Chapter 1 - The opening of Parliament

  

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1      Proceedings on opening

  1. On the first day of the meeting of a session of Parliament, after a general election for the Senate and the House of Representatives, or after a general election for the House of Representatives:

    1. If there is a President the President shall take the chair at the time specified in the proclamation.

    2. The Clerk shall read the proclamation calling Parliament together.

    3. Deputies appointed by the Governor-General shall be introduced by the Usher of the Black Rod to the Senate chamber.

    4. The Senior Deputy shall direct the Usher of the Black Rod to desire the attendance of the members of the House of Representatives to hear the commission read.

    5. Members of the House of Representatives shall sit in the Senate chamber and the Clerk shall read the commission.

    6. The Senior Deputy shall then inform the members of both Houses that the Governor-General will at a future time declare the cause of calling Parliament together.

    7. The certificate of election or choice of each senator whose term of office has begun since the last sitting of the Senate shall be laid on the table, and each such senator may then make and subscribe the oath or affirmation of allegiance in accordance with the Constitution.

    8. If the office of President is vacant the Senate shall elect a President.

  2. On the first day of the meeting of a session of Parliament not after a general election for the Senate and the House of Representatives or a general election for the House of Representatives:

    If there is a President:

    1. The President shall take the chair at the time specified in the proclamation.

    2. The Clerk shall read the proclamation calling Parliament together.

    3. The Governor-General shall be introduced by the Usher of the Black Rod to the Senate chamber.

    4. The certificate of election or choice of each senator whose term of office has begun since the last sitting of the Senate shall be laid on the table, and each such senator may then make and subscribe the oath or affirmation of allegiance in accordance with the Constitution.

    If there is no President:

    1. The Clerk shall at the time specified in the proclamation read the proclamation calling Parliament together.

    2. Deputies appointed by the Governor-General shall be introduced by the Usher of the Black Rod to the Senate chamber.

    3. The Clerk shall read the commission.

    4. The Senior Deputy shall inform the Senate that the Governor-General will at a future time declare the cause of calling Parliament together.

    5. The certificate of election or choice of each senator whose term of office has begun since the last sitting of the Senate shall be laid on the table, and each such senator may then make and subscribe the oath or affirmation of allegiance in accordance with the Constitution.

    6. The Senate shall elect a President.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 1 and 2 (corresponding to paragraphs (1) and (2))

Amended:

  • 9 September 1909, J.119 (to take effect 1 October 1909) (paragraph (2)(c) inserted to reflect actual practice and a proviso added regarding the commencement of senators’ terms – later superseded)
  • 11 June 1914, J.79–80 (change in terminology with “certificate”of election replacing “writ” as more accurately reflecting the Constitution)
  • 2 December 1965, J.427 (to take effect 1 January 1966) (change in terminology from “Commissioner” to “Deputy” reflecting the terminology used in the Governor-General’s commission appointing Deputies)

1989 revision: Old SOs 1 and 2 combined into one, structured as two paragraphs with multiple subparagraphs and renumbered as SO1; language modernised and expression streamlined including by removal of proviso inserted in 1909 and altering paragraph (1)(g) to refer to senators whose terms have begun since the last sitting rather than senators elected since the last sitting (the reason for the proviso in the first place)

Commentary

Proceedings for the opening of Parliament adopted the practices followed in all the states with such alterations as were required by the Constitution. They had been used in 1901 and were the basis of the standing orders framed by the Standing Orders Committee for the Senate’s consideration.[1] As the first standing orders to be debated in 1903, they naturally attracted a good deal of attention, including some misconception.[2] The result was that consideration of these standing orders was postponed and the Standing Orders Committee was sent away to reconsider some aspects of them. The committee presented its Second Report in July and recommended that the postponed standing orders proceed without changes. Consequently they were debated and agreed to with only minor amendments on 12 August 1903.[3]

In 1906 a referendum to change the commencement date for senators’ terms from 1 January to 1 July was carried by the required majorities and the standing orders were examined for any consequential amendments. In its First Report of 1908, the Standing Orders Committee recommended the replacement of paragraph (2)(c) with its current formulation (which reflected actual practice) and the adoption of a proviso to make it clear that at any opening of Parliament after a general election, senators elected at that election could not take their seats if the opening occurred before 1 July. The recommendation was debated in the Senate on 9 September 1909 and agreed to.[4] The proviso was unnecessary, given the terms of the Constitution, but there was some conflict with paragraph (1)(g) as it was then framed. The proviso quietly disappeared in the 1989 revision and paragraph (1)(g) was rephrased to avoid the potential conflict.[5]

Further amendments were made in 1914, again on the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee.[6] Its chair, President Givens explained to the Senate that these changes would be consistent with the wording in the Constitution which referred to a certificateof election and not to the return of a writ:

… our Standing Orders provide that, after an election for this Chamber, the writ, with the certificate of election indorsed there on, shall be returned to the Senate. Now, the fact is that the writs for Senate elections are issued by the State Governors, and not by any authority of the Commonwealth, and it has frequently happened that the State Governors have insisted upon their right to hold the writs, and have refused to return them to the Senate at all. They claim, and, I think, properly, that all that we are concerned with is to obtain the certificate of the election.[7]

Terminology was also the subject of changes in 1965 when references to Commissioners appointed by the Governor-General were replaced with references to Deputies. The latter was considered “more appropriate” because it was the term used in the Governor-General’s commission appointing High Court Justices to the task. The report was agreed to without debate on 2 December 1965.[8]

