Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government is not contemplating putting an independent MP into the Speaker’s chair to shore up its numbers.
If independent candidate Kerryn Phelps wins Saturday’s Wentworth by-election, the Liberal-National coalition will be reduced to 74 members on the floor of the House of Representatives.
The Speaker, currently Liberal MP Tony Smith, gets a casting vote if there’s a tie in the 150-member chamber.
There are 69 Labor MPs and six MPs sit on the crossbenches including the Nationals’ Kevin Hogan.
A theory has been floated that if Mr Smith is moved to the government benches and an independent is given his old job, the government could restore its majority.
However, Mr Morrison told reporters in Wentworth on Friday the government was “not planning to do that” in the context of the by-election.
“Speaker Smith is an outstanding Speaker and he’s brought great discipline and control and dignity to the parliament and I look forward to him continuing to serve in that role as successfully as he has,” Mr Morrison said.
Former Liberal MP turned independent Peter Slipper was elected to the Speaker’s role in November 2011, giving Julia Gillard’s minority government an extra number.
Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, who was a senior member of the Gillard government, said it was possible to govern in minority.
“We passed more than 500 pieces of legislation under Julia Gillard’s prime ministership,” Ms Plibersek said in Wentworth.
“We did it because she was an excellent negotiator and we we were able to work with the crossbenchers.”
She said it was “impossible” to argue the coalition government was stable now, let alone in minority, given the turmoil in its ranks in recent months and wild policy shifts on such issues as the placement of ‘s embassy in Israel.