ANALYSIS

Farewells and aloha: Speaker Tony Smith steps down as it all starts to get ugly

Speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith receives a standing ovation during question time on Monday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith receives a standing ovation during question time on Monday. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

It certainly says something about the departing Speaker of the House that the leader of the opposition would welcome him home for dinner.

But Tony Smith, who will go to the Governor-General on Tuesday morning to formally step down as a presiding officer after three terms and six years, now has that standing offer from Anthony Albanese. You know, the leader of that mob on the other side.

"You never wanted to be a conspicuous speaker but your absence will be felt very keenly," the Labor leader told the Parliament.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in a rare moment for 2021, was in full agreement with his opponent as he farewelled "the finest Speaker that this Parliament has had the great opportunity to witness in action."

It would be a challenging role at anytime, but being Speaker is especially fraught right now as the 46th Parliament draws to a sputtering, clamorous close.

Pandemic challenges have heightened old fights and hatreds and created new battlegrounds over vaccinations and government control.

An equal, firm hand has been widely welcomed and respected in the chamber, because goodness knows it is very different out in the wild and it is getting grubby.

Misrepresentations, accusations of comfort to extremists, leaked text messages disparaging colleagues, and as we get towards Christmas, we are somehow dragged back at the Prime Minister's contentious 2019 Hawaiian holiday during the Black Summer bushfires and who said what about where he was.

A clean 94a expulsion order from the Speaker for a loud barb seems nice and easy right about now.

The fact is, voters are being warmed up for the coming election, and this could, but not definitely, be the last parliamentary sitting fortnight before the next poll.

Separate to the legislative side of things, all sides are looking for a hit and for something to stick. A killer phrase, and even more, a deadly accusation.

On Monday, under targeted Labor niggling on mandatory vaccinations and variances in his public position, the Prime Minister snapped back accusing the opposition of "playing politics with the pandemic".

Tony Smith was praised by both sides of the chamber as he presided over question time for the final time. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Tony Smith was praised by both sides of the chamber as he presided over question time for the final time. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

"The pathetic attempts by the Labor Party to try and drive a wedge between Australians and suggest that there is no bipartisan support for denouncing violence in this country," Mr Morrison said to opposition howls.

But Labor is trying to tease out the Prime Minister for his position, and his political motives.

The ALP see him as playing both sides on mandatory vaccinations and managing One Nation and swinging voters.

"Why does the Prime Minister claim he's opposed to mandatory vaccinations when he has imposed mandatory vaccinations on aged care workers, Australians returning home, quarantine workers and even journalists attending his own press conferences?" Mr Albanese pointedly asked as the first question of the day.

"Mr Speaker, the leader of the opposition is wrong, Mr Speaker," the PM fired back. "He's completely wrong. Mr Speaker, the government doesn't oppose mandatory vaccinations."

Two views or two sets of facts? Perhaps only voters will decide.

But, and this is the important word, the Prime Minister has said, "but", in also acknowledging the frustrations during the pandemic. It is that "in same breath" scenario in denouncing anti-vaccination extremists that is causing political consternation.

Mr Morrison tried a different route at an earlier press conference.

"Since I became Prime Minister, I've always made it clear there are those who are going to drag me over here and there are those who want to drag me over there," he told reporters.

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"I know where Australians are. They're not at those extremes, the vast majority of them. They're looking for people just to make sensible decisions, weighing up all the best evidence and make sure we stay right there in the middle where we're able to ensure that we can keep Australians safe, we save lives and save livelihoods."

But, somehow, the government listed Pauline Hanson's anti-vaccine mandate bill for Monday in the senate ahead of a private senator's bill from a government member on territory rights, leading to the outrage of the proponent and the significant sight of five Coalition senators crossing the floor to back to back it. The bill failed, but a notable split in the government is there for all to see.

And the niggling continues. And perhaps a blow.

The Prime Minister has been dragged back to one of his worst PR disasters - his family trip to Hawaii while the Black Summer bushfires still burned.

Labor MP Fiona Phillips asked, "When my electorate was burning, the Prime Minister's office told journalists he was not on holiday in Hawaii. Why did the Prime Minister's office say that when it wasn't true?"

The answer has caught him up.

Mr Morrison claimed he secretly told Mr Albanese he was going to Hawaii for holiday in 2019, but the Labor leader says that is not true and he has the text message to prove it.

So I "told him where I was going" later turned into, "I know I did not tell him where we were going because that is a private matter."

Does it matter? Sure does.

But the time for class act Speaker Tony Smith is done. All eyes will be on who replaces the Member for Casey in the chair.

For Mr Smith, the soon to be backbencher, it is just a case of "see you out on the floor."

This story Class act Speaker Tony Smith leaves the stage as it all starts to get ugly first appeared on The Canberra Times.