First speeches

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First speeches

Posted 18/10/2013 by Janet Wilson

With the 44th Parliament due to open on 12 November new members will be making their first speeches in the opening weeks or months of the new parliament. The Chamber departments provide detailed notes for the guidance of new members when they are preparing their first speeches; this brief contains more general information and some historical background.


From its first printing in 1953 Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice used the term first speech to refer to a senator’s first contribution to debate in the Chamber. Despite this, the phrase Maiden Speech continued to be used by the presiding officers when referring to such a speech, until Condor Laucke assumed the Presidency at the beginning of the 30th Parliament, on 17 February 1976. During his term he indicated to the Senate that the next speech would be the speaker’s first speech in the Senate and invited honourable senators to extend the traditional courtesies to the speaker. Maiden speech was again used during the presidency of Harold Young (1981 to 1983) but subsequent presidents have generally used first speech.

In the House of Representatives maiden speech was used in the index to the early editions of House of Representatives Practice until the third edition in 1997. However usage started to change a little earlier, after the 1993 election, when the Speaker more usually reminded the House that the member he was about to call was about to make their first speech and asked for the usual courtesies to be observed.


House of Representatives Practice (Chapter 5, p. 141–2) describes the conventions, derived from Westminster, that first speeches should be heard without interjection or interruption, and that the subject matter should not be unduly provocative, and provides examples where first speeches deviated from these practices. With the exception of a condolence speech or asking a question without notice, a new member should not contribute to parliamentary proceedings until they have made their first speech. However, a recent example of a member speaking on a bill before making his first speech was in 1990 when the newly-elected Member for Hotham, Mr Crean, who was also a new Minister, introduced a number of bills on 9 May 1990 and made his first speech on 17 May 1990. Speaker McLeay ruled that a member’s maiden speech was to be a ‘speech of a member’s choice that is made at the time of his or her choosing’, so none of the speeches on bills the previous week were to be considered his first speech.

Following general elections most new members make their first speeches during the Address in Reply debate, where the relevance rule is relaxed, but on occasions, particularly when a large number of new members are elected, first speeches have been made during appropriation debates or on indulgence. For example, Mr Hockey and Mrs Hanson, both elected at the March 1996 election, made their first speeches in September that year, in the appropriation debate, with a limited application of the relevance rule.

In the 650-member British House of Commons (which still refers to maiden speeches), there can be a very large influx of new members (there were 244 after the May 1997 election, for example). New members are now offered the option of waiting, perhaps for several months, to make their traditional maiden speech before speaking in debate, or to waive their right to make a maiden speech and to participate fully in the proceedings.


With the exception of the speeches by the mover and seconder of the Address in Reply it is difficult to pinpoint precisely when first speeches became (almost always) the important occasion they are now. Although the tradition now is for a first speech to be used to outline a new member’s aspirations and philosophies, to talk about their electorates and former holders of the seat, and to thank their families and supporters, it is not unusual for the first speech of members elected before the 1950s to be a speech on a bill, and for it not to be heard without interjection or interruption. Mr Fraser’s first speech in 1956 is perhaps the earliest first speech of a future prime minister that conforms to the sort of first speeches delivered today.

Finding first speeches 

For members of the House of Representatives the simplest way to find a particular member’s first speech is to determine the date the person was elected and simply search House Hansards in ParlInfo (or the bound volumes of Hansard) for the earliest speech by that member, bearing in mind that if that member was also a new minister, the above ruling by Speaker McLeay might apply. For example: 'Speaker:o`neill Date:curParliament Dataset:hansardr,hansardr80', or 'Speaker:prentice Date:curParliament Dataset:hansardr,hansardr80'  (and make sure that the results are ordered by ‘Oldest First’).

In the Senate it is now rare for first speeches to be delivered during the Address in Reply debate since elections held in the second half of the year mean a long period between the opening of parliament and new senators’ terms commencing. Instead, a timetable for first speeches is set out in an Order of the Senate which allows first speeches to be made without a question before the Chair, thereby allowing the relevance rule to be avoided. The title of such speeches in Hansard is thus ‘First Speech’, for example: 'Speaker:singh Title:"first speech" Date:curParliament Dataset:hansards,hansards80' 

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