Questions on Notice: Once, twice, three times a Speaker

Friday, 9 August 2019 in Chamber, Procedural

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This week’s question comes from journalist Alice Workman, following Speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith’s recent re-election to the role in the 46th Parliament. Alice wants to know if three unopposed elections in a row is a record.

The Speaker hasn’t quite broken the record, but he has matched it. The only other Speaker to be elected unopposed three times in a row, without having faced opposition during any election, is the very first Speaker of the House, Sir Frederick William Holder. Holder sat in the Speaker’s Chair from 1901 until 1909.

Sir John McLeay, who was Speaker between 1956 and 1966, was elected Speaker a total of four times but was opposed at his initial election.

If you’re familiar with the Constitution, you may know that one of the first duties of a new House, following a general election, is to elect a Speaker. The procedures for the election of a Speaker are set out under House standing order 11.

A prospective Speaker is nominated by a Member moving that the Member ‘do take the Chair of this House as Speaker’. The motion is then seconded. The mover and the seconder may each speak in support of their candidate and the Member proposed is required to accept or decline the nomination. In the event that there is only one nominee, no further debate is allowed and the Clerk declares the Member elected as Speaker.

However, in the event that more than one Member is proposed as Speaker, a debate can ensue. At the conclusion of debate, the House proceeds to a ballot. Votes are counted by the Clerks at the Table and, if there are only two candidates, the candidate with the greater number of votes is declared elected by the Clerk.

Since the ballot procedure was introduced in 1937, there has been no instance of more than two candidates in a ballot for the role. However, standing order 11 provides procedures in the event that more than two candidates are nominated.