The case for a politically neutral Speaker of Parliament

Parliament’s rules allow the Government to determine who becomes Parliament’s Speaker. Sir Geoffrey Palmer makes the case for a politically neutral process.

The Speaker is Parliament’s chairperson. It’s the Speaker’s job to keep order during Parliamentary debates, and ensure that rules are followed.

The Speaker also decides who has access to Parliament’s buildings and grounds.

The Speaker is supposed to be politically impartial in his or her role. But the Speaker is also an MP, almost always from the governing political party.

Under New Zealand’s rules, the Government can determine who becomes Speaker. The Government nominates the Speaker, and then Parliament votes along party lines to confirm his or her appointment.

 

Though Speakers try to be impartial, they nonetheless retain deep ties to their political party.

This isn’t a good look.

In our book A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, Dr Andrew Butler and I propose changes to make the Speaker more politically independent.

We propose that the Speaker be elected through a free vote in Parliament– not a party vote as at present.

We also propose that, once the Speaker is elected, he or she should be replaced by the next person on his or her party’s list, and should not vote on issues before the House.

These changes would bring New Zealand more into line with Britain, where the Speaker isn’t nominated by the government, but by MPs across different parties, and the Speaker is elected in a secret ballot among all MPs.

You can read more in chapter 4 of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, or in Part 5 of our proposed constitution.

 

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