Bringing the Speaker’s chair back down to Earth
The transition in the Speaker’s office from Peter Slipper to Anna Burke was swift, but the distance in style and demeanor was huge.
She is known by colleagues on both sides to be down-to-Earth, a dedicated local member without unnecessary frills.
Ms Burke, only the second woman to be Speaker of the House of Representatives, will never be associated with the robes and processions introduced by her image-conscious predecessor.
Ms Burke demonstrated this in her last interview as Deputy Speaker - just hours before her elevation Tuesday night after Mr Slipper’s surprise resignation.
In the interview Madame Deputy Speaker issued a plea: Don’t call me madame.
“I don’t run a brothel,” she joked in exasperation over the over-eager efforts of some to address her properly:
I always find it an interesting terminology and again it’s that sort of…I don’t know, people feel a need to put a title.
Being a member of Parliament as opposed to being a senator, people…What do they call you? How to they address you?
And I think people think, Yeh. It’s convention. I’d rather that everyone say Deputy Speaker.
She doesn’t like seeing people get “confused or upset” they might not have used the right honorific.
I say, Don’t worry. They fluster about that. I couldn’t care less. Call me anything but don’t call me late for dinner.
The 47-year-old former official with the Finance Sector Union was elected to Parliament in 1998. She is married with a 12-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. She was the first MP from outside Canberra to have a baby while still a member of the House.
She has been in charge of that little cockpit occupied by the Speaker for the past six months of some of the fiercest Question Times the Parliament has seen, while Mr Slipper stood aside to deal with legal action against him by a former adviser.
The rowdiness on the floor before her has been an assault on her sense of fair play, and on her physical senses.
“It’s very intense and I don’t think people really appreciate the noise level. And there’s noise everywhere,” she said in the interview.
“(There are) things happening, and it’s not just in the Chamber it’s in the gallery, it’s people moving round, and (I’m) trying to decide who needs the call or who’s talking, who I should pull up or…
“Sometimes interjections and noise adds to the flavour of the place. But it’s actually not allowed, it’s totally against the rules.
“(It’s) a bit of a minefield really. It’s like 149 people versus me. My friends included, supposedly. It’s about controlling and running and maintaining the dignity of the Parliament.
“And I really take that seriously. You can be very flippant about these things. But we’ve got a great institution here, a phenomenal institutional.”
Ms Burke said whoever was in the chair had the “utmost duty” to uphold that dignity.
“That is their job,” she said.
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