Slipper sticks the boot in
TO AN outsider, it looks very much like payback, but Standing Orders prevent long-time Federal Member for Wide Bay Warren Truss from commenting about being suspended from parliament twice in as many sitting days, making it a first in his 21 years of political life.
Warren Truss been was first elected in 1990, having won pre-selection over current Speaker Peter Slipper, and has been returned every election since.
Parliament usually sits about 20 weeks a year - 17 times this year - and Mr Truss has never been suspended in those 21 years. For some members, being suspended is almost a regular parliamentary event during sitting times.
The first time Mr Truss' good record was broken was on Thursday, February 16, when Prime Minister Julia Gillard was giving an answer about the economy and job losses. Mr Truss interjected with two words - "growing pains" - a reference to Ms Gillard's comment likening job losses to growing pains.
His second parliamentary suspension came on Monday, February 27, when he spoke one word "outrageous", to describe his reaction to Mr Slipper ending deputy leader of the opposition Julia Bishop before her allotted time to speak was up, while she was engaged in a debate.
Party members and front benchers speak for an allotted time.
Members can be suspended for interjecting under section 94A of the Standing Orders.
Speaking to The Australian newspaper after his first ejection, Mr Truss said the speaker was obviously seeking to exercise his authority in a "striking and dramatic manner" but that "it's not appropriate for a member of parliament to criticise the speaker."
Standing orders prevent members commenting on the speaker's judgement - and those who break the rules could be suspended from parliament.
Ostensibly, that doesn't sound too bad, but the ramifications are far reaching.
Firstly, if a vote was taken during that suspension, the member could be suspended for 24 hours during which he or she could not cast a vote.
Secondly, if the government was of a mind, they could bring on controversial legislation while that member was suspended and could not vote.
In a speech during the first two days of parliament, Speaker Peter Slipper said: "I confirm that it is not my intention to warn disorderly members before directing them to leave the chamber for one hour in accordance with standing order 94(a).
"While I would usually expect to warn a member prior to naming the member, this would not always be the case."
This in turn seems to fly in the face of traditionally held parliamentary practice and the belief that leeway is given to party leaders.
Former Speaker Harry Jenkins who resigned in November last year, said in question time on May 26, 2011 that it was the practice of the house to have latitude.
Then on June 23, he said that through generations of speakership, members of the opposition have been given leeway.