House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

4 - Parliament House and access to proceedings

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Access to proceedings

Parliament conducts its business, with the rarest exceptions, in public. This is now taken for granted but it has not always been the case over the long history of Parliament. In the 18th century the UK House of Commons declared the publication of any of its debates a breach of privilege and exercised its power to imprison those who committed such breaches. The House of Commons at first was seeking, among other things, to maintain its independence by keeping its debates secret from the monarch. By the 18th century its motive was possibly reluctance to be held accountable to public opinion. It also had cause for concern because of the notorious inaccuracy of reports of its debates which were based on notes taken by reporters, contrary to the orders of the House. However, reports persisted and by the end of the 18th century they were openly tolerated.[66]

In Australia the transcript of proceedings has always been publicly available. The parliamentary debates—generally known as Hansard—are described in the chapter on ‘Documents’. People may view the proceedings of the House from the public galleries (see page 152). Many thousands of people visit the House of Representatives public galleries during the sittings each year, although mostly as tourists making single visits. In recent years the House itself has endeavoured to make itself more accessible to the public through its publications and web site (see page 153). For most people however, the important sources of information about events in the House are reports by the media; and radio and television coverage of proceedings.

Relations with the media

Important and useful though they may be, broadcasts and Hansard reports of parliamentary proceedings reach a relatively small proportion of the population. Undoubtedly most people rely on media reports for information about proceedings in the Parliament, and about the actions and policies of the Government. The effectiveness of parliamentary democracy is therefore in large part dependent on fair and accurate reporting.

Since its establishment the Commonwealth Parliament has acknowledged the importance of the media. This recognition is exemplified in the setting aside of galleries from which members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery may view parliamentary proceedings and the provision of office space and access to other facilities in Parliament House. Because, with some exceptions, newspaper and television organisations do not maintain offices in Canberra other than those provided in Parliament House, their staff operate from Parliament House on a full-time basis for the reporting of Canberra and district news, parliamentary or otherwise. Ministers as well as Members also work principally from their Parliament House offices when in Canberra. The result of this proximity, which is unusual in other Parliaments, is a degree of formal and informal interaction.

The Presiding Officers’ have the right to control access to Parliament House by media representatives. Although the Parliament has facilitated media access, this access is ultimately conditional on the observation of rules or guidelines approved by the Presiding Officers that members of the Press Gallery are expected to observe. As well as covering broadcasting, filming and photography, discussed in more detail later in this chapter, the rules include guidelines on areas ‘off limits’ to the press and dress standards in the press galleries.[67]

The Presiding Officers’ control of media access was demonstrated in the House in 1980 when members of the Press Gallery, in the context of an industrial dispute involving journalists, declared certain journalists not to be members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery and asked for their passes to be withdrawn. The Speaker stated that he held the view that the democratic process required that the House be available for observation by all who could fit into the public galleries and by all who could come into the media gallery for the purpose of reporting its proceedings: under no circumstances would he take action to prevent any media representative whom he judged to be qualified and competent to report the proceedings of the House from coming there to report them.[68] Misconduct by members of the Press Gallery has resulted in passes being withdrawn.[69] For example, in 1971 a serious disturbance was caused by a journalist who interjected from the Press Gallery with the words ‘you liar’ while the Prime Minister was speaking. The Leader of the Opposition later moved for the suspension of standing orders to enable him to move a motion to bring the offender before the Bar. The Prime Minister having received an apology, the motion was withdrawn. The Speaker stated that he had ordered the journalist’s removal from the Press Gallery and the withdrawal of his pass. The Speaker later reported that he had received a letter from the journalist apologising for his conduct and that his pass had been restored.[70]

Breaches of the rules by media personnel outside the Chamber may also lead to the withdrawal of press passes.

Broadcasting of proceedings

Radio broadcasts

The radio broadcasting of the proceedings commenced on 10 July 1946 in the House of Representatives. The Parliament of Australia was the second national Parliament of the Commonwealth to introduce the broadcasting of its proceedings, the radio broadcast of proceedings in New Zealand having commenced in 1936.

