Victorian Liberal MP Tony Smith has convincingly won his party’s ballot for speaker and outlined to the House of Representatives his plans to improve the operation of what has been a chaotic parliament.
In a clear signal of his determination to be more independent than predecessor Bronwyn Bishop, who was forced to resign over her use of entitlements, Smith told the House he would not be attending the weekly party meetings.
Smith intends to meet periodically with the leader of the house, the manager of opposition business and independent MPs to discuss the operation of parliament.
“I will give a fair go to all on the floor of this chamber but, in return, I do expect a level of discourse that reflects that.
"Parliament is a robust place. It should be a robust place.
"It is the arena for the battle of ideas and ideals.
"But it needn’t be rude and it needn’t be loud,” Smith said, after assuming the chair.
Smith also noted pointedly to Prime Minister Tony Abbott that he had “some friends on the other side”. “They know I will be fair.”
Bishop’s aggressive partisanship contributed to the dysfunction that has marked the parliament and often embarrassed even her own side.
Smith, 48, beat fellow Victorian Russell Broadbent by 51 to 22 votes after the two other candidates, Andrew Southcott and Ross Vasta, dropped out. Former whip Philip Ruddock, who had earlier expressed interest, did not run. The vote was by Liberal members of the House of Representatives.
A former staffer to Peter Costello, Smith was elected for the seat of Casey in 2001. He served as John Howard’s parliamentary secretary and in the shadow cabinet but was demoted after the 2010 election to a shadow parliamentary secretaryship and then did not get a frontbench position in government. However, he has won a lot of respect for his chairmanship of the parliamentary committee on electoral reform.
Smith’s declaration in the party room that he would not be attending party meetings got a cheer. It is thought it earlier contributed to his successful rounding up of votes. One of those canvassing for Smith was Social Services Minister Scott Morrison. Abbott kept out of the contest.
Labor did not run a candidate for speaker, which would only have been a formality. Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said getting the speakership was important for the Victorian division of the party, which does not have any representative among the four federal leaders.
As he came out of the party room, Abbott kissed Bishop. He told parliament that in his 15 years in parliament Smith had met with some disappointments. “It’s precisely because you have met with triumph and disaster and treated both those imposters the same that you so strongly commanded a majority inside the Liberal party room and why you have been elected unopposed here in this chamber.”
Abbott said of Bishop that “despite some admitted errors of judgement she has served the parliament, our country and her party with dedication and distinction”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that “for all our clashes with the former speaker, we wish her well”.
Shorten welcomed Smith’s decision not to attend party meetings and said “the best umpires are the ones that you don’t notice”.
Greens MP Adam Bandt told Smith that “colleagues who have worked with you on the joint standing committee think very highly of you”.