Speaker quits with swipe at 'outrageous' Geoff Shaw
SPEECH IN FULL: Victorian Speaker Ken Smith lashes both rogue independent MP Geoff Shaw and the Labor Party as he resigns from his post.PT0M0S 620 349
If there were ever any doubts that politics is a brutal blood sport, the extraordinary events leading up to the demise of Ken Smith as speaker should have dispelled them.
Ken Smith was doomed like a wounded animal the day Geoff Shaw declared a lack of confidence in his ability to control the Parliament.
No longer could Smith be sure he commanded the numbers needed to enforce discipline in the Parliament. It was a fatal weakness. The Labor Opposition smelt blood.
Ken Smith stands down as Speaker on the first day of State Parliament in 2014. Photo: Angela Wylie
In a tactical move designed to inflict maximum damage lifted straight from Tony Abbott's obstructionist guide to opposition, Labor goaded Smith mercilessly. Smith could do little but suspend Labor MPs from Parliament for periods of days to temporarily ensure the numbers did not work against him.
But this was only ever a short-term fix and Denis Napthine well knew it. The ensuing chaos was not only starving the Coalition of political oxygen, it risked derailing the government's legislative agenda as it headed into an election year.
Regardless of who is to blame, parliamentary chaos usually tends to damage governments more than oppositions. Just ask Julia Gillard. The public rightly expect governments to deliver results and a workable Parliament is a key part of that.
In January, Smith announced he would not contest his seat of Bass at the November election. The big question was whether Smith would continue as speaker for the remainder of the parliamentary year.
Over the long summer hiatus, Napthine and other senior Liberals, including deputy Liberal Leader Louise Asher, delicately set to work on Smith, who can be stubborn if pushed.
From the Government's perspective, Smith would have ideally announced his intention to resign as speaker in January when he revealed he would not be contesting the November election.
Also, his departure was far from clean. Rather, Smith departed with a bang – unleashing a blistering attack directed at Shaw and Labor while seeming to raise questions about whether his replacement would be beholden to Shaw.
This aside, given the dismal set of circumstances, it was about the best the Government could have hope for.
The new speaker, Christine Fyffe, is supported by Labor, leaving the Opposition with little excuse to continue obstructing the operation of the Parliament.
You might also think Smith's decision to resign would have appeased Shaw, allowing the Parliament to return to something resembling normality. Yet Shaw – who is fighting for his political life – seems determined to continue flexing his muscle.
On Tuesday afternoon, he voted against the Government's business program, which is designed to ensure the government's legislative agenda for the week is dealt with in an orderly process. The chaos, it seems, will continue.