Awkward talk at Parliament House: UK MP John Bercow comes to Canberra

It could all get a little bit awkward at Parliament House's main committee room next Tuesday .

British House of Commons speaker John Bercow is due to give a guest lecture within weeks of being embroiled in a row over his choice of Carol Mills - the top public servant who runs Parliament House in Canberra - for a gun gig as clerk of the British Parliament.

Department of Parliamentary Services chief Carol Mills during an estimates hearing at Parliament House.
Department of Parliamentary Services chief Carol Mills during an estimates hearing at Parliament House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Ms Mills, the head of Australia's Department of Parliamentary Services, was chosen for the $360,000-a-year job. But Mr Bercow agreed to a modest pause and said he would consider splitting the position after outrage the non-British Ms Mills had been chosen.

Critics in Britain also raised concerns over recent controversies that DPS had been drawn into.

These included disputed spying claims involving allegations over misuse of CCTV in Australia's Parliament. A conservative blog even brought up another DPS drama involving the suspected fraud of a catering contractor cooking food using taxpayer-funded facilities and selling it elsewhere.

The catering drama preceded Ms Mills's time at the helm but she was grilled about it at a Senate estimates hearing earlier this year, when she told senators she had launched an external investigation but not enough evidence was found to notify police.


Some British MPs described Mr Bercow's backtrack earlier this month as a Dunkirk-style retreat but the MP maintained he still wanted to see Ms Mills hired despite the slowdown in the process. 

At 5.30pm next Tuesday, Mr Bercow is scheduled to deliver a speech titled: "Representative democracy in the digital age: fact or fiction?"

According to an alert advertising the talk, he was planning to "address some of the challenges faced by modern parliaments and representatives across the Commonwealth, in the era of the digital revolution and 'disruptive' technology".

Mr Bercow established a special commission, the Digital Democracy Commission, which was due to report to the British Parliament in early 2015.

The objective of the British commission on digital democracy was to make recommendations on how parliamentary democracy in Britain could embrace the opportunities afforded by the digital world to become more effective in representing the people, making laws, scrutinising the work and performance of government and encouraging citizens to engage with democracy.

But attention could be drawn away from the lecture, hosted by the Australian Parliament in association with the Australian National University Centre for European Studies, by the ongoing controversy about the Ms Mills appointment.