When Speakers are elected they are “dragged” to the chair. It’s a hangover from the days when speakers really did speak on behalf of parliaments. They were often unwilling to take the job because speakers sometimes lost their head when they addressed the monarch – literally.
Peter Lewis, the Speaker of the South Australian Parliament, will probably be executed today. Premier Mike Rann has demanded that he step down over claims a senior member of the government is a paedophile – claims he will not produce any evidence to support. If Lewis has not resigned, he will probably face a no confidence motion when parliament sits this week. Both sides will support it.
Lewis is a former Liberal who left his party and backed Labor in exchange for the Speaker’s job when the 2002 election resulted in a hung parliament.
But when two of the strange band of “volunteers” from his office distributed material naming an MP and two senior police officers they claim have been involved in paedophilia his fate was sealed.
Rann declared yesterday that Lewis should step down with “decency and dignity to his office and to the Parliament”, adding that “not only have I lost patience with him, I also have lost confidence in him”.
It’s the first time throughout the controversy that has dominated South Australian politics for the past six weeks that Rann has clearly urged Lewis to go.
But Lewis’s departure might still leave problems for Rann. Everyone knows Lewis is loopy. The Liberals tried to throw him out of the party room a year ago, only to discover that their outdated gentlemen’s club rules lacked the provision to let them do so. Instead, they left Lewis in a room with a revolver and a bottle of whiskey and hoped he’d do the decent thing. He didn’t – and got a terrible revenge on his former colleagues.
Rann gave him the Speaker’s job in full knowledge of this. The deal was clinched by one of his staff. Lewis has been an embarrassment in the chair from day one. Labor has shored up its numbers by bringing an independent and South Australia’s sole National into the ministry. Another dissident Liberal, Bob Such, could have been given the Speaker’s job. Why hasn’t he acted before? He has caused enormous pain for his government and his colleagues. Will it weaken his grip on the Premier’s job?
There is one silver lining in this for Rann and the Labor Party. The documents released on Friday were accompanied by an endorsement from Makin Federal Liberal MP Trish Draper. That complicates matters and her state colleagues are naturally unimpressed.
Meanwhile, a subscriber writes: “I am truly shocked. I know the name of the SA Labour MP outed by Peter Lewis’s henchpersons. Not because I’m an insider in any way, but because I happened to be standing near Alexander Downer while waiting to board the flight home from Canberra on Friday evening. The man was braying all the details to his staff at the top of the voice. Dozens of people must have heard and registered what he was saying. He also seemed pretty pissed off at Trish Draper.”