Speech on my election as Speaker of the House of Representatives

I thank the Leader of the Opposition. I want to begin by paying tribute to the service of the former Speaker the honourable member for Casey. The former Speaker is acknowledged by all of us to have been one of the very best to ever have taken this chair. His firmness, his fairness and his excellence in this role over more than six years is an example to all parliamentarians. Without a doubt, he is a tough act to follow. I look forward to hearing him speak in this place on behalf of his community once again in the months to come.

I thank all honourable members on all sides for their comments, and I thank the House for its confidence in me. The responsibilities that you have laid on me today have a history that stretches back some eight centuries. Across all of those years, the heart of what it means to be a Speaker has not changed. To be an effective Speaker is to enforce our standing orders fairly, to manage the administration of the House in the interests of all and to represent this place and the will of its members in the world outside. I intend to give my all in pursuit of those ancient duties. I will respect the independence of the chair and seek to enforce the standing orders without fear or favour. I will do my best to manage the parliament’s day-to-day operations alongside the President of the Senate, in the interests of all of us. I will strive to give members on all sides of the House a fair go. That is what pre-World War I Speaker McDonald described as the golden rule.

When it comes to the evolution of the Westminster parliamentary system, many things have changed over the past 800 years, as the members for Leichhardt and Lingiari could no doubt attest. Unlike Speakers of the past, I have no need to fear imprisonment or worse for standing up for the will of this House. I can certainly promise all members that I will do my best not to lose my head. Most importantly, since 1901 this House and the 30 Speakers before me have developed a uniquely Australian approach to filling this chair. Unlike those in other countries, our Speakers do not resign from their political party. Outside this chamber, they do not withdraw from prosecuting the case for their communities or their vision for this country, albeit in a more measured way. I intend to be no different. I’m humbled by the faith the people of Fisher have twice placed in me. I want to assure them today that I will continue to stand up for them.

In taking this chair, I want to thank my wife, Leonie, for the tireless support she has shown me over the past 32 years and, in particular, the last six. We have had our ups and downs like every family, but Leonie has been our glue through thick and thin. I want to thank Leonie, our four daughters—Emma, Caroline, Rebecca and Sarah—and our wider families, especially my parents, Ian and Fay, for their patience, for their patience in the busy months to come, and for their constant love and support. Regrettably, due to COVID restrictions, my family aren’t able to be here today.

I also wish to thank my long-suffering electorate staff, past and present, who’ve laboured so hard for the good people of Fisher. Where would any of us be without our electorate staff? The answer, of course, is: quite likely not here. I want to thank members on both sides of the House and the hardworking members of the various secretariats for working so constructively with me as chair of four parliamentary committees, and I would humbly ask that you show me the same goodwill and forbearance in this new role. I can’t promise you that I won’t make mistakes. What I can promise you is that I will execute my responsibilities fairly.

It is important for whoever sits in this chair to not only be fair and independent but be seen to be so. After much deliberation and consultation with many of my colleagues, I have decided, at least for the life of this parliament, not to sit in the Liberal party room, in keeping with the practice of my predecessors. That was not an easy decision for me. I should also take this opportunity to thank the countless Liberal Party members who have helped put me in this House in the first place.

Needless to say, the remaining period of this 46th Parliament is an incredibly important time for the people of Australia and for the institution that is the Australian parliament. At a time when many Australians have done it very tough over the past two years during this pandemic, emotions are understandably high, and that is never more true than as we inch closer to an election.

Today, when social media is awash with misinformation, fake news and thoughtless vitriol, the responsibility lies more heavily than ever on us as parliamentarians to embody the very best of political debate. This House is our people’s house. We give all Australians a voice and we have the power to choose how that voice is heard. We represent, but we must also lead. It is up to each of us to show that, whatever the global crisis or the political pressures that are brought to bear, we can discuss the challenges we face rationally and calmly.

This place must represent conviction, but it must also represent respect, humility and kindness. As I take the chair, I commit to making it my mission as your Speaker to uphold all of these qualities in our debates across the vital months that remain to us.

This is our debating chamber. I want Australians to be proud of our democracy and those that serve them. The competition of ideas is necessarily robust. I do not expect this House to be like a monastical library, but we owe it to the people of Australia that it does not descend into a political colosseum.

The first two and half years of this parliament have brought unexpected challenges. I have no doubt that the remaining period of this term will have its own surprises in store. Once again, I thank you all for the honour of being your Speaker, and I pray for wisdom and fortitude in serving you, whatever the future may bring.

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