November 24, 2011

Horse 1251 - Harry Jenkins: EX Speaker of the House

Harry Jenkins, Federal Member for Scullin formally resigned this morning as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The actual resignation letter is provided courtesy of the ABC:
"As members are aware in this the 43rd Parliament, to further avoid controversial party political matters I have divorced myself from involvement with the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. In this era of minority government I have progressively become frustrated at this stricture. My desire is to be able to participate in policy and parliamentary debate,and this would be incompatible with continuing in the role of Speaker."
- Harry Jenkins MP, 24th Nov 2011

The obvious question arising from this is "why?", and I think that the answer has to do with the knife-edge position in which the House finds itself.

Currently Labor holds government but only with the support of crossbenchers. The 76–74 margin is really only certain on matter of confidence and supply. For Harry Jenkins to sit as speaker reduces that margin to just 75-74, which means that legislation can swing on the votes of a single member who decides to cross the floor.

Jenkins quite clearly states that he is frustrated at the stricture of being in a non-partisan position and that he wants to participate in policy and parliamentary debate. That is a perfectly sensible notion and one which is also more true to the wishes of his electorate which he was chosen to represent. I for one do not see how this is particularly easy to do from the Speaker's chair.

I suspect that Jenkins probably wants to move back to the floor so that he might get nominated for a Cabinet position. He is currently the longest-serving Labor member of the House of Representatives and would be the Father of the House if not for Philip Ruddock. Perhaps in an uncertain parliement, he would add stability and experience to the Cabinet, which given the Gillard Government's somewhat shaky position both in the House and in opinion polls is sorely needed.

The thing is though, I'm not sure which Cabinet position he'd take up. The Cabinet seems to be pretty well sorted so perhaps maybe there's a seismic shift yet to occur which we don't yet know about and why the Speaker did; hence the resignation.

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