The President may, by leave of the Senate, admit distinguished visitors to a seat on the floor of the chamber.
The practice is for the President to inform the Senate that the distinguished visitor is present and to propose, with the concurrence of senators, to invite the visitor to take a seat on the floor of the chamber. When senators concur, the visitor is admitted and conducted to a chair on the left of the dais near the President’s seat.
This honour is normally granted to heads of state and presiding officers of other houses.
It is not in order for senators to approach distinguished visitors in the chamber.
On three occasions in the past the Senate agreed to meet with the House of Representatives in the House chamber to hear addresses by presidents of the United States. This procedure was first adopted in 1992 on the occasion of an address by the then US president. It was stated at that time that the procedure was adopted on the basis that a similar honour had been granted to the Australian prime minister in Washington in accordance with the custom of the US Congress, and that granting the equivalent honour to the US president would not set a precedent. The procedure was repeated in 1996; it was felt that the same honour should be extended to the then president. In 2003 it was extended to the then US President and the Chinese President, who happened to be visiting at the same time. The practice had developed into government-controlled occasions, with the prime minister issuing the invitations and the Senate acquiescing. In its third report of 2003 the Procedure Committee recommended that the practice be abandoned after incidents at the last two addresses, when the Speaker of the House of Representatives purported to eject two senators from one meeting and exclude them from the other. The Privileges Committee supported this recommendation. The committees’ recommendations that for future addresses the government hold meetings of the House to which senators would be invited were subsequently adopted and the honour has been extended to Prime Ministers of other countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Indonesia and New Zealand.