History of Parliament House


Federal Parliament first met on 9 May 1901 in Melbourne. From 1901 to 1927 the Parliament met in the Victorian Parliament House. Finding a location for the nations parliament was a complex matter. The directions for its location can be found in Section 125 of the Constitution of Australia.

...and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney.

Such territory shall contain an area of not less than one hundred square miles, ...


It took until 1909 for Parliament to decide, after considerable investigation and discussion, that the new capital would be in the southern part of New South Wales, on the site which is now Canberra. The Commonwealth acquired control over the land during 1911. Due to the intervention of events such as World War I the provisional Parliament House (now called “Old Parliament House”) was not completed until 1927.

Old Parliament House opened in 1927 and served as the home of Federal Parliament until 1988. Over time, this impressive building became synonymous with some of the country’s most important moments including Australia’s declaration of war against Japan in 1941 and the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government in 1975.

The sixty years during which Old Parliament House served as a working parliament were a time of enormous change for Australia. The Museum of Australian Democracy today occupies Old Parliament House, recognising its historical and social value to the Australian people.

A winning design

The building design was chosen from a two-stage competition from a process begin in 1978 by the Fraser government. The competition winner was the New York-based architectural company of Mitchell/Giurgola, with the on-site work directed by Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola

There were many factors that the designers of Parliament House considered, including its size and its inevitable grandeur. Its relationship to the Burley Griffin plan of the city within which it was to occupy the symbolic centre—the Parliamentary Triangle—was also critical. The new building was seen as an intimate part of Canberra, but it was designed not to dominate the city.

The architect, Romaldo Giurgola commented:

The building should nest with the hill, symbolically rise out of the Australian landscape, as true democracy rises from the state of things.

(houseatwork, Parliamentary Education Office, Parliament of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra, 2001, p. 90)

Wide view of the front of Parliament House

The one-fifth of the building open to the public is a substantial space. The Parliament House building area, 7.5 hectares of a 32 hectare site, was the largest construction site in the Southern Hemisphere in the 1980s.

Ten thousand Australians were involved in its construction—many of whom return periodically to celebrate their work.

1988 and her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II opens Parliament House

On 9 May 1988, what was generally referred to as the “New Parliament House” was opened by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Thumbnail image of the front page of the Prime Minister's speech for the opening of Parliament House Read the Prime Minister's Speech at the opening of the new Parliament House, Canberra.

Learn more about the history of Parliament House

About the House Magazine - Threads of our Nation

Australia's Parliament House - more than 25 years in the making! A chronology 

Parliament House and the Australian people - Parliamentary Library - Research Paper no.29 2007-2009