Members of the House of Representatives entering the Senate Chamber

Officers and members of the House of Representatives enter the Senate chamber for the opening of the 42nd Parliament on 12 February 2008 (Photo courtesy of AUSPIC)

The 42nd Parliament officially opens

Then Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, reads the instrument of appointment of the Chief Justice, the Hon. Murray Gleeson AC, as the Deputy of the Governor-General to declare open the 42nd Parliament (Photo courtesy of AUSPIC)

Although there have been no substantive changes to the procedures for the opening of Parliament since 1903, there has been much discussion in recent decades and at least three inquiries by the Procedure Committee of the House of Representatives.[9] As noted in Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, there is no constitutional reason for the procedures in their current form but there are several constitutional anomalies, including the involvement of High Court Justices as deputies of the Governor-General.[10] Difficulties with the timing of amendments to standing orders to put in place new arrangements for openings of Parliament are also alluded to.

A recurring concern is the desire to incorporate there cognition and involvement of Indigenous Australians in the opening ceremonies. This was the theme of two resolutions of the Senate, similar in wording, moved by Senator Ridgeway (AD, NSW) in 2002 and 2004 and agreed to as formal motions. A letter from the relevant minister, responding to – and rejecting – the resolution was tabled in the Senate on 8 February 2005 and briefly debated.[11]

 

On 12 February 2008, prior to the official proceedings for the opening of the 42nd Parliament, members of both Houses attended a Welcome to Country ceremony held in the Members’ Hall and conducted by representatives of local Aboriginal people. The event was widely welcomed as a prelude both to the official opening ceremony and to the National Apology to the Stolen Generations which was to occur the following day. After the Welcome to Country ceremony, the opening of Parliament proceeded in accordance with the standing orders in their current form as contained in paragraph (1). Following two reports of the Procedure Committee on the issue, the Senate agreed to an order of continuing effect on 23 June 2010, supporting an Indigenous Welcome to Country ceremony preceding the opening of Parliament.[12] The House of Representatives amended its standing orders on the same day to include a requirement that local Indigenous groups be invited to perform such a ceremony.[13]

Paragraph (2) is now rarely used as it relates to the opening of a new session of Parliament, not following a general election. The last time these procedures were used was in March 1977 to enable an opening of Parliament by the Queen (see SO 4).

The standing order sets out a very structured procedure which is reflected in the script prepared for this part of the proceedings:

MORNING PROCEEDINGS (10.30 am)

~~~~~~~~~

At 10.25 am the bells will ring for five minutes.

The Senate will assemble at 10.30 am.

The President will take the chair and call the Clerk.

The Clerk will read the proclamation calling the Parliament together.

The Deputy of His/Her Excellency the Governor-General will be announced by the Usher of the Black Rod.

Black Rod:

Mr/Madam President, the Deputy of His/Her Excellency the Governor-General approaches the Senate chamber.

On the arrival of the Deputy, the President will leave the chair and stand to the right.

The Deputy will take the chair, after bowing to his/her rightand left.

Deputy:

Honourable senators, please be seated.

Black Rod, please let the members of the House of Representatives know that I desire their attendance in the Senate chamber.

(Black Rod will bow and proceed across the Members’ Hall to the Bar of the House of Representatives where he/she will bow to his/her left and right.)

Black Rod:

Honourable members, the Deputy of His/Her Excellency the Governor-General desires your attendance in the Senate chamber.

Black Rod will bow again and return to his/her place in the Senate.

When the members of the House of Representatives are in attendance, the Deputy will address both Houses.

Deputy:

Members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives—

His/Her Excellency the Governor-General has appointed me as his/her Deputy to declare open the Parliament of the Commonwealth. The Clerk of the Senate will now read the instrument of appointment.

The instrument will be handed to the Clerk of the Senate by the Chief Justice’s Associate.

The Clerk of the Senate will read the instrument.

The Deputy will further address the members of both Houses as follows:

Deputy:

Members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives—

Pursuant to the instrument which the Clerk has now read, I declare open the …[number] Parliament of the Commonwealth.

His/Her Excellency the Governor-General has commanded me to let you know that, after certain members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives have been sworn, the Governor-General will declare in person at this place the causes of his/her calling the Parliament together.

First it is necessary that a Speaker of the House of Representatives be chosen and, therefore, you, members of the House of Representatives, will now return to the House of Representatives and choose a person to be your Speaker. Later today, you will present the person you have chosen to the Governor-General at a time and place appointed by him/her.

I will now attend in the House of Representatives for the purpose of administering the oath or affirmation of allegiance to honourable members of that House.

The Deputy will be escorted from the chamber by Black Rod.

Members of the House of Representatives will then retire.

The President will resume the chair.

The President will then table certificates of election of senators to represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

President:

I lay on the table the certificates of election of senators elected to represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

Honourable senators will please come to the table as their names are called by the Clerk to make and subscribe the oath or affirmation of allegiance.

Clerk:

Will the following senators please come to the table–

Representing the Australian Capital Territory–

Representing the Northern Territory–

Will those senators making the oath please take the Bibles in their right hands, and will all senators please recite the oath or affirmation on the cards handed to them. Please make the oath or affirmation now.

(when completed)

Will honourable senators please sign the Test Roll and the Senators’ Roll.

The Clerk will hand the Test Roll to the President for signature

President:

The sitting of the Senate is suspended until 3 pm.

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