Questions on Notice: What is prorogation?

Tuesday, 3 September 2019 in Procedural

If you have a question about the House of Representatives, you can ask us! Our research team will stop at nothing to find you an answer, no matter how obscure the topic. This week’s question comes from reader 'Chris', who asks: 

I’ve seen some commentary about the UK Parliament being prorogued. What is prorogation? Does it happen in Australia? 

A Parliament continues from the first meeting of the House of Representatives following a general election until the dissolution or expiry of the House ahead of the next general election. A Parliament can consist of multiple sessions, which are separated by prorogation.

Prorogation is a power held by the Governor-General under section 5 of the Constitution. By proroguing a parliament, the Governor-General (following the advice of the Government of the day) terminates the current session of Parliament, but does not necessarily dissolve the current Parliament. At prorogation, all business before the House lapses.

While a Parliament can consist of multiple sessions, most modern Australian Parliaments (with the exception of the 44th, which was prorogued and returned for a second session in 2016) have consisted of a single session. In this practice, we differ from our colleagues in the United Kingdom, where Parliament is typically prorogued and re-opened annually (though this has not occurred recently).

If you’re thinking all of the above means prorogation is rare in Australia, you might be surprised. Since 1993 it has been the practice of Governors-General to prorogue the Parliament before dissolving the House of Representatives ahead of a general election.

The time between prorogation and dissolution can vary. Sir Peter Cosgrove’s Proclamation at the conclusion of the 45th Parliament prorogued the Parliament from 8.29 am on 11 April 2019, and then dissolved the House of Representatives just one minute later, at 8.30 am. In 2007 the parliament was prorogued on 15 October 2007 and the House was dissolved two days later.

The only time in recent history the parliament has not been prorogued before a general election is the 44th Parliament, which ended with both Houses being dissolved under section 57 of the Constitution.