Tasmania’s minority Liberal government loses speaker position to Labor’s Michelle O’Byrne

Tasmania’s minority Liberal government loses speaker position to Labor’s Michelle O’Byrne
  • PublishedMay 14, 2024

Tasmania’s minority Liberal government has been rolled on the first day of parliament, after the entire crossbench helped install an opposition MP as speaker.

Long-standing Labor MP Michelle O’Byrne was elected after Labor, the Greens and the Jacqui Lambie Network publicly declared their support for her.

The Liberals were planning to nominate one of their own, Lyons MP Mark Shelton, to continue in the role he had held since 2021, but decided not to contest to avoid “unnecessary division and dissent”.

Mark Shelton looks at the camera.
The Liberals’ choice of speaker, Mark Shelton, watches proceedings.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

“We need to be firmly focused on working together to achieve outcomes on the issues that matter for Tasmanians while delivering certainty and stability,” Premier Jeremy Rockliff said.

“Accordingly, we have listened to the will of the members and the parliamentary Liberal Party has decided not to contest the speakership on the floor of the house.”


Ms O’Byrne is a former federal Labor member and has been in state parliament since 2006.

She was nominated today by new Labor leader Dean Winter and deputy Anita Dow.

MPs sitting in parliament turn to clap a Michelle O'Byrne who smiles while seated in her chair.
There was applause when Michelle O’Byrne was elected.(The Mercury/Chris Kidd)

“Michelle’s knowledge of parliamentary processes is unrivalled among Tasmanian MPs. Michelle was the best person for the job — that’s why we nominated her,” Mr Winter said.

“We know Michelle will be fearlessly fair as speaker. That is a good thing.

“Throughout her career she has demonstrated a commitment to upholding the highest standards of accountability and transparency and I am certain she will make a terrific speaker.”

Two politicians embrace in parliament.
Michelle O’Byrne hugs her brother, fellow MP David O’Byrne.(ABC News: Maren Preuss)

First opposition speaker since 1959

According to election analyst Kevin Bonham, it has been more than 60 years since Tasmania’s lower house has chosen a non-government speaker — aside from the brief moment when Sue Hickey was in the speaker role as an independent.

The last opposition speaker was in 1959.

Dr Bonham said given the government was in minority, and had the support of minor party and independent MPs to sure up its numbers, it was fairer to have a Labor speaker.

“I think that when there’s a minority parliament it’s probably best not to have a government speaker in terms of the quality of debate you see,” he said.

“The job of the speaker is pretty extensively set down, but there’s always a sort of a room to interpret it in favour of the government of the day … I think that in a minority parliament it is better someone doesn’t come from the government and is listening to all sides.”

Rebecca White looking away from the camera.
Former leader of Tasmanian Labor, Rebecca White, looks on during the first day.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

Dr Bonham said Ms O’Byrne’s experience was also an advantage.

“We did have some hold ups in the previous parliament where sometimes the parliament had to adjourn on rulings the speaker was not clear about,” he said.

“Hopefully with Michelle O’Byrne’s experience in the role that will not happen and the parliament will run a little bit more smoothly when unusual things happen.”

Eric Abetz looks downcast in a parliamentary chamber.
Tasmanian Liberal Eric Abetz during day one of the new parliament.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)
Craig Garland looks into space during a parliamentary sitting.
Independent MP Craig Garland listens to proceedings.(ABC News: Owain Stia-James)

O’Byrne as speaker ushers in ‘a new era’, Lambie MPs say

The support from Ms O’Byrne’s own party, the Greens and her brother — independent MP David O’Byrne — may not be surprising, but the three Jacqui Lambie Network MPs’ decision to back Ms O’Byrne will have many questioning what it means for the future of parliament.

The trio were much criticised after signing a confidence and supply guarantee with the government that bound them on certain things — like requiring them to give the government 24 hours’ notice before voting against a bill.

They have always maintained the agreement would not impact their independence, and this was the first chance they have had to demonstrate it.

Andrew Jenner sits in the lower house of parliament and looks back over his shoulder.
Jacqui Lambie Network MP Andrew Jenner sits in parliament for the first time.(The Mercury/Chris Kidd)

In a joint statement, the three JLN MPs said their decision to support Ms O’Byrne for the speakership was about “a new era of transparency and integrity”.

“A speaker must preside over proceedings with impartiality and provide guidance in matters of procedure,” they said.

“Michelle O’Byrne is highly qualified for this role, and the JLN members believe that she will deliver rigour and discipline to the proceedings of the house — which is especially important with the increased numbers of MPs in our parliament.”

It is not the first time the Liberal government has been unable to install its nominated speaker.

The party was famously blindsided in 2018 when Labor and the Greens united to nominate maverick Liberal MP Sue Hickey.

But this time the speaker did not come from within the Liberals, and they had some notice — the JLN MPs said they had informed the Rockliff government of their intention to support Ms O’Byrne.


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