Presiding Officer

The Speaker

The Speaker of the House of Assembly is elected by all the Members of the House of Assembly. The Speaker is the Chairperson of the House of Assembly.

In the first commentary on the practice and procedures of the House of Assembly titled Manual of the Practice, Procedure, and Usage of the House of Assembly of the Province of South Australia by the then Clerk’s-Assistant and Serjeant at Arms, Edwin Blackmore published in 1885 the Speaker’s duties are described:

The duties of the Speaker are primarily performed in the Chair of the House. But others are performed out of the House, at the Governor’s residence or office, at the bar of the Legislative Council, in his own rooms at the House, at his own residence.

The ordinary duties in the Chair consist –

In presiding over the deliberations of the House, and maintaining order:
In counting the House before the business is commenced, and at any time when attention is called to the state of the House:
In calling upon Members to speak, to put the questions and move the motions standing in their names, and bringing up Bills:
In putting questions for the decision of the House, and declaring the result by voices or by divisions:
In giving a casting vote where necessary:
In receiving Reports from Committee of the whole House:
In receiving and communicating to the House Messages from the Governor, and from the Legislative Council:
In announcing vacancies and the issue of Writs:
In reporting Assent to Bills:
In adjourning the House, whether on motion or from want of a Quorum.

It is also his occasional duty to examine witnesses at the Bar; and to convey the thanks of the House, and if necessary, its reprimands.

By Statute he has duties provided in respect of the Court for the Trial of Disputed Returns, the Act for the Audit of Public Accounts, and Writs of Election.

He has also to give effect to the proceedings of the House. Thus he carries to the Governor Addresses passed by the House, as also Bills which, originating in the House, have passed both Houses.

He signs Messages to the Legislative Council.

He goes with the House to the Bar of the Legislative Council when the Governor summons the House, and presents Money Bills thereat.

He is a Member of certain Sessional Committees, such as the Library, the Standing Orders, and the House or Refreshment Committees, and any Special Committee, where his presence is peculiarly desirable.

His express leave or order is necessary before any Journal, Record, or Document, laid before the House, may be removed.

He attends daily in his rooms to advise Members, and finally it is his duty to peruse and sign the daily Journals of the House.

The above is but a sketch of some of the various duties of the important office of the Speakership…..

(p 44, Manual of the Practice, Procedure, and Usage of the House of Assembly of the Province of South Australia, E G Blackmore, 1885)

In many respects the duties of the contemporary Speaker remain the same as those described by Blackmore. The Speaker of the House of Assembly is the highest office the House can bestow on one of its own. On assuming office the Speaker assumes the title of ‘Honourable’ for the duration of their Speakership and may apply to retain the title for the remainder of their Parliamentary career and in retirement if they have served more than three years in the office.

The first task of Members to a newly elected House of Assembly is to elect a Speaker to preside over them. Ancient parliamentary tradition determines that the Speaker embodies the House in its relations with the Crown. In more recent times the office has expanded in its functions to become the focal point for constitutional, procedural and administrative matters on behalf of the House and the House’s relations with the Crown, the Executive and the community.


The Speaker presides over the sittings as the Presiding Officer of the House of Assembly. The position, some of its procedural responsibilities and the tenure of the office, is recognised by sections 34 to 37 of the Constitution Act 1934.

The Speaker must act with both authority and impartiality. However, all of the Speaker’s decisions are subject to the will of the House and can be challenged, overturned or upheld by a motion of the House. In the absence of such a motion any inference, allegation or imputation that the Chair has acted inadequately or improperly, however indirect or ambiguous, is disorderly.

Much of the detail of the Speaker’s procedural duties is set out in the Standing Orders of the House of Assembly. The Standing Orders and numerous practices of the House grant the Speaker considerable discretions to enable order to be maintained and the business of the House facilitated. All are subject to the will of the House but include –

The established practice of the House that the Speaker rules on whether prime facie an allegation brought before him or the House is a matter of privilege. The Speaker also has the further discretion of determining whether the matter should be granted precedence over all other business of the House.

The discretion provided by Standing Orders to divide a complex question, to re-state a question if the Speaker deems there to be some confusion in the outcome and to withdraw from the Notice Paper any Bill or motion deemed to be improper, ultra vires, or the same question.

The discretion to judge the outcome of any vote taken on the voices and to order any necessary change to division lists due to an error or reasonable argument put by a Member.

The responsibility to judge and rule on the possible hybrid nature of a Bill.

