The appointment of the times for the holding of sessions of Parliament, the prorogation of the Parliament and the dissolution of the House, is a matter for decision by the Governor-General. The Constitution states:
The Governor-General may appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Parliament as he thinks fit, and may also from time to time, by Proclamation or otherwise, prorogue the Parliament, and may in like manner dissolve the House of Representatives.1
In practice however these vice-regal prerogatives are exercised with the advice of the Executive Government.2
Once a Parliament (session), or a further session within that Parliament, has commenced, the days and times for the routine meetings and adjournments of the House are a matter for the House to decide, yet in practice, by virtue of its majority support, these decisions rest with the Executive Government.
The Constitution also provides that the House of Representatives can continue for no longer than three years from the first meeting of the House.3 The significance of this to the concept of a representative Parliament and Government is that a Parliament is of limited duration on the democratic principle that the electors must be able to express their opinions at regular general elections. On the other hand a Parliament of short fixed-term duration may be viewed as undesirable in that too frequent elections have disruptive and/or negative effects on the parliamentary and governmental processes.
Of further significance is the principle that Parliament should be neither out of existence nor out of action for any undue length of time. The continuity of the Commonwealth Parliament is assured by several constitutional provisions. Following a dissolution or expiry of a House of Representatives, writs for a general election must be issued within 10 days,4 and following a general election the Parliament must be summoned to meet not later than 30 days after the day appointed for the return of the writs.5 Regular meetings are assured as there must be a session of Parliament at least once in every year, in order that 12 months shall not intervene between the last sitting in one session and the first sitting in the next session.6 ‘Session’ in this context has in practice been interpreted as ‘a sitting period’ (see below).
Apart from the constitutional framework within which the parliamentary calendar is determined, there are also a number of practical considerations of some importance, for example:
- the necessity for Parliament to meet regularly and at specified times to approve financial measures, particularly appropriations for the ordinary annual services of the Government and for the Parliament itself;
- in keeping with responsible government, the need to ensure a regular forum for continuous scrutiny of executive action; and
- the normal demands to consider new and amending legislation.
The Address in Reply
Sitting and non-sitting periods