Tony Smith: Introducing the new and different Speaker

New Speaker Tony Smith has so far had a political career in which achievement has not quite matched promise.


However he will bring to his new and highly scrutinised job a wealth of political experience and a safe pair of hands.

Nothing in his solid, unspectacular style suggests he will be as visible, interventionist or divisive as Bronwyn Bishop.

Smith, 48, is a product of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, where he has lived all his life – now with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

No one else in his family has been politically active.

Smith was educated at Carey Baptist Grammar School and the University of Melbourne, where he studied arts and commerce while working as a night shift cook at an all-night restaurant and throwing himself into student politics.

He became president of the university’s Liberal Club and a strong opponent of compulsory student unionism. This probably nourished his strong belief in individualism and small government.

After university, he became a researcher at the Institute of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, before joining the staff of Peter Costello in 1990.

Smith soon made a mark by thinking up the damaging phrase “sports rorts” that helped sink Keating government minister Ros Kelly.

It is clear from Costello’s memoirs that he thought very highly of his staff member, who rose to the position of senior political adviser, and expected him to go far in Liberal politics.

Smith transitioned from staff member to MP in 2001, when he was elected to the moderately safe seat of Casey – in 2013 he had a margin of just over seven per cent.

There was no quick advancement, with some observers believing that being close to Costello did him no good in John Howard’s eyes.

However, in early 2007, he got a lift up the greasy pole by becoming a parliamentary secretary to Howard.

After Howard’s defeat, he held a string of shadow ministry posts. He opposed Malcolm Turnbull’s doing deals with Labor over emissions trading and was given communications after Tony Abbott became leader.

But he did not make much headway in savaging Labor’s national broadband network and was dropped from the front bench after the 2010 election.

However he did play an important role as Andrew Robb’s deputy on the coalition’s policy development committee that drew up and costed the policies for the 2013 election campaign.

Electoral success did not translate into advancement in the Abbott government and he went back to committee work, the most important being as chairman of the joint committee on electoral matters.

Oddly, that makes the new Speaker of the lower house an expert on the complications of voting in the upper house.

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