Subject to established practices the Speaker also has considerable discretion in giving Members the call to speak and determining just what the Chair hears or observes. The Speaker also has the ability to suspend the sitting of the House in the event of disorder and determine who may not view proceedings from the gallery.

The Speaker is ex officio the Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee and by tradition is designated Chairman of any Committee of Privilege to which the Speaker may be appointed. Traditionally the Speaker does not serve on any other form of committee of inquiry except if the subject relates to the proceedings of the House or the administration of the House or the Parliament.


The Speaker is ex officio a member of the Joint Parliamentary Services Committee and is Chair in alternate years of the Committee.

Under the Parliament (Joint Services) Act 1985 the Joint Parliamentary Services Committee, of which the Speaker is ex officio a member, is the employer of all officers of the Parliament subject to that Act.

The Members of Parliament Travel Entitlement Rules requires that the Speaker approve all applications from Members for the payment of a per diem associated with parliamentary travel and requires that the Speaker receive and be ‘satisfied’ with any report a Member is obliged to provide as result of travel funded from the entitlement.

The Speaker also defines the extent of small number of services provided to Members in Parliament House.

Pursuant to Statute

In the case of a casual vacancy in the House of Assembly or if an election to fill a vacancy is declared void by the Court of Disputed Returns the Speaker must issue a writ for a by-election.

The Speaker is ex officio, a member of the South Australian Parliamentary Superannuation Board.

Pursuant to the Public Finance and Audit Act 1987 the Speaker is obliged to receive reports from the Auditor-General and under s38 is obliged to ensure that such reports are tabled before the House of Assembly “not later than the first sitting day after receiving a report..”

Section 17(7) of the Parliamentary Committees Act 1990 provides that if more that 14 days would elapse from the adoption of a report of a Committee until the next sitting day of the Committee’s appointing House the Committee may present a copy of it’s report to the Speaker who may authorise its publication prior to its tabling in the House of Assembly. The Speaker in co-operation with the President of the Legislative Council is responsible for avoiding duplication of the work of the Standing Committees established under the Act, arranging for adequate staff and facilities for each Committee and ensuring their efficient functioning.

The Local Government Act 1999 provides for each local council subject to the Act to compile an annual report and the Speaker is obliged to table the report before the House within six days of receiving it.

Section 29 of the Ombudsman Act 1972 requires the Speaker to table before the House of Assembly a copy of a report on the work of the Ombudsman’s office for each year, at the earliest opportunity.

Section 63 of the Fair Work Act 1994 requires the Speaker to table before the House of Assembly a report on the work of the office of the Employee Ombudsman during the preceding financial year at the earliest opportunity.

The Police (Complaints and Disciplinary Proceedings) Act 1985 provides that as soon as practicable after 30 June the Authority must submit to the Speaker (and the President of the Legislative Council) a report on the operations of the Authority.

Brief History of the Office of Speaker in South Australia

The office of the Speaker is almost as old as the institution of Parliament itself. The position of Speaker as a Member of the House nominated by his peers to represent the House and preside over its deliberations can be traced back through the history of Westminster parliamentary records to 1377.

The office of Speaker in the Parliament of South Australia pre-dates the establishment of the House of Assembly in 1857. Prior to the establishment of the Parliament of South Australia as a bicameral legislature with the granting of responsible government the Presiding Member of the Legislative Council was referred to as the Speaker. The first partially elected Legislative Council in 1851 elected one the eight nominated Members, John Morphett as its Speaker. Prior to 1851 the Council had been presided over by the Governor himself.

Morphett was succeeded in 1855 by James Hurtle Fisher who held the office until the new Constitution Act of 1856 was brought into effect and the Legislative Council adopted the role of the upper house of the Parliament. In this first fully elected Legislative Council Fisher retained the role of Presiding Member but was re-titled President of the Legislative Council.

The first Speaker of the House of Assembly was George Strickland Kingston. Prior to his election to the House of Assembly as the Member for The Burra and Clare in 1856 he had been an elected Member of the Legislative Council since 1851.

It is no surprise that in the absence of any local authority that the new legislatures coming into being in this era in Australia should look to the practices and procedures of the House of Commons. However, given the origins of the new Parliament of South Australia it is not surprising that the House was less inclined to adopt in its entirety the then still ill-defined and often anachronistic traditions of the Speakership in the House of Commons.

