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The House has no confidence in the Speaker

March 29, 2014

Comment, editing and compilation

By Barry Tucker                    29 March, 2014

On Thursday, 27 March, 2014, the Labor Opposition brought on a brief debate expressing its frustration with the hard-line rulings of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop.

This is a continuation of the argy-bargy that has involved the position of Speaker since the tied election of 2010. Labor established a minority government with the support of two Independents. The Liberal National Party Coalition maintained the minority government was illegitimate and instituted a disruptive campaign in Opposition, until decisively winning government in September 2013.

Due to its critical numbers in the HoR, Labor replaced its Speaker, Harry Jenkins, with the then Deputy Speaker, Peter Slipper — a former Liberal disendorsed earlier when he accepted the Deputy Speaker role. He later became embroiled in allegations of workplace sexual harassment (case to be re-tried) and has been charged with misuse of CabCharge dockets (case to go to trial, and normally handled quietly and internally according to The Minchin Protocol).

The then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott moved a motion seeking the dismissal of Mr Slipper, a break with convention and disregard for the legal principle of the presumption of innocence. The debate that followed resulted in then Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s “misogny speech”. Ironically, perhaps, Mr Slipper is widely regarded as being one of the best (most impartial) Speakers of recent times.

Labor promoted then Deputy Speaker Anna Burke to Speaker. To be honest, Speaker Burke was just as tough with the LNP Opposition as Madam Speaker Bishop has been with Labor.

Bronwyn Bishop is regarded as a walking encyclopaedia on parliamentary procedure. During Question Time in the previous government I watched as she frequently rose to make Points of Order, which were rarely accepted. It may be that what we are now witnessing is some tit-for-tat. You will see from his response that the Leader of the House, Christoper Pyne, makes it clear that being in Opposition is tough. He should know. By his reckoning he’s been kicked out more often than anyone else.

I am grateful to my Twitter colleague @AussieRock for finding the Hansard transcripts that appear below. Some were provided by Opposition MPs.

Finding them is not as simple as it could be, which is why they are faithfully reproduced below, so that readers can absorb every nuance of the Motion of No Confidence debate. The news media has picked out the more sensational highlights. The text below and the additions of explanations, names, seats and party membership allows the reader to more closely follow the debate.

The Opposition’s motion, which it had been nurturing, was launched immediately after Mr Dreyfus was named (twice) for calling out “Madam Speaker!” Naming leads to the Member’s suspension from the House for 24 hours.

Mr BURKE (Labor, Watson. Manager of Opposition Business):

Madam Speaker, I seek leave to move a motion which has not been moved in this form in the House since 1949:

That the House has no further confidence in Madam Speaker on the grounds:

(a) that in the discharge of her duties she has revealed serious partiality in favour of Government Members;

(b) that she regards herself merely as the instrument of the Liberal Party and not as the custodian of the rights and privileges of elected Members of the Parliament;

(c) that she constantly fails to interpret correctly the Standing Orders of the House; and

(d) of gross incompetency in her administration of parliamentary procedure.

The SPEAKER (Bronwyn Bishop, Liberal, Mackellar): 

Before I call the Leader of the House, I would say to the Manager of Opposition Business that earlier today the Opposition was unable to call a division on a second reading motion because they had one member only in the House. Subsequent to that, they called a division on the question that the Bill be agreed to and then called the division off. Then, when we had a division on the third reading and all the members were present, they failed to provide a speaker on the next piece of business. I suggest they get their own house in order. I now call the Leader of the House.

MR PYNE (Liberal, Sturt. Leader of the House and Minister for Education):

Leave is not granted.

[Mr Burke then moved the Suspension of Standing Orders to enable debate of the original motion. He repeated the grounds for the motion and spoke in support of it.]


