There is no provision for “standing aside” in the constitution. But it can’t be assumed standing aside means Peter Slipper has resigned as Speaker, and constitutionally he must still be considered to be the Speaker. As such, he surely cannot be entitled to sit on the backbench and vote on matters before the House of Representatives.
(The only alternative here would be if “standing aside” meant he does not preside during debate but that he resumes the chair during a vote, allowing him to exercise the casting vote in the government’s favour. But that would seem to be a farcical situation that surely could not be countenanced by the government or the opposition.)
The House of Representatives standing orders support this conclusion as they operate on the assumption the speaker will simply not be present in the House when the acting speaker or deputies are. Standing order 3(d) provides:
“The power to exercise a casting vote (standing order 135) is reserved for the Speaker, Acting Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Second Deputy Speaker.”
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
This does mean, of course, if deputy speaker Anna Burke is acting, the casting vote will be exercised in the government’s favour.
It’s worth noting the House of Representatives Practice (5th edition) observes that speakers have spoken in the past but only on bills that particularly affect parliamentary administration (see page 176), and in the days when they had committee of the whole with a chair of committees in the chair, when some speakers have voted in committee (see page 185). Both of these situations are quite different from the situation of having a speaker who has decided to “stand aside”.
I think it would be totally inconsistent with the position and office of the speaker to allow Slipper to simply return to the backbench and speak and vote on all matters. Indeed, such a situation would make a mockery of the office. It seems to me Slipper has to stand aside from all business before the House of Representatives.
Of course, if Slipper decided to formally resign as speaker, it would be a very different situation and he would be entitled to sit on the backbench and vote on matters before the House.
What this means for the government is that there will effectively be 149 members of Parliament able to participate in debate and votes.
Fortunately, Parliament is now not sitting until Tuesday, May 8. Which gives everyone a few weeks to resolve the constitutional and political issues surrounding this situation.
*This article was originally published at Peter Black’s blog Freedom To Differ