Before a new Member elected at a by-election takes his or her seat, the Speaker announces the return of the writ for that division and, after admitting the new Member to the Chamber, administers the oath or affirmation, as described above. This procedure has often taken place at the beginning of a day’s proceedings, immediately after Prayers, but 2 p.m. has been used with increasing frequency.
It is customary for a new Member elected at a by-election, on being admitted, to be escorted to the Table by two Members of the Member’s own party. This custom is derived from the UK House of Commons which resolved on 23 February 1688 that ‘in compliance with an ancient order and custom, they are introduced to the Table between two Members, making their obeisances as they go up, that they may be the better known to the House’.
The term ‘first speech’ is used to describe the first speech made by a Member following his or her first election to the House, even though the Member may have had previous parliamentary experience in a State Parliament or the Senate. In a new Parliament, a newly elected Member normally makes his or her first speech during the Address in Reply debate. Members elected at by-elections have sometimes made their first speeches in debate on Appropriation Bills to which the normal rule of relevance does not apply. The relevance rule has been suspended to allow Members to make first speeches during debate on bills to which the rule would otherwise have applied. Standing and sessional orders have been suspended to allow a Member elected at a by-election to make a statement—in effect a first speech—for a period not exceeding 20 minutes.
A speech made in relation to a condolence motion is not regarded as a first speech, nor is the asking of a question without notice. A speech by a newly elected Member in his or her capacity as Minister or opposition spokesperson—for example, a Minister’s second reading speech on a bill or the opposition speech in reply, or a speech in reply on a matter of public importance—is also not regarded as a first speech, which has been declared to be ‘a speech of a Member’s choice that is made at the time of his or her own choosing’. It is considered that a Member should not make a 90 second or three minute statement or a speech in the adjournment debate until he or she has made a first speech.
There is a convention in the House that a first speech is heard without interjection or interruption, and the Chair will normally draw the attention of the House to the fact that a Member is making a first speech. In return for this courtesy the Member should not be unduly provocative. There have been occasions, however, when a Member’s first speech has not been heard in silence. It has also been customary not to make other than kindly references to the first speech of a Member, although this convention has also not always been observed. In 1967 a Member moved an amendment to a motion to take note of a ministerial statement during his first speech.
A recording of a Member’s first speech is taken from the televised proceedings of the House and a copy made available to the Member.