Senate and I have minister-like responsibilities for the respective chambers and for the Department of Parliamentary Services, but we are not, of course, members of the executive. So, in the execution of our responsibilities in relation to the administration of parliamentary departments and how they serve members and support this chamber, the views of the executive, of the opposition and of individual members will be given equal weight.

I just want to say a couple of other things of a personal nature. I want to mention the former member for Casey and a former Speaker, the Hon. Bob Halverson, who I have known for many, many years, who may be listening to my remarks now. I want to thank my family: my wife, Pam; my mum; and my two boys, Thomas and Angus. They have found this last week interesting. I heard Thomas telling someone Dad was on the phone a lot. Angus found it exciting but he was mostly interested that I still, despite busyness, collect the David Attenborough DVD at the milk bar each morning. They will find this very exciting.

I want to take the opportunity to place on record my great appreciation for the professionalism and the institutional knowledge of the clerks, which I will be utilising to a great degree as I serve in this role. I want to thank the Prime Minister for his friendship and confidence. I want to thank him for appointing me to the chairmanship of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. It is a very important committee. I have deep appreciation for that committee for my understanding of our democracy and it stoked even more interest on my behalf in this parliament.

Whilst today is a humbling day for me, it is also a sad day for so many in this chamber because when we left here at the end of the last sitting there were 150 of us. We will pay tribute to the late Don Randall during the course of today. I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to his family. I sat next to Don in the last parliament. When you sit next to someone for three years, particularly when it is someone from another state, you get to know a lot about them and their interests. He was a friend and he called it as he saw it. To the former Speakers, I can tell you: you did not hear every interjection, thankfully.

I again thank my colleagues for the honour that has been bestowed upon me. I thank the parliament for electing me unanimously to this role. I will do my very best.

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