ACT Speaker Vicki Dunne sought the advice of speakers in two other parliaments before refusing embattled Labor backbencher Joy Burch a slot on her panel of assistant speakers.
Mrs Dunne confirmed on Thursday that she had gone to two other speakers, telling them that Ms Burch had sought a role as assistant speaker, but that her office was being investigated by police. She also sent them a copy of an ABC radio story from December in which deputy chief minister Simon Corbell refers to the allegations going well beyond those aired in the media.
She had told them she didn't feel able to appoint Ms Burch to the speaker's panel until the investigation was finished. And she had asked for their candid opinions and what they would do in her position.
Mrs Dunne said both had advised her to hold off until the matter had been cleared up by police. They had told her that maintaining the credibility and respect of the chair was the most important thing. One had referred also to the importance of protecting Ms Burch.
On that basis, Mrs Dunne has refused to appoint Ms Burch. Mrs Dunne said she had not intended Ms Burch's request or her decision to be made pubic. Ms Burch had had "a pretty rough trot", "dragged in and out of the media", and she had wanted to minimise that, Mrs Dunne said.
But the exchange came to light when Chief Minister Andrew Barr referred in the Assembly this week to correspondence between Mrs Dunne and Ms Burch, in which Mrs Dunne had told the dumped Labor minister that she could not sit on the speaker's panel until she had been "exonerated".
Asked about the affair, Mr Barr said it was standard practice as government whip for Ms Burch to seek a role as assistant speaker. Ms Burch had written back to Mrs Dunne, pointing out "quite correctly that she is not currently and has not ever been the subject of the police's evaluation or investigation so the speaker was factually incorrect", Mr Barr said.
The point would become moot next Thursday when backbencher Mary Porter retired and the Assembly would vote to appoint Ms Burch as deputy speaker, Mr Barr said.
While Mrs Dunne has sole responsibility to appoint assistant speakers, the Assembly elects the deputy speaker. Labor and the Greens' Shane Rattenbury will vote Ms Burch into the job in defiance of Liberal opposition to the move.
"Were this not to be resolved in the way that it will be on Thursday of next week ... the government would consider whether we still have confidence in the speaker," Mr Barr said.
"But given this will have a resolution next week and we are towards the end of the Assembly term, the Assembly will simply appoint Ms Burch to deputy speaker for the remainder of this Assembly term."
As to Mrs Dunne having consulted other speakers, Mr Barr said, "Short of ringing them all up and asking "have they had a phone call with the speaker", I'll take her at face value there.
"I can't imagine that any of the other presiding officers would be particularly exercised by this issue. It just seems like a bit of a fig leaf from the speaker trying to defend the indefensible."
Mr Barr said it was ultimately of no consequence, given Ms Burch would be elected by the Assembly to the deputy role.
Mrs Dunne would not name the speakers, nor release the correspondence, but said they were both Liberals and two of the most senior and longest-standing presiding officers in the country.