Mr Speaker, can you please get to the point
The prospect of Rob Oakeshott becoming speaker is not one that should surprise any of us.
Firstly, anyone who saw the final painfully long press conference at which he announced support for Labor should know the independent MP is getting pretty used to all this attention. If that performance is anything to go by, we may need to add a few extra rules to the parliamentary reforms that stipulates time limits on the speaker’s responses. This may be the first Parliament that allows MPs to tell the speaker to keep his answers brief.
Secondly Oakeshott sees himself as the embodiment of the new political paradigm he loves to talk about. He is its self declared messiah and the speaker role is a good position from which to preach to the masses.
If Oakeshott really wants this he’ll get it. With the new parliamentary reforms brokered by the independents stipulating an independent speaker (that doesn’t necessarily mean someone from outside a party, just someone who doesn’t sit in a party room while speaker) Oakeshott will considers himself a perfect fit even if the major parties don’t.
Current speaker Labor MP Harry Jenkins wants to keep his job, and despite periodic concerns from both sides about Jenkins’ long-winded replies and verbosity, he may well look like the picture of parliamentary brevity compared to what Oakeshott may have in store for us.
But Gillard can’t risk putting Oakeshott off side and may well just hand the job over despite concerns about how it looks and whether he can do the job, especially if the other independents decide to back him.
There’s also a legitimate question for Gillard and Oakeshott to answer here: was he promised the speakership in talks prior to giving Labor the greenlight to forming Government? This isn’t to say that if the Coalition could’ve secured Oakeshott’s support they wouldn’t have handed him the job as well, but for all Oakeshott’s talk of “letting the sunshine in” shouldn’t we know what was on the table?
This is not an outcome that the Opposition will be particularly thrilled with either. By having Oakeshott as speaker it gives this Government a more reformist shiny new feel, something that people may well like.
The Coalition could kick up a stink on vote pairing in the House of Representatives, that is an obligation to have one of its members sit out to compensate for the fact that as speaker Oakeshott won’t be able to vote on most bills. Given that Oakeshott is an independent and not a Labor MP the Coalition may argue that it’s not obliged to have one of its members paired off. This would be unlikely to work on a practical or procedural level, and anyway would not be a good look for Abbott.
Oakeshott made clear today that he’d want a guarantee of where he stands on pairing rights to insure against skullduggery:
“Essentially establishing the status of pairing rights and whether it is based on goodwill between all parties or whether it can be codified at a higher level,” he said.
“This is a tight Parliament and there will be at various times tricks played and we’ve just got to make sure we manage that.”
This could also have the consequence of cementing Oakeshott’s electoral support in his seat, which will be a kick in the guts for those in the Coalition hoping his decision to back Labor would lead to his demise at the next election.
So strap yourself in folks and prepare for the days of Parliament under Oakeshott, we could be here a while.
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