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House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

6 - The Speaker, Deputy Speakers and officers

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Deputy Speaker

The Deputy Speaker’s former title of ‘Chairman of Committees’ was dropped with the abolition of the committee of the whole in 1994.[250] For a description of the origin and former functions of the position see pages 233–39 of the second edition.

In addition to the function of Speaker’s deputy, the Deputy Speaker has specific responsibility for chairing the Federation Chamber.[251] In the absence of the Speaker the Deputy Speaker serves as Acting Speaker (see page 181).

Election of Deputy Speaker

At the beginning of each Parliament or whenever the office becomes vacant, the House elects a Member to be Deputy Speaker.[252]

The election of the Deputy Speaker takes place after the Speaker has been elected in a new Parliament. The ballot for Deputy Speaker at the beginning of a Parliament also determines the election of the Second Deputy Speaker. The procedure is similar to that for the election of Speaker[253] except that the Speaker presides, not the Clerk. A further difference is that nominees do not have to be present at the election or inform the House whether they accept nomination.

If there is more than one nomination, a ballot[254] is held, and the Member with the most votes is elected Deputy Speaker and the Member with the next greatest number of votes Second Deputy Speaker. If two nominees are equal the Speaker has a casting vote. There has been no occasion when there have been more than two candidates for the office of Deputy Speaker (or formerly, Chairman of Committees).

The office of Deputy Speaker is usually filled by the nominee of the government party or parties.[255] In the case of a Liberal–Nationals coalition Government, the usual practice has been for the Nationals to nominate the Government’s candidate for Deputy Speaker and for the Liberal Party to nominate the candidate for Speaker.[256]

In the early years after Federation, when party lines were not clearly drawn, the incumbent of the then office of Chairman of Committees did not always change with a change in the Government. In 1941, when the Curtin Ministry succeeded the Fadden Ministry without an election, Chairman Prowse remained in office. He resigned on 21 June 1943 at the same time as Speaker Nairn.[257] In divisions in the House in the period from 1941 to 1943, Chairman Prowse frequently voted against the Government[258] and immediately following his resignation he voted in support of a motion of no confidence in the Government.[259]

Deputy Speaker as Chair of House

As it would be impossible for the Speaker to take the Chair for the whole of the time the House is sitting, the standing orders make the necessary relief provisions. It is not necessary to inform the House when such relief arrangements are about to take place.

When the Speaker is absent the Deputy Speaker becomes Acting Speaker[260] (see page 181). The Deputy Speaker may also take the Chair of the House during any sitting of the House whenever requested to do so by the Speaker.[261]

While in the Chair, the Deputy Speaker has the same procedural powers and functions as the Speaker. In 1906 the Chairman of Committees, as Deputy Speaker, signed a message to the President of the Senate. After consideration the President accepted the message.[262] It is now the practice for the Deputy Speaker to sign messages to the Senate whenever the Speaker is unavailable.

If the Deputy Speaker is absent, the Speaker may ask the Second Deputy Speaker or any member of the Speaker’s panel to take the Chair as Deputy Speaker[263] but the Deputy Speaker, in practice, ensures that an unofficial roster is maintained to provide occupants for the Chair throughout a sitting. ‘Deputy Speaker’ is the correct address to be used when the Deputy Speaker, Second Deputy Speaker or a member of the Speaker’s panel is relieving the Speaker in the Chair.

If the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are both absent, the Second Deputy Speaker performs the duties of the Speaker as Acting Speaker. In the absence of the Deputy Speaker the Second Deputy Speaker acts as Deputy Speaker.[264] The Acting Deputy Speaker has all the powers and functions of the Deputy Speaker.[265]

Powers and duties of Deputy Speaker as Chair of the Federation Chamber

The Deputy Speaker chairs the Federation Chamber[266] and sets its meeting times.[267] In the Federation Chamber the Deputy Speaker has the same responsibility for the preservation of order as the Speaker has in the House.[268] However, on the occurrence of disorder the powers of the Chair of the Federation Chamber are less than those of the Speaker in the House and do not include the ability to name a Member. The standing orders provide that if disorder arises in the Federation Chamber the Deputy Speaker may direct the Member concerned to leave the room for 15 minutes. Alternatively, he or she may, or on motion without notice by any Member must, suspend or adjourn the sitting. Following the suspension or adjournment, or the refusal of a Member to leave when so directed, the Deputy Speaker must report the disorder to the House. He or she may report a Member’s conduct whether or not the Member has been directed to leave. Any subsequent action against a Member may only be taken in the House.[269]

In practice there are several factors which minimise the likelihood of disorder in the Federation Chamber—the general ethos of co-operation in respect of its proceedings, the ability of any Member to cause further proceedings on a matter to be taken in the House, the ability of any Member to move the adjournment, and the unresolved question mechanism whereby opposed votes are referred to the House for decision. Disorder has arisen in the Federation Chamber[270] when these characteristics have not been evident, for example, following the suspension of standing orders to allow debate in the Federation Chamber to continue regardless of any unresolved questions.[271]

In other respects, the Deputy Speaker’s functions in the Federation Chamber are basically the same as those of the Speaker in the House. He or she calls Members to speak, proposes and puts questions and declares the decision, enforces the rules of debate, rules on points of order and ensures that the provisions of the standing orders in their application to the Federation Chamber are applied. The Chair of the Federation Chamber has no casting vote (the unresolved question procedure makes this unnecessary).