Compulsory radio broadcasts are made and controlled under the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946, which directs the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) to broadcast the proceedings of the House of Representatives or the Senate, or of a joint sitting pursuant to section 57 of the Constitution or to any Act. In November 1988 a network was established to carry the broadcast of proceedings and related material only. In 1994 the content of the network was expanded into a 24 hour news service on which the parliamentary broadcast has priority.[71]

The House of Representatives is currently broadcast live on Monday, Thursday and Friday; the Senate on Tuesday and Wednesday. If the Houses sit on a weekend, the Senate is broadcast on Saturday and the House of Representatives on Sunday. After the live broadcast each day a recording of the Question Time of the other House is broadcast. The allocation of broadcasts between the Houses is determined by the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings (see below), and the committee may vary the normal allocation of broadcast days because of the significance of a particular debate.

In addition to the official ABC radio broadcast, since November 1988 all radio stations or networks have been permitted to broadcast recorded excerpts from proceedings, subject to conditions determined by the Broadcasting Committee (see below).

Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings

A Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings is appointed in each Parliament pursuant to the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946. The Act provides for the committee to:

  • consider and specify in a report to each House the general principles upon which there should be determined the days upon which, and the periods during which, the proceedings of the Senate and the House should be broadcast;
  • determine the days upon which, and the periods during which, the proceedings of either House should be broadcast, in accordance with the general principles specified by the committee and adopted by each House; and
  • determine the days upon which, and the periods during which, the proceedings of a joint sitting should be broadcast.

The committee also determines the conditions under which re-broadcasts may be made of excerpts of proceedings.

The general principles and standing determinations relating to radio broadcasting and the conditions for broadcasting of excerpts are accessible on the committee’s website. One of the general principles is that where a Member makes a personal explanation in rebuttal of a misrepresentation in a question or an answer, the question and answer are excluded from the re-broadcast. The exclusion is subject to the discretion that the Speaker has to refer a particular case to the committee for decision.

The committee has a limited role in relation to the televising of proceedings, as the Act covers televising of joint sittings only.[72] The committee may:

  • require the ABC to televise, in whole or in part, the proceedings of a joint sitting;
  • determine the conditions applying to a telecast of a recording of the proceedings of a joint sitting.

Access to the proceedings of the House for televising has been permitted since 1991.[73] The House has agreed to the following conditions in respect of the live broadcast and re-broadcast of the proceedings and excerpts of proceedings of the House and the Federation Chamber:

Access to the proceedings of the House of Representatives and its Federation Chamber for the recording and broadcasting of proceedings is subject to an undertaking to observe, and to comply with, the following conditions:

  1. Broadcasting and recordings may only be made from the official and dedicated composite vision and sound feed provided by the Sound and Vision Office (channels 1 and 5 on the House Monitoring System);[74]
  2. Broadcasts shall be used only for the purposes of fair and accurate reports of proceedings, and shall not be used for:
  3. political party advertising or election campaigns;
  4. satire or ridicule; or
  5. commercial sponsorship or commercial advertising;
  6. Reports of proceedings shall be such as to provide a balanced presentation of differing views;
  7. (Excerpts of proceedings which are subsequently withdrawn may be rebroadcast only if the withdrawal also is rebroadcast;
  8. The instructions of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or the Speaker’s delegate, in respect of broadcasting, shall be observed.[75]

The House further provided that non-compliance with the guidelines may incur penalties. House members of the Broadcasting Committee are able to consider breaches, and the House has set as a general guide to the penalties which may be imposed on stations or programs: first breach—access to the broadcast to be withdrawn for three sitting days; second breach—access to be withdrawn for six sitting days; and third or subsequent breaches—such penalty as is determined by the House members of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings.[76] Access has been withdrawn for a breach of the conditions.[77]

The televised proceedings of the House and the Federation Chamber, as well as some of the public hearings of parliamentary committees, are broadcast live on the House Monitoring Service within Parliament House (and externally to government departments) and over the internet.[78] This official broadcast is also available for the use of the television networks. The live proceedings are currently broadcast nationally by A-PAC (Australian Public Affairs Channel), and within Canberra by the TransACT cable network.[79] Question Time is televised live by the ABC.[80]

The vision and sound feed provided to networks is produced by parliamentary camera operators in accordance with the following guidelines:

  1. As a general principle, the on-air camera should be directed toward the Senator/Member having the call.
  2. Panning shots are permitted for the purpose of showing Senators/Members listening to debate.
  3. Reaction shots of Senators/Members are permitted:

(a) when the Senator/Member has sought information which is being supplied by a Senator/Member having the call; or

(b) when the Senator/Member is referred to in debate.

