The parliamentary speaker

Former Federal speaker, Bronwyn Bishop

The Speaker occupies an important office in Westminster political systems. Sometimes referred to as the Speaker of the House, he or she is the presiding officer in a legislative assembly, usually the lower house of a bicameral parliament. In Australia, the Speaker presides over the Federal House of Representatives and most State lower houses. A Speaker also presides over Britain’s House of Commons and the United States House of Representatives. The Speaker is one of the most identifiable people in the assembly. He or she wears judicial robes and is seated in an elevated chair that oversees the floor of the house. During parliamentary exchanges, members of parliament must address their remarks and responses to the Speaker, rather than to other parliamentarians.

The Speaker’s role is to ensure the smooth and orderly operation of the chamber. Among the Speaker’s responsibilities:

Business. To ensure that the business of parliament, such as voting, is conducted smoothly, efficiently and as quickly as possible, while encouraging good conduct and robust but respectful debate.

Procedures. To ensure that parliamentary rules, procedures and protocols are followed and respected. These expectations are outlined in the house’s standing orders, a self-regulatory document that sets time limits on parliamentary debates; proceedings for motions, votes and debates; protocol within the house; and appropriate conduct for MPs.

Conduct. To ensure that MPs conduct themselves appropriately, in line with the standing orders and parliamentary conventions. The speaker has the power to remove MPs from the House for an initial period of one hour, with longer suspensions for continued infractions.

The Speaker is expected to manage the House and make decisions independently and without prejudice. He or she does not cast a vote on bills, amendments or motions – unless voting is evenly split, in which case the Speaker has the casting vote. The Speaker is elected from the floor of the House. In almost all cases, the Speaker is elected from the party that holds government. In Australia, the Speaker usually remains a member of his or her party, though they no longer participate in partisan debate or discussion. This differs slightly to the United Kingdom, where the Speaker of the House of Commons severs all ties with their political party, once they are sworn in.

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