Queensland Liberal Ross Vasta joins race for Speaker

Queensland MP Ross Vasta flanks Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane. Dan Peled/AAP

Queensland Liberal MP Ross Vasta has thrown his hat in the ring for the speakership.

Vasta joins a field that includes South Australian Andrew Southcott, Victorians Tony Smith and Russell Broadbent, and Philip Ruddock from NSW. Smith and Southcott are considered frontrunners.

Vasta, who is now canvassing colleagues, is a member of the “Speaker’s panel” – members of the House of Representatives who take the chair from the time to time.

He holds the seat of Bonner. First elected in 2004, he lost in 2007 but won again in 2010.

The new speaker to replace Bronwyn Bishop will be decided at a Liberal party meeting on Monday, before parliament resumes.

The resignation of Bishop from the speakership has not quieted the row over entitlements, with attention now on Labor frontbencher Tony Burke – who took his family to Uluru during the school holidays, when he was environment minister, at a cost of A$6500. Burke said in a statement on Wednesday that there was no allegation he had broken any rules at any point and he had made declarations in accord with the rules.

News Corp has also reported that Burke charged taxpayers to travel to a Robbie Williams concert.

Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg criticised Burke – who spearheaded Labor’s attack on Bishop. “Get real Tony Burke. If you’ve taken your family to Uluru, then defend it, if you’ve gone on expensive overseas trips, defend it, and if you’ve gone to these musical concerts, defend it, but don’t be the chief attack dog on Bronwyn Bishop and other members of the Coalition and not hold yourself to that same standard of account.”

But Tony Abbott said that “on particular members of parliament and whether particular spending was good, bad or indifferent, I just want to say the important thing is to get the rules right.

"Plainly, some people in the past have made spending decisions, have made travel decisions which may well have been inside the rules but were plainly outside public expectation. I want to get the rules right.”

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said he was “not going to get into this Salem witch trial situation around members’ entitlements”.

“All of my taxpayer expenditure has been entirely correct over 22 years.

"I’m absolutely certain that I have never broken the rules in any way,” Pyne said.

In 2007 Vasta was cleared after a police investigation of misuse of electoral entitlements. During the investigation he admitted he had made an “administrative error” and repaid $24,000 to the Finance Department.

Postscript

Tony Smith wrote to House of Representatives Liberal colleagues on Wednesday confirming he would stand and saying he believed he had “the experience, temperament, and strength necessary to do the job”.

“The role of Speaker is critical to the smooth functioning and dignity of the Parliament,” he said.

“I am appreciative of the many offers of support for me to put my name forward as a candidate.

"I have also appreciated the thoughts and insights colleagues have provided me in relation to the role of the Speaker, from our newest members to those who have served for many years.”