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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 1 Hansard (22 February) . . Page.. 152 ..

Reference - Order in the Assembly

MS McRAE (10.33): Mr Speaker, I move:

That the Standing Committee on Administration and Procedure inquire into and report on the application of standing order 207, with particular reference to:

(1) the definition of "grave disorder";

(2) the manner and timing of instructions given by the Speaker to occupants of the gallery in the Chamber; and

(3) whether Assembly Members should give or deny leave to the Speaker to suspend Assembly sittings.

Mr Speaker, this motion is simply a way for us to consider in calmness, away from the hurly-burly of the activities that have beset the Assembly in the last couple of days, some of the issues that arise when standing order 207 is put in place. Standing order 207 allows the Speaker to act if there is grave disorder. Grave disorder usually refers to activities within the house, not without the house, as we well know, and comes from a tradition of parliaments quite different from ours where, in effect, the general public does not sit under people's noses but is usually well away in galleries. It is by no accident that the general public has been kept a little further away than is the case here.

In modern parliaments the general public is much closer. It is a more deliberate process. Parliaments have changed over time, so different pressures are put on parliaments that perhaps were not envisaged in the original standing orders and therefore involve the Speaker in far closer eyeballing of the general public, let us say, than most parliaments do. The consequences of a Speaker then being involved in judging grave disorder within the gallery are very serious for a parliament. It does not take much thinking to get to the next stage and to say that anybody or any group, who wants to come in and clap loudly, can come in any day of the week and close down the proceedings of a parliament. Quite clearly, we cannot be in a situation where we are held to ransom by any group that wants to come in if they feel that every time they can create a bit of noise in the public gallery the Speaker is duty bound to close the Assembly.

That leads to a whole range of questions. How should a Speaker react? What are the requirements that ought to apply? Who does in fact control the gallery? What are the requirements of the general public, and are there different measures that we should put into place so that the Speaker is not the one put on the spot every time? Perhaps there should be a different form of security or a different form of management of the crowd. Quite clearly, if grave disorder becomes management by the Speaker of the general public, that is way beyond the bounds of what I see as the Speaker's duty. The Speaker's duty is to manage the Assembly. The general public are invited guests and should be managed in a different way. So there is a range of questions that come up about grave disorder.

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