New Speaker Tony Smith has called for “a better parliament” in a break with the “rude” and “loud” politics that have reigned over the House of Representatives.
Mr Smith, addressing parliament after he was elected unopposed this morning, said there was “a mutual obligation” between the Speaker and his fellow MPs.
“I want to say at the outset 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,” Mr Smith told parliament.
“Parliament is a robust place. It should be a robust place. It is where we battle our view of a better Australia. It is the arena for the battle of ideas and ideals.
“I make that point because often people say parliament shouldn’t be robust; it should. But it needn’t be rude and it needn’t be loud, and that is something I’d like to see improved. I can’t do that but together we all can.”
Mr Smith was nominated for the speakership by the Liberal party room by a margin of 51 to 22.
The party met in Canberra to vote on their replacement for Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, who has stood down following an expenses scandal.
It is unclear whether Mr Smith defeated Andrew Southcott or Russell Broadbent in the final ballot. Party whip Scott Buchholz told reporters that Mr Smith defeated “Andrew Broadbent”.
Mr Smith was the favourite to win, with fellow Victorian Russell Broadbent, South Australian Andrew Southcott and Queenslander Ross Vasta also expected to stand.
Mr Smith said he was humbled to be anointed for the “important and difficult job” which he would perform “to the best of my ability”.
“I won’t be attending regular party room meetings, as I have told colleagues over the course of the last week,” Mr Smith said.
“I want to thank all of my colleagues for their support, for their views, and for the manner in which this election has taken place.
“I also want to thank the other three candidates; they’re friends of mine. Andrew Southcott and I walked down together, we have been friends for 20 years; Russell Broadbent, 30 years.
“I think that friendship amongst the four of us was reflected in the civility of this contest.”
In customary fashion, Mr Smith was dragged to the chair by fellow MPs Michael Sukkar and Lucy Wicks.
Tony Abbott extended his congratulations to Mr Smith, whom he said had “met with some disappointments” in his parliamentary career.
“It is precisely because you have met with triumph and disaster and treated both those impostors the same that you have so strongly commanded a majority inside the Liberal party room and why you have been elected unopposed here in this chamber,” Mr Abbott said.
“Your job is to maintain order in this House by commanding the respect of both sides of the Chamber. I am confident, based on our friendship and comradeship going back some quarter of a century, that this is exactly what you will do.”
Mr Abbott also praised former speaker Bronwyn Bishop.
“Despite some admitted errors of judgment, she has served this parliament, our country, her party with dedication and distinction over 30 years. She has been a warrior for the causes that she believed in,” he said.
Bill Shorten reminded Mr Smith that the speakership is “a privilege, not a prize” and urged him to maintain independence.
“You can make this a place where straightforward questions get straightforward answers. Where the words ‘direct relevance’ carry real meaning,” the Opposition Leader said.
“Where the Speaker manages debate without seeking to participate in it and where standing orders including 94A (which permits the Speaker to eject unruly MPs) are applied fairly to both sides of the House.
“I call, in addition if I might, upon the Prime Minister in this spirit of change to consider restoring supplementary questions and genuine scrutiny.”
Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said Mrs Bishop had been “felled in most unfair circumstances by politics today”.
“To the former Madam Speaker, I do pay tribute to you as the Speaker. I think you have been a great political figure over your 30-year career in Australian politics,” Mr Pyne told parliament.
“I think you will be remembered that way always as being a great advocate for the causes in which you believed, which happily are the causes of this side of the House, for women in parliament you have been a beacon of strength and fortitude, never flagging despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and I pay you the most fulsome tribute for the contribution you have made to Australian public life.”
Mr Sukkar, the Member for Deakin, nominated Mr Smith for the role in parliament, describing him as a “dependable and trustworthy” person and “a Holden man, through and through”.
“He’s got a keen intellect, very well respected by his colleagues on both sides of the chamber and I’m therefore extraordinarily confident that Tony Smith has the experience, temperament and strength to instil respect and trust in our parliamentary institutions,” he told parliament.
Mr Sukkar described Mr Smith as an “honest” man, although he would occasionally purchase cars without telling his wife Pam.
Ms Wicks, the Member for Robertson, hoped Mr Smith would “rule this place without fear or favour”.
Ms Wicks described Mr Smith as a strong “family man” who would “talk lovingly of both Pam and his wife”.
Recognising her muddled words, she joked: “If there was going to be a clanger, Mr Clerk, it would be that!”
Crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm welcomed Mr Smith’s appointment as it will require him to stand down as chair of the joint standing committee on electoral matters, which has been pursuing reform of the unpredictable Senate voting system.
“Now he has a real job, we hope that he might leave the minor parties alone,” the Liberal Democrat said.
Philip Ruddock, a former attorney-general, had also been expected to stand if nominated by a colleague.
Mr Smith has held the outer-eastern Melbourne seat of Casey since 2001, before which he served 11 years as a political and media adviser to Peter Costello. He was previously a researcher at the Institute of Public Affairs, a free market think tank.