I move: That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Watson from moving the following motion forthwith:

That the House has no further confidence in Madam Speaker, on the grounds:

(a) that, in the discharge of her duties, she has revealed serious partiality in favour of government members;

(b) that she regards herself merely as an instrument of the Liberal Party and not as a custodian of the rights and privileges of elected members of the parliament;

(c) that she constantly fails to interpret correctly the standing orders of the House; and

(d) of gross incompetency in the administration of parliamentary procedure.

Madam Speaker, I note that this is an example of all the noise being on this side of the chamber. The reason these Standing Orders need to be suspended, Madam Speaker, is in the first instance …

Government members interjecting.


Order! There will be silence on my right so that the speaker may be heard.


Madam Speaker, what has just happened in this House is worthy of suspending Standing Orders. Never before in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia has someone been named for calling out “Madam Speaker”. That is what just happened in this House. Under no definition of what is within House Practice or of history or of anything that has happened in this parliament since 1901 has anyone claimed that the words “Madam Speaker” or “Mr Speaker” were unparliamentary. And, yet, the Member for Isaacs [Mr Dreyfus] did not just get warned or thrown out; he got named for calling you “Madam Speaker”.

[I interject here to point out that it was probably the tone of voice of Mark Dreyfus QC (Lab, Isaacs) that got him named and then suspended for 24 hours. It was in the nature of ‘Madam Speaker! For God’s sake‘ — a cry of exasperation. Mr Dreyfus was kicked out the previous day for disputing with Madam Speaker after being told he had no Point of Order. He then responded: “You do have to listen! It’s your job!”]

Yesterday, we had a member of parliament thrown out for laughing [Julie Collins, Labor, Franklin]. Madam Speaker, we have spent months watching you laugh at every joke from the ministers at the expense of members of the Opposition. But, somehow, that is an appropriate way to conduct the role.

Madam Speaker, I do not dispute what you said before that there are times in this chamber when things are cooperative. The example you gave this morning you articulated in a way that I would not disagree with one bit. But I do disagree with your decision to make that argument from the chair before the Leader of the House decides whether or not to grant leave. The comments you made, Madam Speaker, were reasonable comments for someone on either side of the chamber to make but not reasonable if you are meant to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Madam Speaker, it is acknowledged on both sides of this House and throughout the country that you are a formidable parliamentarian. That is acknowledged. It is acknowledged that, for your entire time in Opposition and when you have sat on those benches opposite, you have been one of the people who have been able to come to the dispatch box and launch scathing and effective attacks on us as the Labor party. You are respected as a member of parliament for that. But we cannot support you continuing to behave that way when you want to sit in the Speaker’s chair.

In response to the claim of “stunt” that I heard from the front bench, Madam Speaker, we have not rushed to this. We raised concern on the day that you were elected as Speaker. The tradition referred to in Practice —and this is why we should be suspending Standing Orders — that non-executive members nominate and second the election of Speaker, and then bring the Speaker to the chair, is one of the powers of the backbench and the non-executive members of this House. That tradition was broken the moment you became Speaker.

We then found on 13 November last year that, despite the Prime Minister claiming that certain words specifically were sure to be considered unparliamentary, you decided that name-calling was going to be considered legitimate in this parliament. On 19 November last year, on issues relating …

A government member: Have you got a speech ready?

[Mr Burke’s reference to name-calling relates to the nickname ‘Electricity Bill’, a reference to Labor leader Bill Shorten.]

We prepare a sheet most days, I am afraid. Today is the day when, considering that for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth someone was thrown out for saying “Madam Speaker”, everybody has to acknowledge that this farce has gone on for far too long.

Madam Speaker, on 19 November last year, you reinterpreted a question asked by the member for Herbert [Ewen Jones, Liberal], who had made no mention of numbers in the question. I raised a Point of Order, saying that there was an issue of direct relevance, and your response was:

The question was one that was pertaining to numbers, as clearly was indicated by the questioner.

Notwithstanding that there was no reference to that in the question at all, you came up with a new question to get around Standing Order 104.

