June 3

Tony Abbott saves the Speaker and preserves stability

Australia has not had a hung parliament for over half a century. Question time on 31 May 2011 demonstrated that life under a hung parliament can be very different. What happened demonstrates the value of the Westminster system – provided our leaders are not prepared to abuse it.

But for the quick action of Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, we could have entered into a period of potential instability, with the possibility that the government could have lost its majority. An opportunist would have encouraged this; a statesman would not and did not.


The House was as usual unruly, with numerous noisy interjections. Exasperated, the Speaker, Harry Jenkins, issued a ''general warning".
This meant that he would act against the next breach of the rules.

…member named…

In reaction to presumably the next interjection, the Speaker ''named'' the opposition Member for Paterson, Bob Baldwin.

Following convention, the leader of the house in the government moved that the member be excluded from the house for twenty-four hours.

Where a government has a majority in the house that motion is normally passed.

But in this Parliament the government cannot assume that the crossbenchers will vote with them. If the vote is lost, under the Westminster system it is treated as a vote of no confidence in the Speaker.

….1975 incident…




In a famous incident in 1975, the Speaker Jim Cope named a minister in the Whitlam government, Clyde Cameron. When the Prime Minister refused to move the usual motion, Mr Cope realized he had lost the confidence of the House. He resigned immediately and was replaced by Mr Gordon Scholes

Mr. Scholes is most famous for his letter to The Queen, requesting her to intervene after the Governor –General , Sir John Kerr, had withdrawn Mr. Whitlam's commission as Prime Minister. The letter from the palace indicated that the power to commission a government is vested by the Constitution in the Governor-General and that, however interested, The Queen could not overrule that decision.

…government loses vote…

On the evening of 31 May the member for Lyne, Mr Rob Oakeshott, voted with the opposition. The result was that the government lost by one.

''After question time I will be taking the time to consider my position,'' Speaker Jenkins indicated.

….confidence & the Speaker….

After the 2010 federal election, the reappointment of Harry Jenkins as Speaker was not assured. The Rudd government gave consideration to appointing an independent and even a member of the coalition.

On 31 May, the Speaker would have had to have resigned and the government would then have been forced to find a new Speaker. It would lose the vote of the new Speaker, and in addition, could not be certain of the vote of Mr. Jenkins, who could have resigned from Parliament.

No doubt to the delight of the government, and the reassurance of the Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Tony Abbott, without hesitation, moved a vote of confidence in the Speaker.

He was seconded by the Prime Minister. Her speech has had to be edited to conform to YouTube requirements.


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