  1. If exchanges between Senators/Members are too rapid to permit normal camera switching, a wide shot of the Senators/Members involved is permitted.
  2. Disturbances in the galleries or on the floor of either chamber are not to be broadcast.
  3. Directions of the relevant Presiding Officer and his or her delegate in relation to the operations of the sound and vision equipment in the Senate or House of Representatives Chamber are to be observed.
Legal aspects

Members are covered by absolute privilege in respect of statements made in the House, whether or not the House is being broadcast. Absolute privilege also attaches to those persons authorised to broadcast or re-broadcast the proceedings by the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act, which provides that:

No action or proceeding, civil or criminal, shall lie against any person for broadcasting or re-broadcasting any portion of the proceedings of either House of the Parliament or of a joint sitting.

The Broadcasting Act does not cover television broadcasts, apart from those of joint sittings made pursuant to the Act. However, it is considered that the televising of House proceedings would be protected by section 10 of the Parliamentary Privileges Act if the broadcast is a ‘fair and accurate report of proceedings’.

Only qualified privilege may be held to attach to the broadcast of excerpts of proceedings, and it may be considered that this situation is appropriate given the fact that those involved in the broadcasting of excerpts act essentially on their own initiative, whereas those involved in the official radio broadcast and re-broadcast of proceedings have no discretion in the matter, being required to perform these functions by the law.

Photographs and films of proceedings

Visitors and members of the public are not permitted to take cameras into the galleries during proceedings. Only parliamentary staff are authorised to film proceedings in the Chamber. In 1992, following the decision by the House to authorise the live televising of its proceedings, the Speaker approved access to certain proceedings for still photography. With the establishment of the Main Committee (now Federation Chamber), similar access was given to its proceedings. Access generally is limited to photographers who are members of the Press Gallery or AUSPIC (the Government Photographic Service). Other photographers require special approval to photograph proceedings.

Still photography is permitted during Question Time, during significant speeches or debates, and at other times when approved by the Speaker and notified by the Serjeant-at-Arms. No more than five still photographers are permitted in the public galleries at any one time. Photographers’ activities are subject to guidelines issued by the Speaker [81] and access to the gallery by the photographer and/or the media organisation concerned may be withdrawn for non-compliance with the guidelines.

In 2000 some photographers were banned for two sittings when they photographed events in the public gallery in defiance of express instructions to the contrary. In 2004 photographers from several newspapers were suspended from the galleries for seven sitting days for a similar breach.[82] Both cases involved photographs of disturbances, which the guidelines expressly prohibit (see below).

The use of cameras, including mobile phone cameras,[83] on the floor of the House is not permitted. The issue of Members’ use of mobile devices during proceedings (inter alia to take photographs) has been referred to the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests.[84]

Televising, recording and photographs of committee proceedings

Generally speaking, committee proceedings may be recorded for broadcasting or televising, and filmed or photographed, with the permission of the committee concerned. This topic is covered in more detail in the Chapter on ‘Parliamentary committees’.

Public hearings in Parliament House are regularly televised on the House Monitoring Service,[85] and webcast on the Parliament’s web site. The signal is available to the networks for re-broadcast.[86]

Photography, filming, etc inside Parliament House

Approval for the taking of photographs or filming in Parliament House rests finally with either or both Presiding Officers. Earlier restrictions on the taking of photographs and filming have been relaxed by the Presiding Officers, the view having been taken that the general viewing, screening, publication and distribution of photographs and films of the Parliament, properly administered and supervised, may lead to a better public understanding of its activities and functioning.

Photography and filming in Parliament House is subject to the guidelines issued by the Presiding Officers referred to earlier.[87] Visitors to the building are permitted to film in public areas provided the film is for private purposes and is not to be published. However, filming is not permitted of security arrangements, nor in the Chambers during proceedings.