While the standing orders make no specific provision for a Member to move dissent to a ruling of the Chair in the Federation Chamber (as they used to in relation to the committee of the whole),[272] a dissent motion may occur. However, the factors referred to above which work to minimise disorder in the Federation Chamber, would also work to minimise both the likelihood of dissent and the likelihood of a ruling which might lead to dissent. Rarely, dissent motions have been moved in the Federation Chamber/Main Committee. These have generally followed (and have been in relation to) the suspension of the unresolved question procedure noted above.[273] No dissent moved in the Federation Chamber/Main Committee has ever been voted on by the House.[274]

A motion of no confidence in the Chair of the Federation Chamber cannot be moved in the Federation Chamber, which essentially can only consider matters referred by the House. Additionally, the Chair of the Federation Chamber is appointed pursuant to the standing orders, and a resolution of the Federation Chamber cannot prevail over the standing orders. Such a motion could be moved in the House pursuant to notice or by leave.[275]

The Deputy Speaker may be relieved in the Chair of the Federation Chamber by the Second Deputy Speaker or a member of the Speaker’s panel.[276] In practice a roster is maintained.

Resignation and vacancy

If the Deputy Speaker wishes to resign from office, he or she may do so by means of a personal announcement, or by notifying the Speaker, in writing, who will make an announcement to the House.[277]

The practice following the resignation of a Chairman of Committees was formerly for a motion to be moved ‘That the resignation be accepted, and that the House proceed forthwith to appoint a Chairman of Committees’.[278] More recent practice was not to have motions accepting a Chairman’s resignation.

On 14 July 1975 Chairman Berinson resigned from office, by letter to the Speaker, as he had been appointed to the Ministry. As the House was not sitting a new Chairman could not be elected and Mr Berinson was deemed to continue to be Chairman of Committees until a new Chairman was elected by the House on 19 August 1975.[279] In addition, as the Speaker was absent overseas, Mr Berinson was deemed to be Presiding Officer for the purposes of the exercise of any powers or functions by the Presiding Officer under a law of the Commonwealth.[280]


250. Where certain legislation, such as the Public Works Committee Act, continued to refer to the Chairman of Committees, such provisions apply to the position of Deputy Speaker.
251. S.O. 16(b).
252. S.O. 13. For a list of Chairmen of Committees/Deputy Speakers since 1901 see Appendix 3.
253. The election procedures of S.O. 11 are qualified by S.O. 14 for this purpose.
254. As described for the ballot for Speaker at page 167.
255. At the start of the 43rd Parliament an opposition Member, nominated by a government Member, was elected as Deputy Speaker and another opposition Member, nominated by an opposition Member, was elected as Second Deputy Speaker.
256. In 1978 a former Chairman and a government Member, Mr Lucock, was nominated by the Opposition. Mr Lucock was not present at the time, but signified his availability by telegram—the standing orders not requiring acceptance of nomination to be given, VP 1978–80/10.
257. VP 1940–43/549.
258. VP 1940–43/308, 313, 349, 473, 478.
259. VP 1940–43/551.
260. S.O. 18(a).
261. S.O. 16(c). On 8 May 2012 a period commenced when Speaker Slipper did not preside during meetings of the House and Deputy Speaker Burke took the Chair for all periods during which the Speaker would have presided, see statement by the Speaker, H.R. Deb. (8.5.2012).
262. S. Deb. (24.9.1906) 5165.
263. S.O.s 16(c), 17(b).
264. S.O.s 16(c), 18(a).
265. See VP 1951–53/367 (before present offices were created).
266. S.O. 16(b). The Main Committee was renamed the Federation Chamber from 27 February 2012 (VP 2010–12/1179).
267. S.O. 186.
268. S.O.s 60, 187(a).
269. S.O. 187.
270. E.g. VP 1996–98/765; VP 2002–04/137–8 (Main Committee).
271. E.g. VP 1996–98/551–5. The context was the referral to the Main Committee (now Federation Chamber) of a bill (the Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996) which many Members wished to debate in the House.
272. See pp. 236–7 of the 2nd edition.
273. Because of disorder the proceedings were suspended by the Chair, VP 1996–98/765, H.R. Deb. (31.10.1996) 6346–51. On resumption the dissent motion was not proceeded with by the Member who had moved it, H.R. Deb. (6.11.1996) 6733. On the second comparable occasion, by the time the dissent was reported to the House it had become meaningless in view of later proceedings, and the question was not put to the House. H.R. Deb. (26.8.2002) 5676–8; (29.8.2002) 6192.
274. In the normal course a dissent in the Federation Chamber would be expected to be reported to the House as an unresolved question, or more probably, to be closured and the closure reported as unresolved, e.g. VP 1996–98/1829, 1834 (Main Committee), when the closure was reported to the House the dissent motion was withdrawn, by leave.
275. H.R. Deb. (29.8.2002) 6192.
276. S.O.s 16(c), 17(c).
277. The Constitution and the standing orders of the House contain no specific provision on the matter.
278. VP 1940–43/549–50; VP 1961/9.
279. VP 1974–75/821.
280. Parliamentary Presiding Officers Act 1965.