When we debated the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill, you waited until the moment when the Opposition were moving amendments and then decided that amendments which had been flagged and had gone through the appropriate processes of checking would be disallowed by you, denying the Opposition the capacity to put our amendments. We were not expecting to win the vote, but we were expecting to have our right to make our case.

Madam Speaker, on 2 December last year, we had a circumstance where the Leader of the Opposition after he was given the call for one purpose went on to seek leave for another. You claimed that you had called on him to resume his seat prior to him saying, “I seek leave”, and we asked you to check the tapes. You came back, allegedly having checked the tapes, Madam Speaker, and what you told the House was not true. You told the House that he, the Leader of the Opposition, again sought the call. The tapes do not reflect that. The tapes show the exact opposite. But, once again, the information provided to this parliament was changed so that you could pretend to be acting within the Standing Orders.

Madam Speaker, the issue of time limits has been one where time and again we have seen ministers in this House be allowed to continue their comments for quite a period after their speaking time has elapsed. But, when an Opposition member asks a question, suddenly the 30-second rule is enforced — and enforced completely strictly. If you want to provide a level of lenience for government members, that is fine; it is the impartiality of the way you do this job that is at issue, Madam Speaker. To have a circumstance where leave is not granted for this motion is extraordinary. As to the action that you took today, 98 people have now been thrown out of the House by you — every one of them from the Opposition. So it is 98-love. No Speaker in the history of Federation has a record like that.

We have had situations with amendments. I remember we had an amendment that I moved to a motion from the member for Denison [Andrew Wilkie, Independent], where you ruled, in answer to a Point of Order from the Leader of the House, that the amendment was too far away from the original motion — notwithstanding that on 2 December last year you allowed the Leader of the House to move an amendment to a motion from the Leader of the Opposition that completely reversed everything that was in the first motion.

Madam Speaker, if I stand to raise a Point of Order you wait until the minister has completed before you hear the Point of Order. At each issue, at each part of this, the practice that is followed is the same on every occasion. The Prime Minister is now laughing, but he will not be thrown out — nor should he be. But I can tell you that when he defends knights and dames it is really funny and we will laugh.

This motion today is not one that people rush to move. On every occasion that a motion of this nature is moved — whether it is a Suspension of Standing Orders or whether leave is not granted — it is carried forever in practice. When Opposition members get to this point they do not expect to win the vote, but they do expect to have a situation where everyone in Australia knows bias when they see it. Madam Speaker, we do not doubt for one minute your effectiveness as a warrior for the Liberal party, but that is not the job you chose to take on. Yet in the Speaker’s chair you have continued to act as though enjoying the victory for your own side is your job. Madam Speaker, the parliament deserves more than that. The parliament cannot have confidence in a Speaker who refuses to be impartial.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr ALBANESE: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Mr PYNE:  

Madam Speaker, I rise to defend your position as Speaker and to speak against the motion to suspend Standing Orders moved by the Manager of Opposition Business. I would say to government members that we regard this vote as a vote of confidence in the Speaker. As far as the government is concerned, when the vote is taken, this will be a vote of confidence in the Speaker — and I am very confident that the Speaker will win.

The fact that this is a stunt is so clearly indicated by the fact that the Manager of Opposition Business came into the chamber with a prepared speech, which he then read from throughout his 10-minute contribution to the House. Madam Speaker, the Manager of Opposition Business has been building up to this since the first day that you were elected Speaker. I would remind him that, when you were elected Speaker on 12 November last year, the Manager of Opposition Business said: “When they all return to Hogwarts, Dumbledore is gone and Dolores Umbridge is now in charge of the school.” From the first day that you were Speaker, the Manager of Opposition Business and his cohorts on the front bench, like the member for Grayndler [Anthony Albanese, Labor], the member for Isaacs [Mr Dreyfus, Labor], the member for Sydney [Tanya Plibersek, Labor. Deputy Opposition Leader] and the member for Ballarat [Catherine King, Labor.] have been deliberately trying to create an issue around the speakership by being rude, by being aggressive and by behaving quite intolerably badly towards a woman in the chair.