Where the film, photograph or sound recording is intended for broadcast or publication the following conditions apply:

  • In these guidelines “film” or “filming” includes video and sound recording, filming and still photography and the use of digital technology.
  • These guidelines apply to members of the Press Gallery and to others wanting to film for the purpose of broadcasting or publishing their work.
  • Members of the Press Gallery do not need specific permission to film public events in public areas of the building. However, if they wish to establish a temporary studio or work location in the public areas they are required to obtain the specific permission of both Presiding Officers.
  • Persons who are not members of the Press Gallery and who intend broadcasting or publishing their work need specific permission to film anywhere in the building, i.e. in public and private areas.
  • Filming or recording of public hearings of parliamentary committees requires the consent of the committee.
  • Filming is permitted at press conferences held in committee rooms and other areas used for press conferences including the courtyards.
  • Filming in private offices requires the permission of the Senator or Member who occupies the office. Filming access to other areas, including for private functions, is at the discretion of the responsible person (e.g. a proposal to film in the Cabinet Room or Ministerial Press Office should be arranged with the Prime Minister’s office, and in party rooms, with the relevant Whip’s office.
  • Filming requests for other private areas of the building under joint control - including corridors – requires the permission of both Presiding Officers with the exception of the corridor of the Press Gallery itself. The Speaker’s permission is required for filming on the House of Representatives side of the building and the President’s permission for filming on the Senate side. Requests for permission to film should be made in the first instance to the Serjeant-at-Arms and/or the Usher of the Black Rod.
  • The Presiding Officers will consider filming proposals on a case by case basis, taking into account the following:
  • the privacy of Members of Parliament, staff and visitors to the building should be protected and the specific permission of any person being filmed should be sought;
  • the principle that filming should not interfere with the operations of the Parliament and/or the people who work in the building;
  • filming of security facilities will not be permitted;
  • filming will not be approved for political party advertising or election campaigns; satire or ridicule; or commercial sponsorship or commercial advertising;
  • only parliamentary staff are authorised to film proceedings in the two Chambers.
  • Decisions on whether to approve a filming proposal will take account of the public importance and value of the project. In assessing the value of a particular project, the following will be considered:
  • whether the project has a genuine educational purpose from the perspective of students and scholars;
  • whether the project serves a news and/or information purpose; and
  • whether the project serves a cultural purpose (including films or television series that may be produced for commercial purposes).
  • Filming which would be likely to offend broadly accepted community norms will not be approved.
  • Broad approval of a project is unlikely to be given. Specific approval should be sought for each individual segment of filming and a responsible parliamentary officer should be in attendance to ensure compliance with the terms of the approval.
  • These rules apply to interviews, filming, sound recording or ‘pieces to camera’ at all times. Whether Parliament is sitting or not is immaterial.
  • The filming guidelines which apply in private areas cannot be avoided by someone filming back into the private areas from another location, in particular, it is not permitted to film from courtyards or outside the building back into the building.[88]

Any breach of these rules is determined by the Presiding Officers on a case by case basis and may result in the withdrawal of press gallery accreditation. In 1976 the accreditation of a press gallery photographer was withdrawn for two weeks because he photographed the Leader of the Opposition in his office after the Leader of the Opposition had given instructions that no photographs were to be taken.[89]

Approval may be granted by the Speaker for official photographs of the Chamber, or other areas of the building under the Speaker’s control, to be used in a publication provided that the source of the photograph is acknowledged. Under no circumstances may photographs or films taken in the Chamber or elsewhere in the building be sold to be used to promote any commercial product through newspaper, television or other advertising media without approval; permission is not normally given.[90]

Promoting community awareness

The Department of the House of Representatives now devotes significant resources to promoting understanding of the role of the House and public awareness of its activities. Educational and promotional activities include:

  • shared funding of the Parliamentary Education Office (see below);
  • school visits to Parliament House program;
  • the House of Representatives web site (see below);
  • the About the House magazine with news articles on House activities and committee inquiries,[91] and the associated email alert service, Facebook page and Twitter news feed;
  • the About the House and MPI (Matters of Public Importance) television programs;[92]
  • publications, including a series of Infosheets [93] and a guide to procedures;[94]
  • a documentary on the history of the House;[95]
  • seminar programs on the work of the House;
  • advertising to encourage public input to committee inquiries; and
  • employment of media liaison staff.

