The Speaker’s vote

Exercise of the casting vote

The Speaker cannot vote in a division in the House unless the numbers are equal, and then he or she has a casting vote.[151] The provision for a casting vote also applies to Members deputising for or acting in the position of Speaker (that is, Deputy Speaker or Second Deputy Speaker, or another Member as Acting Speaker).[152]

The provision for a casting vote does not apply to members of the Speaker’s panel in the Chair, unless specifically appointed by resolution of the House as Acting Speaker, as it has been considered that the standing orders providing for the nomination and duties of the members of the Speaker’s panel do not fulfil the requirements of s. 36 of the Constitution, which refers to the House choosing a Member to perform the duties of an absent Speaker.[153]

Any reasons stated by the Chair when exercising a casting vote are recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.[154]

There have been occasions where there has been an equality of votes but the Speaker has not exercised a casting vote.[155] This has occurred when there has been an equality of votes on motions without notice for the suspension of standing orders, when it was clear that the necessary absolute majority could not be achieved and that a casting vote could not affect the result.[156]

On 30 November 2000 the votes were equal on a motion of dissent from a ruling by Speaker Andrew. The Speaker stated that the question had not been supported by a majority and, in the circumstances, he was not prepared to give a casting vote, but believed his ruling to have been correct. He said that as the matter of the time for the ringing of the bells had been raised (complaint having been made that they had rung for one minute instead of four), there was the possibility of confusion, and under the standing order (now S.O. 132) he would put the question again.[157]

The decisions of successive Speakers in the House of Commons in giving a casting vote have not always been consistent but three principles have emerged:

  • the Speaker should always vote for further discussion, where this is possible;
  • where no further discussion is possible, decisions should not be taken except by a majority; and
  • a casting vote on an amendment to a bill should leave the bill in its existing form.[158]

There have been 39 occasions[159] when the Speaker or Deputy Speaker has exercised a casting vote in a division in the House. These instances are outlined below.

To enable a further decision of the House

  • On 12 June 1902, the numbers being equal on a second reading amendment to the Bonuses for Manufactures Bill, Speaker Holder stated that, as the House would have an immediate opportunity for another vote, he gave his casting vote with the ‘Ayes’ which had the effect of negativing the amendment. The subsequent question on the second reading was agreed to by a majority of six.[160]

To enable debate to continue

  • On 21–23 May 1914, the numbers being equal on a motion for the closure, Speaker Johnson gave his casting vote with the ‘Noes’.[161] Speaker Bell on 3 December 1935,[162] Deputy Speaker Lucock on 10 October 1963,[163] Deputy Speaker Edwards on 29 April 1992,[164] Deputy Speaker Burke on 20 June 2012[165], and Speaker Smith on 1 September 2016 and 15 June 2017 took the same course.[166] On 30 May 1991 Speaker McLeay gave his casting vote with the ‘Ayes’ on a closure moved on the mover of a motion to suspend standing orders and with the ‘Noes’ on a closure moved on the seconder of the motion.[167]
  • On 13 February 1929 the House debated certain determinations by the Public Service Arbitrator on a motion that the paper be printed, which was the method used at that time to initiate debate on documents presented to the House. When the numbers were equal on the division, Speaker Groom declared himself with the ‘Noes’ in order to give an opportunity for further consideration of the matter in the House.[168]
  • On 11 December 1942 Speaker Nairn declared himself with the ‘Noes’ when the numbers were equal on a motion that the debate on the war situation be adjourned. He stated ‘My casting vote goes in the direction of obtaining a determination of the question during the present sittings of Parliament’.[169]
  • On 10 February 2011, the numbers being equal on the question on the second reading of a private Member’s bill, Speaker Jenkins gave his casting vote with the ‘Ayes’ so that discussion could continue.[170] On 31 May 2012 Deputy Speaker Burke also gave her casting vote with the ‘Ayes’ on the question on the second reading of a private Member’s bill, following the same principle.[171] On 1 November 2012 Speaker Burke gave her casting vote with the ‘Ayes’ on the question on the second reading of a government bill, following the same principle.[172]

To decide a matter before the House

On several occasions, the Speaker’s casting vote has decided the matter before the House:

  • On 4 September 1913, when the vote was taken on an amendment to add words to the Address in Reply, the numbers were equal. Speaker Johnson then made the following statement:
There being an equality of votes, as shown by the division lists, it becomes necessary for me to give the casting vote. I take this opportunity of saying that, notwithstanding anything that has appeared in the press or elsewhere about the Speaker’s casting vote, I have not been approached in any way either by members of the House or the press outside or anybody else in regard to how my vote is to go, with the exception of one occasion when it was done on the floor of the House. In giving my casting vote on the amendment to the Address in Reply moved by the Leader of the Opposition, the Right Honourable Member for Wide Bay, without offering any opinion or comment upon the debate just concluded, I desire to point out certain facts. This is a Parliament met for the first time fresh from a general election. As the result of the election the Government in office at the time, finding itself in a minority in the House of Representatives and unable to carry on the business of the country, resigned. A new Government was formed which, on presenting a memorandum of its policy to the House, was met with a no-confidence amendment to the Address in Reply. The new Government has so far not been afforded an opportunity to submit any of its proposed legislative measures for the consideration and judgment of the House, whilst several honourable Members opposed to the Government have expressed the view that some of the proposed measures should be proceeded with. Guided by these and other public considerations, and supported by abundant authority, I give my vote with the Noes, and declare the amendment resolved in the negative.