The member for Sydney had cause to say in August 2012, about the then Leader of the Opposition [Tony Abbott, Liberal, Warringah], that perhaps he had trouble with strong women in public life. She said: “I think he does find it very difficult that he’s dealing with two women in positions of authority” — being then, the member for Chisholm [Anna Burke, Labor] and the then Prime Minister [Julia Gillard, Labor, Lalor. ret]. But, quite frankly, Madam Speaker, the former Leader of the Opposition [Mr Abbott] never spoke to either the member for Chisholm or the former Prime Minister in the way that the member for Isaacs speaks to you in the chair.

Mr Burke interjecting.

Mr PYNE: Not as badly, Manager of Opposition Business. The member for Isaacs is a bully — and an aggressive one at that — and he has deliberately been trying to be rude to you from his position, with his shouting and being over the top and loud. It was all, I think, part of a deliberate strategy.

May I say, Madam Speaker, that I am no sook. I was Manager of Opposition Business for five years. I was Manager of Opposition Business for three years in a hung parliament. I hold the record for being ejected from this place by Speakers in the parliament. But I never complained. I did not stand up like a great big sook — like the Manager of Opposition Business did today — and say, like one of my four children, that I had had my toy taken away from me.

I know Opposition is tough. Opposition is not challenging. It is not satisfying. You do not get to make any decisions. Paul Keating [a Labor Prime Minister, ’91-’96] put it very well in a debate on a matter of public importance in response to the then member for Flinders, Mr Reith, when he said: “Honourable members opposite have three more years of their lives trotting around in Opposition, three more years in the corridors at night wandering in and out of each other’s offices, having cold cups of tea at 11 o’clock.” And you have fallen silent, because you know it is true.

The sadness for the Opposition is that you lost the election. You have three years — hopefully more — in Opposition, and you just have to get used to it. When you are in Opposition, you do get thrown out of parliament more often than members of the government. When I was in government, I was thrown out of the chamber, as was the Prime Minister when he was the Leader of the House. You have to put up with it; that is the way it is.

You should hold the government to account because that is what a good Opposition does and the crossbenchers should do so as well. But when you speak to the Speaker, when you deal with the chair — the way you deal with the member for Mackellar [Madam Speaker] is utterly unprecedented in this place. I have been here for 21 years and I am shocked and appalled, as I hope a gentleman would be, by the way you speak to the Speaker. The member for Isaacs was named today and it was thoroughly deserved. For you to move this Motion of No Confidence the first time the Speaker names a member is bizarre; it is ludicrous; it is over the top; it is a stunt; it is designed to hide the fact that the Opposition does not have anything to say about the issues that the public care about.

The Opposition have nothing to say concerning issues the public care about: lowering taxation, cutting regulation, abolishing the carbon tax, reducing cost-of-living pressures on Australian families or returning the rule of law to the workplace. Therefore, the tactic of the Opposition has been one of trying to create distractions from the fact that they stand for nothing. My advice to the Opposition is: you have three years to learn why you lost the election in 2010 [sic] and why you lost the election in 2013. In 2010, you only hung on to power because you were able to negotiate with the crossbenches and after one term you had fewer seats than the Liberal Party and the National Party in this House. The Opposition have made no effort to do the hard work, to prepare policies, to think about what they stand for.

[In much of what follows Mr Pyne is not speaking to the motion. The Speaker does not ask him to speak to the motion, as she should.]

Graham Richardson tried to give you advice in The Australian a couple of weeks ago in one of his columns. You should listen to Graham Richardson because he was part of a successful Labor government. None of you were, I know; you were part of a very failed government. It could not have been easy for former ministers sitting opposite to accept that after three years they had fewer seats on their side of the House and after six years they were thrown from office in a landslide defeat. It is hard for them to accept that, I know. But quite frankly, they have to accept it and get on with it, if they want to serve in government ever again — hopefully, a more successful government than the last one. They have to do the work.

