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Gillard slips away with extra vote

Posted by: 3AW Radio | 24 November, 2011 - 9:20 AM
House of Reps. speaker Harry Jenkins has resigned

TOM ELLIOTT: We all know that since last year's election, the Gillard government has functioned only with the support of non-Labor MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Adam Bandt of the Greens.

*Scroll down for Tom Elliott's interview with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Prime Minister Julia Gillard declined an offer to come on the program.*

Labor's task of winning votes in the lower house has been made more complicated by the tradition whereby the government appoints a notionally independent Speaker to manage conduct in Parliament.

This morning, Labor Speaker Harry Jenkins decided he'd had enough trying to be independent, and resigned his post. And because the deputy Speaker, Peter Slipper, is a liberal – albeit a maverick one – who can no longer vote, Labor's numbers in the lower house have just increased by two.

It's far from normal for a Speaker to resign during a Parliamentary sitting. The last time it occurred in the House of representatives was in late 1975, during the dying days of the Whitlam government.

There is clearly political game playing going here. With now former speaker Jenkins able to vote, the PM can, for example, clearly choose to ignore Andrew Wilkie's call for pokie reform.

If she wanted to, Julia Gillard could also give Adam Bandt of the Greens the cold shoulder, even though that would risk alienating their support in the Senate. And the bargaining power of NSW Independents Oakeshott and Wilkie just became a whole lot weaker.

Politics in Canberra is not a game for those who are either faint of heart or choose to live by a high moral code. Today Julia Gillard has reshuffled the deck clearly in her short term favour. Whether the public at large admires her for this, however, remains to be seen.

PLAY: Tony Abbott says on a crazy day in politics

THE AGE: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has stolen back a crucial vote in the hung parliament after an extraordinary vote sparked by the surprise resignation of respected Speaker Harry Jenkins.

Rogue Liberal MP Peter Slipper is now the Speaker, allowing Mr Jenkins to return to a voting position in the chamber.

New Speaker Peter Slipper takes his seat after extraordinary scenes today.

New Speaker Peter Slipper takes his seat. Photo: Andrew Meares

The effect is one extra vote for the minority Labor government, one less for the Coalition.

The vote came after a farcical hour in which, for the first time in Australian political history, the government nominated a member of the opposition - Mr Slipper - for Speaker.

And the Coalition nominated nine ALP backbenchers - all of whom declined the higher-paying role - before grudgingly accepting Mr Slipper's nomination. But not before the manager for opposition business, Christopher Pyne, had lashed the performance.

Last words ... Harry Jenkins has resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Harry Jenkins resigned this morning. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"If the government truly believes in this Parliament and the Westminster traditions upon which it is based they would not be trashing the constitution, trashing the standing orders, trashing the conventions of this Parliament for 110 years,’’ he said.

- Daniel Flitton, The Age Online

EARLIER: Harry Jenkins has resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Mr Jenkins told parliament this morning that he had become progressively frustrated at the stricture of minority government.

"My desire is to be able to participate in policy and parliamentary debate, and this would be incompatible with continuing in the role of Speaker," he said.

The Speaker's role is now expected to be filled by Deputy Speaker, Peter Slipper, who only narrowly avoided being dumped by Queensland's Liberal National Party on Wednesday night.

3AW's Canberra Bureau Chief, Michael Pachi, told Neil Mitchell the resignation has come as a complete shock.

HARRY JENKINS STATEMENT: "Today marks my 1382nd day as Speaker of the House of Representatives. I have at all times tried to uphold the fine traditions of Speaker, and to the best of my ability have attempted to carry out my duties in the most independent and non-partisan manner possible.

As members are aware in this the 43rd Parliament, to further avoid controversial party political matters I have divorced myself from involvement with the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.  In this era of minority government I have progressively become frustrated at this stricture.  My desire is to be able to participate in policy and parliamentary debate, and this would be incompatible with continuing in the role of Speaker.

As a consequence, when I vacate the Chair at the end of this short statement I will visit the Governor-General to tender my resignation as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

I thank all members for their co-operation which they have dispensed to varying degrees depending upon the individual.

I thank everyone who works for the Department of House of Representatives under the capable leadership of the Clerk Bernard Wright and the Deputy David Elder; they serve us well. My gratitude goes to the diverse range of officers of the Department of Parliamentary Services: from gardeners to guards, technicians and tradies, researchers to reporters, Hansard; they serve us well. To presidents Hogg and Ferguson with whom I served as co-presiding officer, and the members and officers of the other place with whom I had interaction, I thank them for their forbearance.  All these people ensure that the Australian Parliament remains an enduring effective institution.

My staff in the Speaker’s Office have assisted me and kept me well grounded; I believe that members would agree with me that they carry out their duties with integrity and professionalism.

Finally I acknowledge my eternal indebtedness to my 'trouble and strife' Michele and the four generations of my family without whose support I would never have been able to achieve the high office I hold.

Late yesterday I ascertained that the Governor-general is available for my call before 9.30 therefore I must depart. I go placidly with my humour intact. I wish you all well."

PLAY: Neil Mitchell gets more details from Canberra

ALP struggling, Gillard improving?

Neil Mitchell Labor MPs say voters in their electorates are listening to them despite the party's worst opinion poll in decades. But more voters think Julia Gillard makes a better Prime Minister than Tony Abbott.


3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell

Neil Mitchell Neil is one of Australia’s most experienced journalists with success in newspapers, radio and television. He was one of the youngest editors of a daily metropolitan newspaper, The Herald. Enter Neil's highlights page for videos. replays and news.

Blog comments Your Say

  • Gillard you and your so called Government are a joke.

    IAN BARKER Friday 25 November, 2011 - 12:04 PM
  • Can someone please tell me what the speaker's job actually is? From the little I've managed to sit through of 'toddler's question time they sit atop a throne and watch a bunch of spoilt kids nitpicking. Every now and then they call out 'order' to no avail. People seem to continually address the speaker but never actually listen to them.

    Richard Friday 25 November, 2011 - 8:47 AM
  • Worst Australian Prime Ministers in history.

    Gold medal Julia Gillard

    Silver Kevin Rudd

    Bronze Gough Whitlam

    Mark Friday 25 November, 2011 - 7:25 AM
  • I bet Wilkie would have been a mess after this turncoat took the chair as so called Spruiker of this coward's castle.He certainly looked the part in his horrible outdated striped gangster style suit and an equally horrible green tie. Oh for 30 pieces of silver or, is it $75,000 per annum extra? I feel sorry for his electorate being rorted in this way!

    Sam Friday 25 November, 2011 - 7:09 AM
  • And next these overpaid rotters will be approving their own pay rise at the rorted taxpayers' expense! I am more than satisfied that it was these rotters who taught the foxes how to be cunning! And we know what happens to foxes don't we Madame Jul-liar.

    Jonathon L Friday 25 November, 2011 - 7:04 AM
  • Oh really, when is Tony Abbott going to stop being a whining loser, the PM has out witted him and he is showing himself to be the shallow person that he is. The Government we have was, after all, VOTED IN BY THE PEOPLE something Abbott just doesnt wish to accept. The Greens have the power in the Senate BECAUSE THE PEOPLE VOTED THEM IN,,,get over it Tony Abbott go away and work on your "policies" ??

    Barbara Thursday 24 November, 2011 - 8:31 PM

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