New speaker’s slack clobber, old speaker clobbers slackers
Peter Slipper, draped in black in a manner most young voters will not see outside Hogwarts, has dramatically altered the style of the Speaker’s office.
All occupants of the chair consider the job important. Slipper believes that previously discarded layers of trappings and ceremony are needed to make the point.
Predecessor to this Prince of Pomp was Harry Jenkins, who was more a “People’s Speaker”, a Labor lefty whose natural mode was of informality. But his love of Parliament has been genuine and deep.
As Slipper plans his processions and upgrades his clobber of office, Jenkins has made clear he wants to fight for parliamentary reform, and to make the humble back bencher a vital element of its operation.
He has radical objectives at a time when many voters believe MPs don’t earn their pay and spend too much time having a bludge in Canberra. Jenkins wants them in the national capital more often.
He believes executive government - the Prime Minister and ministers - prefer MPs to stay in their electorates as long as possible talking up the leadership and its policies, robbing them of their role as legislators.
Jenkins says back-benchers should spend more time in Canberra being active participants in the creation and passage of legislation.
“Regrettably, I am in a minority of people in this place who thinks that we should alter the balance in our work,” Jenkins told the House of Representatives yesterday.
“I believe that our role as legislators is just as important as our role as local members. The work that we do here is just as important as the work that we do in our electorates.
“It is a reflection of the undue influence that the executive of the government exerts on back bench members of this place that we have this balance such that people are encouraged to go back to their electorates to do their work there, because their important work is back in the electorate.
“I see this place as the House of Representatives. I come here to represent the people who have elected me. There is much that is worth while that happens in Canberra while the Parliament is sitting that we should devote more time to.
“And not by lengthening the hours in the weeks that we are here but perhaps by making sure that people understand that our role is to be here in Canberra and that we should be here more often.”
While in Canberra, he wants back benchers to make their views on issues known without having to worry they will be depicted as undermining a leader.
“I hope that we get to a stage such that as a vibrant parliament we see that the role of the backbencher, especially when in government, is to question and to be involved in policy development,” Jenkins said.
“The media place pressure on us by saying that if we have a slightly different view to the leadership or to the minister then that is the end of the Earth and that it is great disunity.
“It is ridiculous to think, for instance, that in this current minority government that a caucus of about 100 people would all have the same view.”
Jenkins might have an interesting partner in his passionate campaign - Peter Slipper.
For eight years Speakers have been attempting to rename the Main Committee of Parliament - the overflow chamber - and whether it was his robes or his powers of persuasion, Slipper has achieved it.
It will be called the prosaic Federation Chamber, which doesn’t seem like much after an eight year campaign. But Jenkins appreciated the victory.
And he has also backed changes to Standing Orders which Slipper has brought about in his brief time in office.
“I applaud your success, Mr Speaker, in getting a modicum of agreement so far,” Jenkins told Slipper yesterday.
Maybe the Prince of Pomp and the People’s Speaker will form a unity ticket.
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