The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly

The office of Speaker is almost as old as the Westminster system of Parliament itself. The name of 'Speaker' dates from a time when the only right the House of Commons possessed was that of addressing humble petitions to the King. Effectively the Speaker was the person nominated by the Commons to communicate (speak on their behalf) to the King the decisions reached by the House.

This was a very dangerous occupation as at least nine Speakers are known to have met violent deaths when going to the palace to deliver messages to the King from the House of Commons.

The Speaker, as custodian of the dignities, practices and privileges of the House, is required to uphold a great number of traditions and precedents that have developed over centuries and are still maintained in today's Parliament. One tradition has its origins in 1642 when King Charles I surrounded the House of Commons with soldiers, burst into the Chamber and demanded that the Speaker surrender five members who were plotting against the Crown. The Speaker denied the King his wish by replying "Sir, I have ears to hear and lips to speak only that the people shall command me.". To this day neither the Commons nor any lower House of the Westminster system of Parliament has allowed a Monarch on the floor of the House, or for that matter a servant of the Monarch, without permission. A ritual is performed during each Opening of Parliament when the Usher of the Black Rod, as the messenger of His Excellency the Governor, is required to knock three times on the doors to the Assembly and seek admission. Only after permission is granted by Mr Speaker can the Usher of the Black Rod, as the messenger of the Queen's representative, enter the Legislative Assembly Chamber and announce a message to the members.

It is interesting to note that in Western Australia the first Speakers served in the Legislative Council from 1870 to 1890. The last Speaker of the Legislative Council was elected to the new Legislative Assembly in 1890 and elected by the members to the office of Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. The Sergeant -at-Arms and the Mace of Western Australia were also transferred to the Assembly in 1890. The Mace still bears the words "Legislative Council, 1887".

The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, as a member of the Legislative Assembly, is elected by his or her fellow members, under section 15 of the Constitution Act 1889, at the first meeting of the House after a general election. The Speaker's term continues, unless he or she resigns or dies, for the remainder of the Parliament up to the first meeting of the House after the next general election. The Speaker can be removed from office by a vote of the House.

It is important that the Speaker maintains the House's confidence in his management of the Legislative Assembly's proceedings. The Speaker is required to preside over the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly in a fair and impartial manner and to uphold the dignities, practices and privileges of the Assembly.

The Speaker also has administrative functions as the political head (similar to a Minister in Government) of the Parliamentary Department of the Legislative Assembly. Together with the President of the Legislative Council, the Speaker is also responsible for the overall management of Parliament.