House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

7 - The Parliamentary Calendar

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A Parliament

Parliaments are numbered in arithmetical series, the 1st Parliament being from May 1901 to November 1903. The 43rd Parliament commenced on 28 September 2010. Appendix 15 lists the significant dates of each Parliament since 1901.

The duration of a Parliament is directly related to the duration of the House of Representatives. Having met, pursuant to the Governor-General’s proclamation, a Parliament continues until the House of Representatives expires by effluxion of time three years from the first meeting of the House, or until the House is sooner dissolved by the Governor-General.[8] The House is dissolved by proclamation of the Governor-General.

It is usual for a Parliament to be terminated by dissolution, and only one House of Representatives has expired by effluxion of time.[9] A dissolution may occur near to the three year expiry time or it may occur prematurely for political reasons.[10] On six occasions (1914, 1951, 1974, 1975, 1983 and 1987) the premature termination of the House of Representatives (and hence the Parliament) has coincided with the dissolution of the Senate, that is, the House and the Senate were dissolved simultaneously.[11]

Summoning Parliament

The Constitution provides that Parliament must be summoned to meet not later than 30 days after the day appointed for the return of the writs.[12] The day for the new Parliament to assemble is fixed by the Governor-General by proclamation. The day fixed may be before the day by which writs are to be returned.

In the proclamation summoning Parliament to meet after a general election the constitutional authority, which provides that the Governor-General may appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Parliament as the Governor-General thinks fit, is cited. The Governor-General appoints a day for the Parliament to assemble for the despatch of business, and Senators and Members are required to give their attendance at Parliament House, Canberra, at a time specified on that day. Usually, the day fixed is a Tuesday and in recent years the time fixed has been 10.30 a.m. The Clerk of the House writes to all Members, as soon as the gazettal of the proclamation is made, informing them of the proclamation and the date and time appointed for the assembly of the Parliament.[13]

Proceedings on opening day

The proceedings on the meeting of a new Parliament are characterised by a combination of the traditional and ceremonial elements of parliamentary custom and practice which is reflected in part by the standing orders.

These standing orders[14] reflect two principles of parliamentary custom:

  • that the House is not properly constituted until it has elected its Speaker, which is its first action as a House; and
  • that the House does not proceed to the despatch of business until the Speaker has been presented to, and it has heard the speech of, the Governor-General.[15]

The Sovereign may declare in person the causes of the calling together of a new Parliament but this has not occurred to date (but see page 227).[16]

Welcoming ceremony

Opening proceedings of the 42nd Parliament in 2008 were preceded by a Welcome to Country ceremony in Members’ Hall, led by an elder of the Indigenous people of the Canberra region. Since June 2010 the standing orders have provided for local Indigenous people to be invited to conduct a ceremony of welcome prior to Members assembling in the House of Representatives.[17] The ceremony of welcome for the 43rd Parliament took place in the forecourt.

House assembles and Parliament opened

On the day appointed for the Parliament to assemble, the bells are rung for five minutes before the appointed time. Prior to the bells ceasing to ring, the Serjeant-at-Arms places the Mace below the Table, as the House at that stage has not elected a Speaker.

When the bells cease ringing, the Clerk of the House reads the proclamation summoning Parliament. Traditionally, the Usher of the Black Rod, having been directed by the Governor-General’s Deputy (or the Senior Deputy where two Deputies have been appointed) to request the attendance of Members of the House in the Senate Chamber, is admitted and orally delivers the message from the Bar of the House. Members, led by party leaders, preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms (without the Mace) and the Clerk, Deputy Clerk and a Clerk Assistant, proceed to the Senate Chamber where the Deputy addresses the Members of both Houses.[18] The following form of words was used at the opening of the 43rd Parliament:

Her Excellency the Governor-General has appointed me as her Deputy to declare open the Parliament of the Commonwealth. The Clerk of the Senate will now read the instrument of appointment.[19]

After the instrument is read the Deputy declares the Parliament open.[20] The Deputy then informs the Members of both Houses that, after certain Senators[21] and Members have been sworn and the Members of the House have elected their Speaker, the Governor-General will declare the causes of the calling together of the Parliament. The Deputy then retires and Members return to the House to await the arrival of the Deputy to administer the oath or affirmation.

