Questions on Notice: The Suite Life

Monday, 1 July 2019 in General interest

Our question in this edition comes from reader Ashleigh, who noticed that offices for Members of the United States Congress are drawn via lottery. Ashleigh wondered how offices for Australian Members of Parliament are selected.

To answer this question, we spoke to the Office of the Serjeant-at-Arms, who are busily allocating office space and arranging logistics for new Members of the 46th Parliament.

First and foremost, we don’t use a lottery system to allocate office space in Parliament House. Member Suites on the House of Representatives side of the building are allocated by Party Whips, with final approval given by the Speaker.

Member Suites are all roughly similar, featuring a lobby space with room for an Office Manager and seating for guests, an office with workstations for staff, and a separate office for the Member. Of course, some suites are more desired than others – the closer your suite is to the Chamber, the easier it is to get there when the division bells are ringing. These more accessible suites are typically allocated to Members by Party Whips on the basis of seniority and length of service.

In addition to the training provided at the New Members Seminar, new Members must be given the tools they need to do their jobs – that means allocating assets like computers and phones. The Serjeant's Office also helps facilitate the selection of artwork for office suites. These artworks are installed by art specialists from the Department of Parliamentary Services.

This last task gives Members access to Parliament’s art collection, though some Members further decorate their offices with their own more personal touchs. These can vary, from artwork produced by children to a fully-functional harpsichord!

Finally, the Serjeant’s Office must ensure that Members are able to access their new workspaces. For the first time in federal Parliament, this will be done without physical keys. Instead, electronic access cards will be used to lock and unlock office suites, making keyless entry a standard feature for the Members in 46th Parliament.