House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

6 - The Speaker, Deputy Speakers and officers

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Absence of Speaker and vacancy in office


At the first meeting of a newly elected House of Representatives, before the despatch of any other business, the House must choose a Member to be Speaker. The House must also choose a Speaker at any other time when the office becomes vacant.[133]

If the office of Speaker becomes vacant during a session, the Clerk reports the vacancy to the House at its next sitting and the House either at that time or on the next sitting day elects a new Speaker.[134]

If a vacancy occurs between two sessions, the Clerk reports the vacancy to the House when it returns either after hearing the Governor-General’s speech or after the declaration of the opening of the session.[135] The House then elects a new Speaker.[136] In all cases, until a Speaker has been elected, the Clerk acts as chair of the House[137] and conducts the election of the Speaker.

A vacancy in the office of Speaker may occur for the following reasons:[138]

  • the Speaker ceases to be a Member of the House of Representatives;
  • the Speaker is removed from office by a vote of the House;
  • the Speaker has resigned his or her office in writing addressed to the Governor-General, or, if appropriate, the Administrator; or
  • the death of the Speaker.

A Speaker who is resigning his or her seat as well as his or her office does so in writing to the Governor-General.[139]

Acting Speaker

The Constitution provides that before or during any absence of the Speaker, the House may choose a Member to perform the Speaker’s duties in the Speaker’s absence.[140] The House has therefore provided in its standing orders that when the Speaker is absent the Deputy Speaker, or if the Deputy Speaker is also absent, the Second Deputy Speaker, shall be Acting Speaker.[141]

If the House is sitting the Acting Speaker takes the Chair without any formal announcement. Service as Acting Speaker may commence when the House is not sitting—for example, on 22 April 2012 Speaker Slipper announced that he would stand aside as Speaker until certain matters had been dealt with, and on the basis of the Speaker’s statement the Deputy Speaker was taken to have become Acting Speaker.[142]

A Member chosen by the House as Acting Speaker in accordance with section 36 of the Constitution (proceeding under standing order 18), has all the powers of the Speaker—including constitutional powers, powers under commonwealth laws, powers under standing orders, and ex officio functions such as committee membership.[143] Pursuant to this authority Acting Speakers have received commissions from the Governor-General to administer the oath or affirmation of allegiance to Members, announced the return to writs issued by the Speaker for a by-election and administered the oath of allegiance to the newly elected Members.[144]

If the Speaker and both the Deputy Speaker and the Second Deputy Speaker are absent, the Clerk informs the House and the House then either elects one of the Members present to perform the duties of Speaker or adjourns to the next sitting day.[145] The Clerk acts as chair of the House until a Member is elected to perform the duties of Speaker. On 25 May 1921 the Clerk announced that both the Speaker (previously absent) and Deputy Speaker were absent and the House then elected one of its Members to act as Speaker during the Deputy Speaker’s absence.[146]

Before the creation of the position of Second Deputy Speaker in 1994 the standing orders provided for the appointment by the House of another Member to be Acting Deputy Speaker during the Speaker’s continuing absence, while the Deputy Speaker was Acting Speaker.[147]

There have been occasions of lengthy acting appointments during absences of the Speaker due to illness or parliamentary duties overseas.[148]

Deemed Speaker

Continuing authority for certain administrative actions of the Speaker is also provided for in the Parliamentary Presiding Officers Act 1965. When the office of Speaker becomes vacant due to resignation, the person who was Speaker is deemed to continue to be Speaker for the purposes of the exercise of any powers or functions of the Speaker under a law of the Commonwealth until a new Speaker is chosen. Again, when the House has been dissolved, the Speaker at the time of dissolution is deemed to continue as Speaker for the purpose of exercising statutory powers or functions until a Speaker is chosen by the House.

If the Speaker or the person deemed to be Speaker dies, or is unable through ill health to exercise any powers or functions under a law of the Commonwealth, or is absent from Australia, the Deputy Speaker is deemed to be Speaker, for the purposes of the exercise of any powers or functions of the Speaker under a law of the Commonwealth, until the House chooses a new Speaker or the absence or incapacity of the elected Speaker ends. This does not extend to the exercise of the Speaker’s constitutional functions as provision is made in the Constitution for the Governor-General to exercise these powers in the Speaker’s absence.[149] If there is no Deputy Speaker, then the person who last held that office is deemed to continue as Deputy Speaker until a new Deputy Speaker is elected by the House, and such a person can be deemed to be the Speaker (and see page 202).

133. Constitution, s. 35.
134. S.O. 19(a). In practice the vacancy may be reported the same day, e.g. VP 1974–75/508; VP 2010–12/ 1144.
135. See also Ch. on ‘The parliamentary calendar’.
136. S.O. 19(b).
137. S.O. 10(b).
138. Constitution, s. 35. For details of specific vacancies see appendix 2.
139. Constitution, s. 35; this was the case with Speaker Jenkins, VP 1985–87/665–6.
140. Constitution, s. 36.
141. S.O. 18(a).
142. Speaker’s later statement in House, H.R. Deb. (8.5.2012) 4127.
143. Advice of Chief General Counsel, 30 July 2012.
144. E.g. VP 1978–80/422–3, 433; VP 1987–89/773, 1143.
145. S.O. 18(b).
146. VP 1920–21/537.
147. Then S.O. 16.
148. E.g. VP 1948–49/5, 289; VP 1950–51/195.
149. Constitution, ss. 33, 37.