Deputy appointed by Governor-General

The Deputy appointed by the Governor-General to declare open the Parliament is ordinarily a Justice of the High Court. It is usual for the Chief Justice to be appointed the Deputy. The Chief Justice (or other judge) is also authorised by the Governor-General to administer the oath or affirmation of allegiance to Members. A second judge[22] would be given the necessary authority when a large number of Senators were to be sworn in, such as at the opening of Parliament following a double dissolution. Should only one judge be authorised to administer oaths/affirmations in such situations, Members of the House would have a lengthy wait while Senators were sworn in. The simultaneous swearing in of Senators and Members is also regarded as symbolic of the independence of the Houses.

Members sworn

On returning to the House and after an interval of some minutes, the judge, who is received standing, is escorted to the Speaker’s Chair, and his or her authority from the Governor-General to administer the oath or affirmation is read by the Clerk. Returns to the writs for the general election[23] (including returns to writs for supplementary elections[24]), showing the Member elected for each electoral division, are presented by the Clerk. For these purposes the names of Members shown on the writs, called by the Clerk and recorded in the Votes and Proceedings, are as given by Members on their nomination forms, so that, for example, sometimes an abbreviated first name is shown, or the name of a person who has married and changed her name since nomination will be shown as it was at the time of nomination.[25] Members then come to the Table, in groups in the order in which they are called, to be sworn in. After making the oath or affirmation, and signing the oath or affirmation form, Members return to their seats.[26] When all Members present have been sworn in, the judge signs the attestation forms and retires, preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms.

Members not sworn in at this stage may be sworn in later in the day’s proceedings[27] or on a subsequent sitting day by the Speaker, who receives an authority from the Governor-General to administer the oath or affirmation. As the Constitution provides that every Member shall take and subscribe an oath or affirmation of allegiance before taking his seat,[28] a Member may take no part in the proceedings of the House until this occurs.[29]

Election of Speaker

After Members have been sworn in, the Clerk of the House, acting as chair, informs the House that the next business is the election of Speaker. The Speaker is then elected in the manner prescribed by the standing orders,[30] following which the Serjeant-at-Arms places the Mace upon the Table and the party leaders offer their congratulations. The Prime Minister then informs the House of the time when the Governor-General will receive the Speaker—for example, ‘immediately after the resumption of sitting at 2.30 p.m.’. The Speaker announces that the bells will ring for five minutes before the time of presentation so that Members may assemble in the Chamber and accompany the Speaker, when they may, if they so wish, be introduced to the Governor-General. The sitting is then suspended.

Presentation of Speaker to Governor-General

Members reassemble in the Chamber at the appointed time and the Speaker enters the Chamber, preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms, and resumes the Chair. When it is made known to the Speaker that the Governor-General is ready, the Speaker states that he or she would be glad if Members would attend with him or her to wait upon the Governor-General.[31] The Speaker, preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms (carrying the Mace which is covered in the presence of the Governor-General), accompanied by the Clerk, Deputy Clerk and a Clerk Assistant and followed by party leaders and Members, proceeds to meet the Governor-General.

On return to the House in procession, the Speaker formally reports his or her presentation to the Governor-General and lays on the Table the authority received from the Governor-General to administer the oath or affirmation of allegiance to Members.[32] Oaths or affirmations are then administered to any Members not already sworn in.[33] Unlike Members elected to the House at by-elections, Members sworn in at this stage are not escorted by sponsors.[34]

