Parliaments and sessions
A new Parliament begins with the opening by the Governor-General on the first day the two Houses meet after a general election for the House of Representatives or for both Houses. The parliamentary term continues for three years after the date of the first sitting of the Houses, unless it is ended earlier by the dissolution of the House of Representatives or by the simultaneous dissolution of both Houses.
Within the term of each Parliament, there may be sessions. A new session is also opened by the Governor-General and begins on the first day of sitting following a prorogation of Parliament. To prorogue Parliament means to bring to an end a session of Parliament without dissolving the House of Representatives or both Houses, and, therefore, without a subsequent election. Prorogation has the effect of terminating all business pending before the Houses and Parliament does not meet again until the date specified in the proroguing proclamation or until the Houses are summoned to meet again by the Governor-General.
Section 6 of the Constitution provides:
There shall be a session of the Parliament once at least in every year, so that twelve months shall not intervene between the last sitting of the Parliament in one session and its first sitting in the next session.
The Parliament complies with the intent of this section in that each year it has two or three sitting periods of several months duration. However, it has not been the practice in recent decades to divide a parliamentary term into annual sessions by the annual use of prorogation, and consequently a session will normally last for the duration of the term of the House of Representatives.
Although Parliament was regularly prorogued in the past, it has been prorogued without an accompanying dissolution on only four occasions since 1961. Two of these, in 1974 and 1977, were for the purpose of allowing openings of Parliament by the monarch during visits to Australia. On another occasion, in February 1968, Parliament was prorogued following the disappearance in the sea of Prime Minister Harold Holt in December 1967. On the fourth occasion, Parliament met for one day in November 1969 following an election for the House of Representatives on 25 October and was prorogued until the following March.
In March 1993 the government restored the practice, not followed since the 1920s, of proroguing the Parliament before dissolving the House of Representatives for the purpose of a general election.
For further details, see below, under Meetings after prorogation or dissolution of House.