Independent Andrew Wilkie prepared to discuss Speaker role in new Labor government

by Katharine Murphy
Tasmanian MP says having an independent Speaker ‘would send a powerful and positive message’ after voters elected large crossbench

The Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie says he is prepared to “have a conversation” with Anthony Albanese about being the Speaker of the lower house in the event Labor seeks a presiding officer from outside its own ranks.

Wilkie said on Monday he thought an approach from the new prime minister was unlikely because, in his view, Labor was on track to win 77 seats. The new government reached 76 seats on Monday night after Macnamara was called.

But the veteran independent said even if Labor had a clear majority there were “rational reasons” for the government to seek a Speaker from the crossbench.

“Even if Labor gets to 77 it would send a powerful and positive message to the community [for Albanese] to seek out an independent Speaker,” Wilkie told Guardian Australia, adding it need not necessarily be him.

Wilkie said if Labor was “fair dinkum” about using the new parliamentary term to restore trust in politics, then such a gesture would be worth contemplating, given Australians had put their faith in a new and significantly larger group of independents.

As the count has dragged on unresolved, there has been speculation Labor might need to recruit a Speaker from the ranks of the crossbench if it doesn’t get to 77 seats, and Wilkie’s name has been mooted as the likely candidate.

In the event Labor emerges from the election with a clear majority, and prefers to draw a Speaker from within its own ranks, Queensland MP Milton Dick and Victorian MP Rob Mitchell are said to be interested. There is also speculation the role could go to a woman from the right faction, possibly Victorian Jo Ryan.

It is expected the new government will nominate the Western Australian Labor senator Sue Lines as the next Senate president. Lines was deputy president in the last parliament and Labor over-performed in the west on 21 May, picking up four Liberal-held lower house seats in Swan, Pearce, Hasluck and Tangney.

The presiding officer roles in parliament are cabinet-level positions and therefore are highly prized.

As the Liberal and National parties appointed their new leaders on Monday, officially drawing a line under Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce, the Labor factions met in Canberra to resolve their frontbench nominees.

The group of 14 leftwingers who held shadow cabinet and outer shadow ministry positions in the last parliament have been nominated for the new Labor frontbench, but the faction has added Western Australian MP Anne Aly to the lineup.

Aly takes the spot previously allocated to Queensland leftwinger Terri Butler, who lost her seat of Griffith to the Greens on 21 May. Butler held a cabinet-level spot but it is unlikely Aly would be catapulted straight into cabinet.

On the broader question of parliamentary reform flagged by Wilkie, the Labor frontbencher Tony Burke, who is likely to become leader of the house in the 47th parliament, has already flagged some reforms to the way the chambers do business.

“The Australian people have made clear they want integrity in government and in the parliament itself,” Burke said last week. “In the last term in particular the House of Representatives became a farce. I’m determined to fix that and I’m having conversations across the parliament to that end.”