From the first day of the new House of Assembly the House and its Speaker began its own constitutional development and shaping of the office of the Speaker. The Parliament of South Australia was from the first sufficiently different in its structure as to left a divergence from the practice of the House of Commons. The first and most obvious difference was that this and all other of the legislatures of the Australian colonies were, by the time responsible government was granted, fully elected bodies. Further, the cultural acceptance of legislators assuming such a role by way of blood-line, inheritance, patronage or religious office or any means other than being popularly elected had never established itself in Australia. So acceptance of the concept that occupying the Chair as Speaker also conferred a privilege of not having to be sullied by any further engagement in the wider political process for as long as the Speaker held office, as was and is the case at Westminster, would have been unthinkable in colonial South Australia, a society founded on social principles contrary to such practices.

On formal occasions the Speaker may wear ceremonial dress, with full-bottomed wig and black silk or satin damask gown, with lace at the throat and wrists. On ordinary sitting days, the Speaker may or may not choose to wear both the wig and the gown.

Chairman of Committees / Deputy Speaker

Like the Speaker, the Chairman of Committees (who is also Deputy Speaker) in the House of Assembly is elected by the Members of that House. The Chairman of Committees presides when the House forms itself into a Committee of the whole of the membership of the House to consider Bills.

The Committee considers some Bills in detail after they have passed the second reading. The Chairman of Committees wears no special dress, a fact which serves to emphasise the comparative informality of the deliberations of the Committee, when Members may speak more than once on any particular question but the debate must be strictly relevant to the clause or amendment before the Chair.

Permanent Officers of Parliament

There are three permanent officers of the House of Assembly: the Clerk of the House of Assembly and the Deputy Clerk of the House of Assembly and the Serjeant at Arms.

The Clerk

The Clerk supported by a small staff provides the permanent administration in a Parliament whose membership is subject to change. The main function of the Clerk is to advise the Speaker, Ministers and Members on Parliamentary procedure. The Clerk is also responsible for the compilation of the Journals of the House is the custodian of all records and documents laid before Parliament. The Clerk is in effect the Chief Executive Officer of the House of Assembly.

The Deputy Clerk

The Deputy Clerk supports the work of the Clerk and is also the officer responsible for providing support to the various committees on which Members of the House of Assembly serve.

The Serjeant-at-Arms

The Serjeant-at-Arms, with authority from the Speaker, and as tradition requires preserves order in the House of Assembly precincts. In extreme cases the Serjeant-at-Arms' duty is, in obedience to the House, required to ‘arrest’ a Member or, by the direction of the Speaker, to ‘arrest’ disorderly strangers, and to keep them in custody if commitment is ordered.

The Serjeant at Arms more contemporary duties are in the provision of corporate services to Members and visitors to the Parliament.

In an ancient ceremony the Speaker is preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms, carrying the Mace when entering and leaving the Chamber. The same ceremony is observed when the Speaker, with the House, leaves the Chamber to proceed elsewhere, for example, to the Legislative Council, to participate in the Opening of Parliament or to Government House to be presented to the Governor.

The Mace

In Parliament, the Mace is the symbol of the Speaker's authority. The Mace was once a weapon of war and shaped like a club, but has become a symbol of authority. Until a Speaker has been elected the Mace is kept under the Table of the House, and is placed on the Table as soon as the election is complete to demonstrate that the House is now properly constituted for its proceedings.

The Mace in use in the House of Assembly was the gift of the Government to commemorate the centenary in 1957 of responsible Government in South Australia. It is made of sterling silver with gold plating in the same style of English maces made over hundreds of years, including the one used in the House of Commons. It is 1.2 metres long and weighs approximately 6 kilograms.

The Mace is ornamented with a blend of traditional British and South Australian symbols. The head of the Mace has a Royal Crown in which superb specimens of South Australian opal are inlaid. Beneath the Crown, the head of the Mace is divided into four panels. On opposite panels, in relief are the Crowns and Royal Cipher - E II R - of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. On the reverse is the Royal Cipher - VR - of Queen Victoria, the reigning Sovereign when responsible Government was inaugurated in South Australia in 1857. This use of the Royal monograms was graciously authorised by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and symbolises the beginning and end of the first century of responsible Government in this State. On the remaining two panels of the head, the Coat of Arms of the State of South Australia is set in relief.

The shaft is flat with wheat ornamentation, and the knobs dividing the shaft are highlighted with traditional Tudor roses and flat scrollwork. On the heel of the Mace is a motif of vine and wattle which forms an integral part of the State's Coat of Arms.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Parliament of South Australia acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community. We pay our respect to them and their cultures and to the Elders both past and present.