When we were in Opposition, the former member for Scullin [Harry Jenkins, Labor] was in the chair. He lost a vote on the floor of this House by throwing out a member — it was the member for Paterson, [Bob Baldwin, Liberal]. The Leader of the Opposition [Mr Abbott] immediately moved a motion of confidence in the Speaker — immediately, straight after. The then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, had to second the motion because Labor’s instinct was not to protect the Speaker. Labor’s intention was not to uphold the dignity of the office of Speaker; it was to use it as a pawn, as a negotiating tool to get the then member for Fisher [Peter Slipper, Ind., former Liberal] to sit in the speakership and save one vote. That is how the Labor Party thinks the speakership should be treated. It did not actually work very well for them, I hate to tell them — another piece of advice. That did not go so well, did it? Unfortunately, the former member for Fisher did not measure up as well as you had hoped.

[Mr Pyne returns to the subject of the motion, the present Speaker.]

The Labor party’s tactics in this place have been chaotic from day one. Their questions are very broad and should be ruled out of order, but quite frankly the Speaker has been very tolerant. If the questions being asked by the Opposition had been asked by me when we were in Opposition, I would never have got away with them. They are full of argument; they are full of abuse; yet the Speaker has been very tolerant and very generous. The reason the Speaker has been tolerant and generous to the Opposition is that she was a very effective member of the Opposition over a long period of time and has been an effective member of government. She knows that, for democracy to work, question time needs to be allowed to run, to flow. Due to her innate understanding of how our democracy works, the Speaker has allowed the Opposition to get away with a great deal more than I was ever allowed to get away with when we were in Opposition.

Rather than trying to make a political point and distract the public from their paucity of ideas by moving this motion, the Opposition should be congratulating you in the chair, Madam Speaker, because you have been much more generous to the Opposition than I would be were I in your place. Woe betide that day, should it ever come!

Opposition members interjecting.

Mr PYNE: I have not prepared for this speech like you have. Mine are written notes, not the speeches you have. My advice to the Opposition is to get on with the job of opposition. As somebody once said: “Opposition is slowly boring through hard boards,” and it is. It is not something that you can just deal with. This is a tactic, this is a stunt, this is simply designed to distract the House, the public and the people from the shabby tactics of the Labor Party.

We have absolute confidence in the Speaker and, as long as the Speaker wants to serve in that role, the government will support her from this side of the House. The vote that we are about to take is a vote of confidence in the Speaker. I will be voting with the Speaker and I assume the government will be too. I ask the crossbenches to turn their backs on this shabby stunt and to support the Speaker.

Mr ALBANESE (Labor, Grayndler. Shadow minister):

I second the motion. We all know that this is a position that you coveted for years and years.

[Mr Albanese does not address Madam Speaker by title, but uses the pronoun “you”. Madam Speaker lets it pass unremarked.]

How sad is it, having achieved his ambition, that you [ibid.] have chosen the low road of partisanship, rather than the high road of independence that this office demands? 

Madam Speaker, when you were the member for Mackellar [she still is, but is referred to by the title Madam Speaker] you were very fond of the big book, House of Representatives Practice. I draw your attention to pages 163 and 164, which state a very simple principle:

The Speaker must show impartiality in the Chamber above all else.

That is the fundamental principle upon which the reliance and integrity of this parliament resides. Those opposite say: “Oh, but we won the election.” That is absolutely true — there is a majority there. But there are millions of Australians voting for us on this side and they also deserve to be represented and not be treated with contempt from the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

It is one thing for this Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition to want to trash the 43rd Parliament and come in here every day and move to suspend the Standing Orders and engage in disruptive conduct as a tactic, but it is another thing, having won the election and achieved the high office of Prime Minister, for him and his team to trash the 44th Parliament. So addicted are they to negative tactics, they engage in them. We see it every day. We saw the Prime Minister last week, while the sand was going through the hourglass for a division, looking upwards and giving directions to you, Madam Speaker, saying: “Close the door. Close the door. Close the door.” We see, time after time, the Leader of the House give instructions to you as the chair, including today.

