5 weeks after the Federal election, and Parliament meets for the first time in this new term today. Much like the first day at school, it's a chance for the new kids to get to know their way around, the old kids to work out who their new best friend will be, and everyone to queue up at the tuck-shop and order a Little Lickie. Or at least it was at my primary school.
One of the most important tasks today is the election of the new Speaker in the House. The numbers in the House of Reps mean that the Coalition have got the spot all to themselves, and the race is looking interesting. Traditionally it is long serving MPs who get the honour, and this time around is no alternative. According to Michelle Grattan in The Age, the five in contention this time around are Bruce Baird, Bronwyn Bishop (apparently the one that Howard doesn't want), David Hawker, David Jull and Wilson Tuckey. Whoever gets the job, we can be sure that they will be as tired and one-sided as their predecessors, who - with the exception of Ian 'Sinker' Sinclair - have been a rather underwhelming bunch.
It is disappointing, however, that the Speaker is a partisan politician. It is an impossible task for a Speaker to be fair and balanced when they owe their political livelihood to the Prime Minister of the day, and having nothing at all to gain from being a fair umpire. As well as the sheer reality of bias, there is the inevitable danger about a perception of bias. With public opinion of political standards at an dangerous depth (unfairly, in my mind, but the perception is there) a partisan Speaker does little to inspire confidence.
So we know the problem, what's the solution? Easy. There are plenty of emminent Australians out there who can't score themselves a contract flogging pasta sauce, sitting on a judicial bench or occupying the Governor's mansion in one of the outer states. Many of them would be ideally suited to the job of speaker, which essentially requires a commanding voice, some legal background and the ability to be in the same room as Sophie Panopolous without punching her. Appointment could be via the Governor General, or perhaps 2/3 majority of Parliament. If this were the case, the office would carry much more gravitas, Parliament would function smoother and allegations of bias would be rarer. What's so difficult?