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Abbott uses speaker in quest for early election

By Bruce Hawker - posted Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The past two weeks have seen the Opposition Leader use his cheer squad to fabricate an excuse for reneging on his commitment to pair the Speaker.

The arguments advanced by his flankers have been self-serving and often based on falsehoods.

Christopher Pearson, criticising my role in advising Rob Oakeshott to pair the Speaker, wrote in The Weekend Australian that the group advising Oakeshott should have involved former House of Representatives clerk Ian Harris. In fact, we did consult Harris. Not only did the Labor advisers (Simon Banks and I) consult Harris on the reforms, but the Liberal advisers to Oakeshott (Grahame Morris and Arthur Sinodinos) also had the benefit of Harris's advice.


The other Christopher - Pyne - was briefed by the Oakeshott-nominated senior Liberals well before the opposition signed up to the full set of parliamentary reforms. If at any time Pyne or Tony Abbott had been concerned about the legality of pairing the Speaker, they could have obtained legal advice or had the issue raised with our consultative group; but they made no objections or even queried the pairing proposals. In fact, it is now clear the Liberal Party's legal adviser on the parliamentary reforms, David Bennett QC, had no substantial concerns about the legality of pairing the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker (The Australian, September 22).

It is true, as Pearson says, that I recommended that the Speaker be paired with the Deputy Speaker. It is a practical and, as the Solicitor-General advised, perfectly legal way of solving the problem of getting both parties to agree to the prospect of offering up someone to be the Speaker without losing a crucial vote on the floor.

It is also true that there was no objection by anyone to this proposition right until the two independents agreed to back Labor.

After our consultative group had completed deliberations, we passed our recommendations over to Anthony Albanese and Pyne to consider the practical implications of what was proposed.

This led to a few days of negotiation - but not about the pairing arrangements for the Speaker - until agreement was reached the day before the independents announced their decision to support Labor. Readers will recall that the independents insisted the parliamentary reforms were agreed to before they announced which side they would be supporting.

It was only after the independents sided with the government that Abbott started identifying what he claimed were problems with pairing the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.


Then Abbott had George Brandis present his legal opinion, which differed not only from the independent Solicitor-General's advice but also from the Liberal Party's own QC, Bennett.

Brandis could have raised those objections at any time before the agreement was signed if the opposition really did have concerns. The consultative group's draft recommendations were circulated to both parties days before the agreement was signed.

The reason for the Opposition Leader's ex-post-facto objections to pairing the Speaker are obvious: he wants to reduce Labor's majority in the house by one one vote to one vote. Everything he and his crew have said in support of abandoning the pairing arrangements are designed to give him a justification for reneging on an agreement that he endorsed when he thought it would help him in the event that the independents sided with the opposition.

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This article was first published in The Australian on September 27, 2010 as "Libs outsmarted by clever scheme to pair the chair"

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About the Author

Bruce Hawker is managing director of Hawker Britton in Sydney and a senior Labor strategist.

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