Proposals to change the opening of Parliament
The opening ceremony is not constitutionally required, and is otherwise objectionable in principle, for example, by conferring non-judicial functions (as deputies of the Governor-General) on judges and by involving the Governor-General in contentious and partisan statements composed by the prime minister in the opening speech. It is based on adaptions of British practice, which is itself constitutionally outmoded, without regard to Australia’s constitutional arrangements.
Such a consideration leads to the further reflection that the constitutional provisions giving the executive government the power to dispense temporarily with the sittings of the Parliament are outmoded.
Proposals to change the opening ceremony have been mooted many times.
Prior to the first meeting of the Parliament following the election in March 1993, the Prime Minister announced that the government intended to alter the opening ceremony, so that the two Houses would meet with the Governor-General in the Great Hall to hear the opening speech. Proposals of this kind had been mooted before, but, as with the 1990 election, nothing was done to put them into effect in time for the opening. The change did not occur, notwithstanding that procedures for the modified opening were devised, and the opening was in accordance with the old procedures.
The reason for this was that the opening procedures are contained in the standing orders of each House, and it would have been necessary for each House to suspend its standing orders and agree to the modified procedures after it first met in the morning, and after the members of the House of Representatives and the territory senators and any senators filling casual vacancies had been sworn. This could have been brought about in the House of Representatives by the government’s control of that House, but the government could not be sure of carrying the necessary motion in the Senate, or of carrying it in time for the meeting with the Governor-General in the afternoon. The proposal was therefore abandoned.
The deliberation and agreement of the two Houses will be required to change the procedure, as occurred in 2010 when both Houses supported the inclusion of an Indigenous “Welcome to Country” ceremony before openings of Parliament. Such a ceremony had preceded the opening in 2008.