Internet access to the House

Modern technology has given members of the public far easier access to the House and its proceedings than was possible in the past, when information about the House, although public, was not so readily available. The House web site [96] provides access to a wide range of information, including:

  • information about Members, and links to Members’ home pages;
  • the program of business and details of bills before the House;
  • information about committee inquiries and reports;
  • the Hansard record of debates, and the official documents of the House—Votes and Proceedings and Notice Paper;
  • the full range of Department of the House of Representatives publications, such as those noted above, and procedural texts including House of Representatives Practice and the Standing Orders;
  • the live video broadcast of House and Federation Chamber proceedings, and selected public committee hearings;
  • video and audio recordings of recent Question Times and selected other proceedings;
  • articles from the About the House magazine and replays from the About the House and MPI television programs.

Parliamentary Education Office

The Parliamentary Education Office (PEO) was established in 1988 with the objective of increasing the awareness, understanding and appreciation of the significance, functions and procedures of parliamentary government. The office is jointly funded by the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of the Senate.

Through the Education Centre in Parliament House (which includes a committee room modified to represent a parliamentary chamber), the PEO runs a role-play program for visiting students based on simulations of House and Senate chamber and committee proceedings. The office also delivers customised educational programs for students and teachers in schools and institutions across Australia, in which it involves local Members and Senators. Curriculum resources produced by the PEO are available in print, on CD and on the PEO website.[97]

66. Lord Campion, An introduction to the procedure of the House of Commons, 3rd edn, Macmillan, London, 1958, p. 96; see also A. Wright and P. Smith, Parliament past and present, Hutchinson, London, 1903, pp. 221–30.
67. Guidelines for filming and photography and general media rules in Parliament House and its precincts, December 2008.
68. H.R. Deb. (14.5.1980) 2694.
69. H.R. Deb. (23.4.1931) 1274; J 1940–43/211; H.R. Deb. (3.6.1942) 2187; H.R. Deb. (29.5.1973) 2738. For more recent comment by the Speaker on the use of the Press Gallery see H.R. Deb. (13.5.1980) 2693–4.
70. VP 1970–72/465, 467; H.R. Deb. (9.3.1971) 687, 689–92, 739.
71. Formerly the Parliamentary and News Network (PNN), now called NewsRadio.
72. Although the House in 1991 (VP 1990–93/1084–5) declared in principle support for the amendment of the Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946 to make statutory provision for televising, no legislative action was taken.
73. Access was originally for a trial period, VP 1990–93/491–2; see also VP 1990–92/1084–5 (continuing approval), VP 1993–96/387–9 (conditions amended).
74. Now the House Monitoring Service and the branch of the Department of Parliamentary Services responsible for broadcasting content.
75. VP 1996–98/42–3, amended with effect from 27.2.2012 (change of name from Main Committee to Federation Chamber) VP 2010–12/1179. The resolution is reprinted in full as an attachment to the Standing Orders.
76. ibid. The Broadcasting Committee was reviewing these guidelines in mid 2012.
77. VP 1990–93/1437 (penalty determined by (then) Committee on Televising, but House informed).
78. Accessible through the Parliament’s web site at
79. A-PAC is funded by pay television networks and provided free of charge. TransACT is a Canberra based pay television network.
80. Or rebroadcast later at night on those days when Senate Question Time is televised live.
81. Guidelines for filming and photography and general media rules in Parliament House and its precincts, December 2008, Appendix 3.
82. H.R. Deb. (16.2.2004) 24758, VP 2002–04/1432.
83. H.R. Deb. (27.5.2004) 29398–9.
84. VP 2008–10/1718, see Appendix 25, entry dated 18.3.2010.
85. The HMS has audio coverage of those hearings that are not televised.
86. Currently transmitted nationally by A-PAC (Australian Public Affairs Channel) and within Canberra by the TransACT network.
87. Guidelines for filming and photography and general media rules in Parliament House and its precincts, December 2008.
88. ibid., Appendix 1.
89. VP 1976–77/77–8; H.R. Deb. (18.3.1976) 781–2; J 1976–77/74–5.
90. See also Committee of Privileges, Advertisement in the Canberra Times and other Australian newspapers on 18th August, 1965, PP 210 (1964–66).
91. About the House, Canberra, Department of the House of Representatives. Issue 1, Nov./Dec. 1999—. (
92. Broadcast on A-PAC (Australian Public Affairs Channel).
93. House of Representatives Infosheets (
94. House of Representatives—Guide to procedures, 4th edn, Canberra, Department of the House of Representatives, 2010. (
95. A House for the Nation: 100 years of Australia’s House of Representatives, 2003. DVD accompanied by an interactive educational CD-ROM (website