The Address was immediately agreed to, without a division.[173]

  • On 7 November 1913 a motion was moved that the resumption of the debate on the Government Preference Prohibition Bill be made an order of the day for the following Tuesday. An amendment was moved to omit ‘Tuesday’ and substitute ‘Wednesday’. The numbers being equal on the amendment, Speaker Johnson voted against it.[174]
  • On 11 November 1913 Speaker Johnson named a Member for disregarding the authority of the Chair. On the motion that the Member be suspended from the service of the House the numbers were equal and the Speaker gave his casting vote with the ‘Ayes’.[175]
  • On 6 May 1914 the numbers were equal on an amendment to add words to the Address in Reply. The amendment was negatived on the casting vote of Speaker Johnson. The Address was immediately agreed to, without a division.[176]
  • On 13–14 May 1914 debate resumed on the motion of a Minister ‘That he have leave to bring in … ’ the Government Preference Prohibition Bill. An amendment to insert certain words after ‘That’ was negatived on the casting vote of Speaker Johnson.[177] The main question was then put and the Speaker gave his casting vote with the ‘Ayes’.[178] On the motion for the first reading the Speaker was again required to exercise his casting vote which he gave with the ‘Ayes’,[179] and he took similar action in respect of the second reading on 21–23 May 1914,[180] and the third reading on 28 May 1914.[181]
  • On a motion on 10 May 1938 that a report of the Munitions Supply Board be printed, Speaker Bell gave his casting vote with the ‘Noes’.[182]
  • On 24 April 1931, on a question of privilege being raised and a motion being moved that the expulsion of a member of the press from the press gallery or precincts of the House was a question for the House to decide, and not a matter for decision by the Speaker, Speaker Makin gave his casting vote with the ‘Noes’.[183]
  • On 19 April 1972, in relation to an amendment to a proposed amendment to the standing orders, Deputy Speaker Lucock gave his casting vote with the ‘Noes’ ‘in order to retain the status quo and in view of the undertaking given by the Deputy Leader of the House to refer the matter to the Standing Orders Committee’.[184]
  • On 18 November 2010, on an amendment to a motion proposing to suspend standing orders to permit consideration of certain items of private Members’ business during government business time, Speaker Jenkins gave his casting vote with the ‘Noes’, noting that he did so in accordance with precedents for retaining a proposition in its original state. On 25 August 2011, in similar circumstances, Speaker Jenkins again gave his casting vote with the ‘Noes’, noting that he did so in accordance with precedents.[185]
  • On 15 June 2011, on the motion that a Member be granted an extension of time to speak to a motion to suspend standing orders, Speaker Jenkins gave his casting vote with the ‘Noes’, noting that the motion had not been supported by a majority and that by voting ‘No’ he would not prevent further discussion.[186]
  • On 19 March 2012, on a motion for disallowance, Speaker Slipper gave his casting vote with the ‘Noes’ in accordance with the principle that decisions should not be taken except by a majority and the principle that legislation should be left in its original form.[187] On 17 September 2012, on a motion for disallowance, Deputy Speaker Burke gave her casting vote for the ‘Noes’ in accordance with precedents for retaining the law in its original state.[188]
  • On 24 May 2012, 21 June 2012 (as Deputy Speaker), 14 March 2013 and 6 June 2013 Speaker Burke gave casting votes with the ‘Noes’, in accordance with the principle that a casting vote on an amendment to a bill should leave the bill in its original form.[189]
  • On 16 August 2012 Deputy Speaker Burke gave her casting vote to the ‘Noes’ on two private Members’ motions, in accordance with the principle that a decision should not be taken except by a majority;[190]
  • On 6 December 2017 Speaker Smith gave his casting vote for the ‘Noes’ on a motion to refer matters to the Court of Disputed Returns, in accordance with the principle that where further discussion is not possible, a decision should not be taken except by a majority.[191]

In a ballot for the election of Deputy Speaker or Second Deputy Speaker, when there are only two candidates, with each receiving the same number of votes, the Speaker then exercises a casting vote.[192] There is no instance of the Speaker exercising a casting vote in these circumstances.

Speaker voting in committee

In the days of the operation of the committee of the whole several Speakers exercised their right to vote in committee (for details see page 222 of the second edition). The Speaker does not participate in Federation Chamber proceedings.[193]

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