Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 5 - Officers of the Senate: parliamentary administration

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The President of the Senate

The President is the presiding officer of the Senate, responsible for the proper conduct of proceedings of the Senate and the interpretation and application of the rules of the Senate.

In relation to proceedings in the Senate, the President calls senators to speak in debate, gives rulings on any questions of order which may be raised and maintains order. The authority of the President to maintain order in the Senate chamber is in force at all times, and not only when the Senate is sitting.[2]

The President is the spokesperson and representative of the Senate in dealings with the Governor-General, the executive government, the House of Representatives and persons outside the Parliament.

Although the President, once elected, may continue to be an active member of a party, the duties of the office, both inside and outside the chamber, must be carried out in an impartial manner. Thus, to some extent, the President is distanced from day-to-day party political activity.

The President has the right of any senator to participate in debate, and did so regularly in the early years of the Senate. Presidents now rarely participate in debate unless on a matter concerning the Senate or the Parliament. One such instance occurred in 1986, when President McClelland took the unprecedented step of introducing a bill, the Parliamentary Privileges Bill 1986. In tabling a draft of the bill for senators to examine before formally introducing the bill, the President said he was taking this step because of the fundamental importance to both Houses of the matters dealt with by the bill, which included maintaining the absolute right of freedom of speech in Parliament.[3] The President also participates in committee hearings on the bi-annual Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bills and (where applicable) in committee of the whole proceedings on those bills.[4]


The President also has the right to exercise a deliberative vote on all matters in the Senate or in committee of the whole, but when in the chair of the Senate is not compelled to do so.[5] When the votes in the Senate are equally divided the question passes in the negative.[6] This provision of a presiding officer having a deliberative and not a casting or deciding vote was enshrined in the Constitution to ensure that the states should have equal voting strength.[7] In the course of attempts to form a minority government in the House of Representatives after the 2010 election, there was much debate about the Speaker's role. Unlike the President, the Speaker exercises a casting vote only. Advice on the matter by Senator Brandis SC was tabled in the Senate.[8]

The ceremonial duties of the President include participation in the opening of Parliament and visits by foreign Heads of State. The President also represents the Senate at international conferences, leads some parliamentary delegations to other nations and receives parliamentary delegations visiting Australia.

The President is the parliamentary head of the Department of the Senate, and is responsible to the Senate for its operations. The President’s role is similar to that of a minister of an executive department. In addition to ministerial-type functions, the President’s duties include chairing the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing, which determines the budget and oversees the organisational structure of the department. The President is also concerned with the seating arrangements in the chamber, senators’ room allocations and entitlements of senators.

The President has joint administrative responsibility with the Speaker of the House of Representatives for the joint department supplying services to senators and members of the House of Representatives, and also has joint control of the parliamentary precincts.[9] The President and the Speaker are also jointly responsible for security, parliamentary education and relations with other parliaments.


2. Ruling of President Kingsmill, SD, 5/12/1930, p.1027.
3. SD, 4/6/1986, p. 3308; see Chapter 2, Parliamentary Privilege.
4. See Chapter 13, Financial Legislation.
5. Constitution, s. 23; SO 99.
6. Constitution, s. 23.
7. See also Voting by President and Deputy President, below.
8. 26/10/2010, J.216.
9. Parliamentary Precincts Act 1988.