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Independent Speaker Bill

28 October 2021

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise in support of this bill. This is an opportunity to reform our parliamentary democracy. These opportunities do not come along very often. The Greens have long advocated for the benefits of having an independent Speaker, that is, somebody who removes themselves from their political party and therefore is able to act as an independent umpire. This is a model that is not without precedent in democracies around the world. Indeed, it is a model that has been used very effectively in the United Kingdom.

There has been a lot written about this by academics who are much more expert in these matters than myself, but there is one article I want to quote from. Ryan Goss from the Australian National University wrote in The Conversation in an article dated 21 July back in 2015 that 'A truly independent Speaker could renew Australia's parliamentary democracy.' One of the observations he made, and I think it is a very fair point, is that by making the Speakership a political gift of the party in power, Australia is missing a major opportunity for democratic renewal of its parliament. I think that is a fair point.

We have seen over the years what can happen when you have a politicisation of the role of Speaker. Obviously, we have seen some quite dramatic examples of this over in Canberra. Bronwyn Bishop, when she was not helicoptering around, seemed to show a fairly partisan approach to the role of Speaker. We do not want to see that here in our parliament. From the Greens' perspective, though, in order for us to support this bill we want to get an assurance from other political parties that they will support the idea of an independent Speaker of this house.

The PRESIDENT: You are downgrading the role.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: President. Apologies, Mr President. Of course, we do have that model at the moment under your leadership, and I think that has been very successful, but we want to ensure that, in the future, when a President is appointed, they recuse themselves from political party meetings. I would certainly welcome an undertaking from the political parties that that is something they will commit to doing if they are in government, because of course, if we put this scheme in place in the House of Assembly, we should then do so here in this place.

The other point I want to make is the Greens recognise that there are lots of things that need to be done to modernise the way that this chamber works in practice. Enshrining the principle of an independent President is important, but also we would like to look at standing orders more broadly, looking at questions like Dorothy Dixers and the way in which they work in practice. These are things that I think many in the community would regard as a waste of time.

We also want to look at the times in which this chamber operates, the start times, and align them more closely with the House of Assembly, ensuring that we do not have sittings that go into the early hours of the morning but rather we work more sensible hours that are more inclusive of those with families and more in keeping with community standards. We look forward to having the opportunity to talk to other parties here in this place about those elements and would certainly welcome a commitment from the political parties to consider those things.

To sum up, this is an exciting opportunity to reform our political system, to get in place this idea of an independent umpire, to enshrine that principle in the House of Assembly and to also get a commitment that we are going to look at it here in this place too, and to look more broadly at how we can improve the way in which this house of parliament works to ensure it is more in line with community expectations.