Governor-General’s speech

In the meantime the sitting of the Senate, having earlier been suspended until such time as the Governor-General has appointed (usually 3 p.m.), resumes and the Governor-General is escorted by the Usher of the Black Rod to the Vice-Regal Chair on the dais in the Senate Chamber. Black Rod is then directed by the Governor-General to inform the Members of the House that their attendance is required in the Senate Chamber. Black Rod proceeds to the House of Representatives and, in keeping with tradition, knocks three times on the Chamber door. On recognising Black Rod the Serjeant-at-Arms informs the Speaker of Black Rod’s presence. The Speaker directs that Black Rod be admitted and Black Rod then announces the Governor-General’s message. The Speaker, preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms (carrying the Mace which is left covered at the entrance to the Senate Chamber), accompanied by the Clerk, Deputy Clerk and a Clerk Assistant, and followed by party leaders and Members, proceeds to the Senate Chamber.[35] The Governor-General invites the Speaker to be seated in a chair provided at the Table. Members, after bowing to the Governor-General, take seats in the Senate Chamber.

The Governor-General then declares the causes of the calling together of the Parliament. In this speech, termed the Governor-General’s ‘opening speech’, the affairs of the nation are reviewed briefly and a forecast given of the Government’s proposed program of legislation for the session. The speech is normally of about 30 minutes duration.[36] At the conclusion of the speech a copy is presented to the Speaker by the Governor-General’s Official Secretary,[37] and an artillery salute is fired. The Governor-General retires from the Senate Chamber, after which the Speaker and Members return to the House in procession.

Formal business

There is a traditional practice in both Houses of the United Kingdom Parliament of reading a bill a first time before the Queen’s Speech is reported, in order to assert the right of each House to deliberate without reference to the immediate cause of summons.[38] This practice has been adopted by the House of Representatives, the standing orders providing that ‘Before the Governor-General’s Speech is reported some formal business shall be transacted and the Prime Minister may announce his or her ministry’.[39] Business which has preceded the reporting of the speech also includes announcements by the Prime Minister of other government party appointments and by the leaders of the other parties informing the House of their party appointments. A non-contentious bill, known as the ‘formal’ bill or ‘privilege’ bill, is then presented, usually by the Prime Minister. The bill is read a first time and the second reading made an order of the day for the next sitting.[40] The order of the day is placed on the Notice Paper and nowadays remains the last item of government business throughout the session, the bill lapsing at prorogation or dissolution.

There is no prescribed or traditional form or title for the ‘privilege’ bill.[41] In earlier times the ‘privilege’ bill has been passed into law,[42] although it was customary not to proceed beyond the first reading stage before consideration of the Governor-General’s speech.[43] However, in recent times it has been the practice for the ‘privilege’ bill not to proceed beyond the first reading stage even after consideration of the Governor-General’s speech. Although the ‘privilege’ bill is not proceeded with, its provisions may be incorporated in another bill introduced and passed later in the Parliament.[44]

Report of Governor-General’s speech and Address in Reply Committee

The Speaker then formally reports the Governor-General’s speech, after which a committee to prepare an Address in Reply to the speech is appointed on motion[45] usually moved by the Prime Minister. The motion names the Members to form the committee, which traditionally consists of the Prime Minister and two other Members of the government party or parties (usually backbench Members elected for the first time at the preceding general election, or with relatively short periods of service in the House).[46] The motion to appoint the committee is normally agreed to without debate. The committee presents a report in terms of the proposed Address in Reply later that day,[47] or, more usually, at the next sitting.[48]

The Address in Reply is a short resolution expressing loyalty to the Queen and thanks to the Governor-General (see page 231). In the United Kingdom House of Commons the Address in Reply was originally an answer, paragraph by paragraph, to the royal speech, prepared by a committee appointed for that purpose. However, the appointment of the committee was discontinued over a century ago. Current United Kingdom practice is that two Members are selected by the Government to move and second the Address, which is moved in the form of a short resolution expressing thanks to the Sovereign.[49]

At this point the formal and regular proceedings of the opening day have been completed and it is then customary for the sitting to be suspended until an appointed time, usually 5 p.m., in order that guests of the Parliament present for the occasion may be offered some light refreshment. Alternatively the House may adjourn until the next sitting.