Madam Speaker, we have a penalty count at the moment. If this were a Souths-Manly game and the penalty count was 98 to nil in favour of the home team, they would be jumping the fence. What we have day after day in this parliament is partisanship from the chair, is abuse of Standing Orders and is treatment of those on this side of the House with contempt. We are seeing it by this very process. We are seeing it by the process whereby those opposite are not even allowing the motion to be debated. We are having to suspend the Standing Orders. What they should do is allow the motion, and then it will be a vote in the confidence of your speakership. As it is, it is left hanging as a result of them not even allowing the motion to proceed.

The SPEAKER: I remind the member that he must address the motion as he is drawing attention to it.

Opposition members interjecting.

[Mr Albanese was speaking to the motion. His remarks were more pertinent than those of Mr Pyne’s lecturing history lesson. Mr Albanese was directed by Madam Speaker, Mr Pyne was not.]

Mr ALBANESE: I am, and that is why Standing Orders should be suspended! You have just given a cracker of an example, Madam Speaker, of your partisanship. Here I am saying why they should be suspended so that we can have the proper debate and have a vote in your speakership, as to whether you have the confidence of the House, and you interject from the chair in order to slap that down.

Today we had, in the naming of the member for Isaacs, unprecedented action taken for such a minimal statement. I checked, Madam Speaker, if he said “ma Dame Speaker” because I thought maybe there was something that was a reflection, but there was not.

[There was. See my own interjection and explanation above.]

What we see in this chamber every day is the born-to-rule mentality of those opposite.

[It’s not recorded in Hansard, but there was loud opposition to the use of the phrase “born to rule”.]

We saw it from this Prime Minister just two days ago with his reinstatement of imperial honours and we see it with your behaviour, unfortunately, Madam Speaker, each and every day in this chamber.

The SPEAKER: The question is that so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Watson moving immediately that the House has no further confidence in Madam Speaker.

A Division followed and the Opposition motion to suspend Standing Orders was lost 83 to 51. Official record of Ayes and Nos, including Members’ names.

I acknowledge the Copyright of Hansard, official record of Parliamentary proceedings and debates.

You will find all forms of contact details for Ms Bishop here.

Numerous videos of the rowdiness of this parliamentary session are available on YouTube and elsewhere.

Since Madam Speaker’s appointment, the Opposition has moved Motions of Dissent from her rulings on a number of occasions. Here is one of them:

Mr Burke seeks Suspension of Standing Orders to debate his motion of No Confidence in the Speaker:

Mr Pyne defends Madam Speaker (at 3.27, some repetition). Says vote will be a vote of confidence. Raises gender issue — the only speaker to do so. He alleges former PM Julia Gillard created gender wars.

Mr Albanese seconds Mr Burke’s motion.

For a shorter and funnier version of the above, see:

Madam Speaker is not amused — seriously

Update, 27 November, 2014

Speaker Bishop ejected 18 Opposition MPs under rule 94a during question time today. Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke said this was an all-time record for a single session of question time.

Those ejected included, for the first time, Melissa Parke. Her offence was quoting from Standing Orders. Speaker Bishop, in her former role as an Opposition MP, quoted parliamentary procedure during question time virtually on a daily basis.

Since being appointed as Speaker, a role that is supposed to be impartial, Ms Bishop has ejected 285 MPs, 280 of them Labor members.

Update: June 2, 2015
Mr Burke moved another motion of dissent from Madam Speaker’s ruling yesterday. The Speaker had ruled a question out of order when the questioner got through the preamble but before the question had been asked.
Here is Mr Burke speaking to his motion of dissent:

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