I know it's a sideshow, but I have some comments on this mishegas about Oakeshott being Speaker or not.Point the first
How long has Oakeshott been in parliament? A quick look at the Online Encyclopaedia of Lies and Rumour
informs us that he was elected to the NSW parliament in 1996.
And it's only now
occurring to him that when serious be-suited men with smiles that don't reach quite as far as their eyes take you into a back room and promise to be your bestest friend for ever and ever, they might not be entirely trustworthy?
Also: nice to see how long Abbott's “Kinder, Gentler” polity lasted. Which is: about ten seconds.Point the second
The argument largely stems from a ‘Gentlemen's Agreement’ to do an end-run around the Constitution.
In the Constitution it says that the Speaker does not vote unless as a tiebreaker. No, really:
40. Questions arising in the House of Representatives shall be determined by a majority of votes other than that of the Speaker. The Speaker shall not vote unless the numbers are equal, and then he shall have a casting vote.
OK, so Oakeshott, if he were to become Speaker, would become the Nanny of Parliament, but not be able to actually vote on anything himself. Unless Parliament were tied.
Well, first, that's probably a large part of why neither Labor nor the Coalition want him as Speaker; because with a hung parliament and minority government, it is far more likely that his tiebreaker vote would come into play.
But that's not even counting shenanigans
. The shenanigans here is the practice known as "pairing". Pairing is not something that many people have heard about before this whole thing blew up. But what is it?
Basically, Pairing is a Gentlemen's Agreement between Labor and the Coalition that the opposition would have a member who would be the designated pair to the Speaker – the Deputy Speaker – who would also abstain from voting. Even though there is nothing preventing him from doing so beyond this agreement. So in effect, the Opposition gives the Speaker's vote back by removing a vote against.
(So, if the Government's numbers were x
+1 including the speaker, and the Opposition's were y
, that means that the Opposition has agreed that they will only use y
-1 members to vote against the Government's x
, which gives a virtual extra vote back to the Government.)
Still with me?
So: this happy little agreement has the effect of making the spirit of §40 of the Constitution completely void. One or two people have noticed that this might be a problem in its own right
But it's even worse than that, because if Oakeshott were named speaker, it reveals this happy fraud for the farce it is. Because he's independent, and beholden to no Whip, he can vote how he likes. So first problem: just because he backed Labor for Government, doesn't mean he would want to vote with them all the time. Which just makes things messy. But more than that... What if the Pair did his usual thing and abstained from a vote, which then was tied? Because then the Speaker gets to make the tiebreaker. Even though he has, in effect, already voted.
It wasn't just
that the Coalition are acting like petulant five-year-olds having a quiet sulk at being denied their rightful place in charge, it's because if Oakeshott became speaker, it would reveal the whole sorry mess of the (until now) quiet détante to render a section of the Constitution meaningless.
Don't get me wrong. There are sections of the Constitution which are thoroughly contemptible. Such as §25
(Oh, and that 20-year-old electee in Queensland is safe. Although §34 says that a candidate must be “of the full age of twenty-one years”, a law was passed which reduced this to 18 years in 2001
. Lucky for him, eh?)
But still, there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the idea that the Speaker should be above day-to-day politics, in preference to trying to keep the place running smoothly. In England this is an ideal kept to the point that the Speaker resigns from his party. But here, oh no. Simply not good enough. So the big two parties made a deal with each other that whoever got control would have that extra vote, and they wouldn't complain when it was the next guy's turn. Except then the big two got a great big scare, and the farce was revealed to more than the policy wonks and back-room suits.
Oh dear. I seem to have turned this into a rant. Ah, well. So be it.
Maybe someone who knows more about Parliamentary Procedure and the Constitution can explain where I've gone wrong.EDIT: On the mathematics of an Independent Speaker or not.