Other business

If the House does not then adjourn, it is free to proceed to other business. However, the initiation of business generally requires that notice be given, and this limits the business that can be dealt with unless leave of the House is granted[50] or standing orders are suspended (there is no Notice Paper for the first day of sitting). Condolence motions or references to deaths of former Members or Senators or other persons have taken place,[51] after which the House may suspend or adjourn as a mark of respect.[52] The election of the Deputy Speaker and Second Deputy Speaker may be conducted,[53] a copy of an election petition has been presented,[54] committees have been appointed and members of committees nominated,[55] and sessional orders[56] or amendments to standing orders[57] agreed to. A program of sittings may be agreed to.[58] Appropriation and supply bills have been introduced.[59] Although it is not a common practice, the ordinary order of business has been proceeded with, including the presentation of petitions,[60] questions without notice,[61] the presentation of documents,[62] and ministerial statements.[63] Notices have been given (they can be lodged with the Clerk at any time after the election of Speaker).

A motion of censure of the Government has been moved, following the suspension of standing orders.[64] On one occasion standing orders were suspended to enable steps to be taken to obtain supply and to pass a supply bill through all stages without delay. The supply bill was agreed to and returned from the Senate, without requests, that day.[65]

Proposed new arrangements for opening day

On March 24 1988, before the move to the new Parliament House, the House agreed to a resolution expressing, inter alia, the view that the declaration of future openings, and speeches by the Governor-General on the occasion, should be delivered in the Members’ Hall or an appropriate equivalent. The Senate was informed of the resolution and asked to take similar action, although no action was taken by the Senate. The terms were conveyed to the Governor-General.[66]

Successive Standing Committees on Procedure (in June 1991 and September 1995) have recommended that the following traditional practices be discontinued:

  • the procession of Members to the Senate to hear the Governor-General’s Deputy declare open the Parliament—the committees proposed instead that two Deputies be appointed to open the Parliament simultaneously in each Chamber;
  • the procession of Members to the Members’ Hall for the presentation of the Speaker to the Governor-General—the committees proposed instead that the Speaker advise the Governor-General of the House’s choice of Speaker when attending at the place appointed by the Governor-General to hear the opening speech.

Both reports also questioned the necessity for the Governor-General’s opening speech to be delivered in the Senate Chamber (the later committee stating its preference for the Great Hall of the Parliament). Other repeated recommendations were that a long-serving Member, rather than the Clerk, take the Chair during the election of the Speaker, and that the election of the Deputy Speaker (and Second Deputy Speaker) take place immediately after the election of the Speaker. The House took no action on the reports.[67] In 2001 the Procedure Committee reported again,[68] recommending more extensive changes, including:

  • a new ceremonial element in the Forecourt of Parliament House involving the original Indigenous owners of the land where Parliament House now stands;
  • simultaneously declaring the Parliament open in both Chambers, with the Governor-General’s opening speech occurring in the Great Hall;
  • as formal business, the House agreeing to a resolution of commitment to the people of Australia;
  • reviewing the form of the oath of allegiance;
  • broadcasting the opening ceremony on national television;
  • the Address in Reply continuing to be moved and seconded by two newly elected Members, but abolishing the Address in Reply Committee.

In 2008 the proposal for an Indigenous ceremony was taken up at the opening of the 42nd Parliament and the Procedure Committee undertook a further review. While repeating some of the previous recommendations, the committee considered that the Governor-General’s speech should continue to be received in the Senate Chamber. As well as changes to the order of proceedings, additional proposals included a function in the Great Hall with invited members of the public, and that Members remain on the perimeter of the Chamber before being sworn in and taking their seats.[69]

