Role of the Speaker and other Officers of the House

The Speaker
The Speaker is the Presiding Officer of the Legislative Assembly and as such must act with both authority and impartiality. The office of the Speaker is recognised in section 31 of the Constitution Act. The Speaker is described as the Legislative Assembly's "independent and impartial representative".

The first act of a newly elected Parliament, after swearing in of new Members takes place, is the election of a Speaker. Section 31B of the Constitution Act and Standing Order 10 outline the secret ballot mechanism of election.

By authority of a colonial minute dating back to 1885, the Speaker holds office from the date of election, during the period of dissolution to the election of a successor.

There are important provisions in the Constitution Act 1902 which relate to the Office of Speaker: what happens when the Speaker is absent from the State; the fact that the Speaker is not counted in a quorum; the casting vote of the Member presiding; the right of the Speaker to participate in debate and vote in divisions when not presiding in the Chair; and the fact that Members resign to the Speaker.

Under section 70 of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act 1912, the Speaker issues writs to fill vacancies caused otherwise than by a General Election.

The Speaker's role in the House is to maintain order, put questions after debate and conduct divisions. In maintaining order the Speaker interprets and applies the Standing Orders and practice of the House by making rulings and decisions. The Speaker's decisions are, however, subject to the will of the House exercised through a motion of dissent (S.O. 95). The Speaker can issue guidelines from time to time in relation to procedural and privilege matters not provided for in the Standing Orders.

When presiding in the Chair the Speaker exercises a casting vote in the event of an equality of votes. Section 32(2) of the Constitution Act 1902 and the standing orders provide that in the event of an equality of votes, the member presiding will give a casting vote. In accordance with section 31(4) of the Constitution Act 1902 the Speaker is able to participate in debate and vote on any question when not presiding in the Chair.

The Speaker is the mouthpiece for the House, for example, conveying Messages and Addresses from the House to the Governor.The Speaker is also charged with upholding the rights and privileges of Members and of the House.

The Speaker also has extensive administrative functions, being responsible, with the President, for the overall direction of the Parliament. In this, the Presiding Officers are advised by the Clerks of both Houses. The Speaker is solely responsible for the operation of the Department of the Legislative Assembly.

The Deputy Speaker, Assistant Speaker and Temporary Speakers
The Deputy Speaker and the Assistant Speaker are elected on the first sitting day of each Parliament, or whenever the Office becomes vacant. The procedure of election is set out in Standing Orders 13-14.

The principal responsibility of the Deputy Speaker is to act for the Speaker both in the Chair and also in the Speaker's capacity when the House is not sitting. In the absence of the Speaker from the State, the Deputy Speaker performs the duties of the Speaker and is vested with all the power, authority, duties and functions of the Speaker. (Constitution Act 1902, s. 31A). In the absence of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the Assistant Speaker performs the duties of the Speaker.

At the beginning of each Parliament, the Speaker nominates not more than five Members who will be Temporary Speakers. They relieve the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and the Assistant Speaker on a temporary basis whenever requested.

The Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business
The Leader of the House is usually a Minister appointed by the Government to manage the Government business in the Legislative Assembly. The Leader sets and arranges the Government legislative program (the days on which the House will sit and the bills Cabinet has decided will be dealt with) and is the Government's main spokesperson on procedural matters. The Leader and the Manager of Opposition Business often consult together in an effort to facilitate the orderly conduct of business.

The Party Whips
The duties of the Whips are in the main to liaise with Ministers in regard to the business of the House, secure the attendance of Members in the House, arrange speakers for debates, arrange "pairs" and generally act as intermediaries between the party leaders in the House and backbench Members.

First Published: July, 1991
Updated: September, 2009