Chapter 5 - Officers of the Senate: Parliamentary administration

The Clerk of the Senate

The Clerk of the Senate is the principal adviser in relation to proceedings of the Senate to the President, the Deputy President and Chair of Committees, and senators generally. The Clerk’s advice is given both in the Senate chamber when the Senate is sitting and at other times, and may be in oral or written form. Each senator has access to the advice on the basis of equality and confidentiality. Frequently, however, written advice is made public by the senator who sought it.

In addition, the Clerk is the departmental head of the Department of the Senate, exercising in accordance with the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 the powers of a secretary of a department, and is responsible to the President and to the Senate for the budget, staffing and operations of the department.

The Clerk is appointed by the President of the Senate after consultation with senators for a non-renewable term of 10 years.

In the chamber, the Clerk sits at the table on the floor of the Senate, on the President’s right. All proceedings are noted by the Clerk, who is responsible for the preparation and publication of the Journals of the Senate (SO 43). The Clerk has the custody of the Journals, records and all documents laid before the Senate, and they must not be taken from the chamber or Senate offices without the permission of the Senate (SO 44). (A resolution of 6 October 2005, on the recommendation of the Procedure Committee, authorises the storage of original tabled documents outside Parliament House: 6/10/2005, J.1200).

Whenever the office of President becomes vacant, the Clerk acts as chair of the Senate prior to the election of the President, and has the powers of the President under the standing orders while so acting (SO 6(1)).

Before a bill is sent or returned to the House of Representatives, the Clerk certifies at the top of the first page the manner in which the Senate has dealt with the Bill (SO 125). When a bill which originated in the Senate has finally passed both Houses, the Clerk must, before the bill is presented to the Governor‑General for assent, certify on the last page of the bill that it originated in the Senate and has finally passed both Houses (SO 137).

The Clerk also acts as secretary and adviser to the Procedure Committee, which is appointed at the commencement of each Parliament. The committee, which was called the Standing Orders Committee before 1987, consists of the President, the Deputy President as chair and leaders and senior members of all parties represented in the Senate. It examines procedural matters referred to it by the Senate or the President, and evaluates, and recommends changes to, the rules of the Senate to facilitate full and fair debate and the proper conduct of the business of the Senate and its committees.

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