After the Costello forces won the leadership of the Young Libs in January, the PM has hit back and only just out-gunned his rival in deciding that Neil Andrew would remain as speaker for a second term. Hiding the results would suggest it was desperately close and we told subscribers what would happen on Monday morning in this 5.20am sealed section.

Following the National Party’s drop in parliamentary representation after the last election, Howard informed John Anderson that the National Party would lose one Minister, a parliamentary secretary and the automatic right to Deputy Speaker.

Normally the Liberal Party select the Speaker and the National Party select the Deputy Speaker.

Events of last week appeared to show that Anderson neglected to tell his colleagues of the new arrangement. Howard’s office instructed the Liberal Party Whip, Jim Lloyd to send a memo to all Liberal Party members informing them that on this occasion there would be a ballot for both positions by both parties. The National Party are in uproar.

Having sent out his memo, Lloyd is now ringing the Liberal members on Howard’s behalf and informing them that it would be in the best interests of Coalition harmony if the Liberal members were to vote for the National Party nominee. In other words, he is pressing his Liberal colleagues to vote against their own Party nominee in favour of the National Party.

Having formally withdrawn this sinecure from the Nats, Howard is attempting to give it back to them through the back door. The truth is, Howard does not care who has the position. He has one overriding consideration and that is to maintain control of the National Party leadership. If that means being seen to be on their side against his own, so be it.

Howard has never forgotten the effect that the Joh for Canberra push had on the Coalition Party room. The Queensland National Party members and Senators were all beholden to Joh and virtually split from the rest of the federal National Party. The result was devastating for Howard’s chances of winning the next election.

To Howard’s great credit, he has totally manipulated two rather dull and gullible National Party leaders whom he convinced to embrace policies which have decimated the National Party in its heartland. He persuaded them to sell off Telstra, adopt the National Competition Policy and gut country towns and communities of their services and facilities.

Howard may get his way with the Deputy Speaker’s position, however he has been rebuffed before over the position of Speaker so nothing is certain.

Lobbying is now in full swing for the plum Speaker’s job. Howard was very slow to give his imprimatur to the incumbent, Neil Andrew because he was keeping his options open. Howard is angry with Andrew attempting to present some semblance of impartiality and fairness in managing the Chamber. He was furious with Andrew’s treatment of Reith while Reith was Leader in the House.

The nominees for the position besides Andrew are David Jull, David Hawker and Alex Somlyay.

Jull is a former Minister for Administrative Services who was forced by Howard to resign at a time when Howard had unsustainable standards of conduct for his Ministry. Jull’s portfolio included parliamentary travel and his hanging offence was to fail to inform the parliament of an adjustment another Minister had made to his travel claim.

Of the four candidates, Jull is unquestionably the best qualified. He has the standing, presence and ability to do the job. He is well liked and respected by both sides and would have less difficulty that the others in commanding respect and discipline in the Chamber. Jull will receive a substantial vote.

Hawker holds Malcolm Fraser’s old seat of Wannon. He is a well liked and a decent fellow who has not progressed from the back bench in his 18 years in parliament. He is unlikely to attract more than a dozen votes with a number of those coming from his colleagues in Victoria.

Somlyay holds the Queensland seat of Fairfax. He was in the Ministry for one year, holding the position of Regional Development, Territories and Local Government. How he got into the Ministry in the first place is still a mystery. He is an inconsequential little man who does not particularly inspire confidence or respect. He is likely to obtain his own and one or two other votes.

Howard has played politics with the position of Speaker since day one. During the 1996 campaign, Howard had planned to give his mate Alan Rocher the job. Rocher was the member for Curtin who was dumped from his endorsement by the Western Australian Liberal Party but successfully stood against the Liberal Party as an Independent.

With his mate in mind, Howard campaigned against Keating for his blatant and crude politicisation of the position and promised a truly impartial and independent Speaker under a Howard Government. The Party revolted at the prospect of Rocher and against Howard’s wishes, Bob Halverson was elected by the party room.

Halverson did attempt to introduce some discipline and impartiality into the position, however he lasted less than a term, resigning in disgust at Howard’s continuous pressure, criticism and lack of support. Howard was then able to impose National Party member, Ian Sinclair onto the Liberal Party room.

Howard and Sinclair had much in common. Both had been Leaders of their parties at the time of the Joh for Canberra push and both were dumped by their party within 24 hours of each other. Prior to his selection as Speaker, Sinclair had announced his retirement from the parliament and his eventual replacement for the seat of New England, Stuart St Clare had stitched up the Branches. Sinclair attempted to reverse his decision however St Clair had the numbers in the Branches.

In a nice twist of irony, St Clare, a very ordinary type of person who declared of Christopher Skase, “good riddance to bad rubbish” within hours of Skase’s death, lost the blue ribbon National Party seat to Independent, Tony Winsor at the last election.

Neil Andrew, an affable man who has never been seriously considered for the Ministry was the Whip prior to being elected Speaker in 1998. Andrew has attempted to exert some authority over the House including throwing out Tony Abbott, however in the Chair he does not command respect from either side.

Simon Crean’s call for an Independent Speaker to be selected unopposed alternatively from each party will be given very short shrift by Howard. Although Howard will make conciliatory noises, he has no interest in an impartial Speaker. As long as Howard is Prime Minister he wants a Speaker who will give his Government every advantage that he demands. Howard knows better than most, the enormous benefit of having a compliant Speaker.

Neil Andrew will in all probability win the Liberal Party room ballot with the support of Howard. The Whip has been ringing the Liberal members reminding them that Howard wants Andrew to be re-elected and there are likely to be enough in the Party room who will follow the leader. In the meantime Andrew has been reminded of what is expected of him.


Postscript after the results were announced

Subsequent to the publication of this article, Howard capitulated completely to the National Party and called off the ballot for the Deputy Speaker in the joint party room, thus guaranteeing the election of a National Party member to the position.

The result of the ballot for Speaker was extremely close however Howard informed the Liberal Party room that he did not intend to disclose the numbers unless the party room demanded it. There was of course no legitimate reasons for not disclosing the results. Crikey had predicted that the vote would be very close between Andrew and Jull and this proved to be the case.

In political contests, the only occasions that the vote is not voluntarily disclosed by the Chairman is when the Chairman’s candidate comes perilously close to defeat. The two occasions upon which the vote is invariably disclosed voluntarily by the Chairman is when his candidate either wins well or is narrowly defeated.

Andrew is already buckling to pressure from the Government. The overwhelming majority of members are opposed to photographs being taken in the chamber other than of the member who has the call. Abbott, the Leader of the House has told Andrew he wants the press gallery to have its way and that photographs be taken of all members irrespective of whether they have the call or not.