8. Constitution, s. 28.
9. 3rd Parliament (20.2.1907–19.2.1910), which is therefore the longest—see p. 317.
10. The shortest lived Parliament was the 11th (6.2.1929–16.9.1929) which was dissolved after 7 months and 11 days. (See table ‘Early dissolutions of the House of Representatives’ in Ch. on ‘The Parliament and the role of the House’.)
11. Constitution, s. 57—see Ch. on ‘Disagreements between the Houses’ for details.
12. Constitution, s. 5. The day fixed for the return of writs for the general election of Members to the 27th Parliament was on or before 24 November 1969 (VP 1968–69/603) which meant that the new Parliament had to be summoned to meet not later than 24 December 1969. The Parliament met on 25 November for only one sitting before the first session was prorogued on 23 February 1970.
13. The terms of the proclamation are published in the Gazette and are also reproduced in the Votes and Proceedings, e.g. VP 2010–12/1.
14. S.O. 4 determines the procedure on the meeting of a new Parliament; S.O.s 5–6 determine the procedure on opening day in relation to the Governor-General’s speech.
15. H.R. Deb. (23.10.1934) 30–1; S.O. 4(i).
16. S.O. 9(a). This may also be carried out by the Administrator (S.O. 2), VP 1961/1; or Deputies of the Governor-General (S.O. 9(b)).
17. S.O. 4(a).
18. In 1976 Members of the opposition party did not attend the Senate Chamber.
19. S. Deb. (28.9.2010) 1.
20. Until 2004 the Deputy did not explicitly declare the Parliament open—the Deputy’s address was in effect the declaration.
21. Normally Senators for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, or Senators filling casual vacancies. In the case of the first meeting of Parliament following a simultaneous dissolution of both Houses it is also necessary for Senators to elect their President.
22. The term ‘Deputy’ in such cases (although appearing in the Votes and Proceedings in the past, e.g. VP 1987–89/3) is technically a misnomer. In the past the judge commissioned to swear in Members has been described as ‘Commissioner’ (even when also appointed Deputy), e.g. VP 1950–51/3.
23. A proclamation by the Governor-General rectifying errors in the writs has also been presented, VP 1998–2001/3.
24. Necessary when a person who has nominated for a general election dies after nominations have closed and before polling day, VP 1973–74/4.
25. VP 1996–98/3–8.
26. See Ch. on ‘Members’, for further discussion and form of oath and affirmation.
27. E.g. VP 2008–10/26.
28. Constitution, s. 42. Members assembling (and sitting) in the Chamber prior to being sworn in are said to ‘assume’ their seats. They ‘take’ their seats after being sworn.
29. On the opening day of the 21st Parliament a Member who had not been sworn in entered the House during the election of the Speaker. Having been advised that he could not take his seat until sworn in he withdrew and was later sworn in by the Speaker, VP 1954–55/8. However, in similar circumstances returning Members re-elected have been permitted to ‘assume’ their seats immediately prior to being called to the Table to be sworn.
30. S.O. 11; e.g. VP 2010–12/6; and see Ch. on ‘The Speaker, Deputy Speakers and officers’.
31. In 1976 Members of the opposition party did not attend the presentation; see also Ch. on ‘The Speaker, Deputy Speakers and officers’.
32. The terms of the authority are published in the Votes and Proceedings, e.g. VP 2010–12/7.
33. E.g. VP 1978–80/7.
34. See Ch. on ‘Members’.
35. In 1976 Members of the opposition party did not attend the Senate, H.R. Deb. (19.2.1976) 166, 169–70.
36. The opening speech for the 7th Parliament consisted of five lines mentioning only the need for the Houses to approve supply, VP 1917/5. The speech for the 27th Parliament consisted of four paragraphs, H.R. Deb. (25.11.1969) 18–19.
37. The text of the speech is incorporated in Hansard, e.g. H.R. Deb. (28.9.2010) 18–25.
38. May, 24th edn, p. 159. The practice is an expression of the House’s independence of the Crown and the Executive Government.
39. S.O. 6(a).
40. Eg. VP 2010–12/9.
41. In contrast to the House of Commons where the bill is by ancient custom the Outlawries Bill. May, 24th edn, p. 159.
42. The last occasion was in 1945.
43. H.R. Deb. (26.5.1909) 31.
44. E.g. provisions of the privilege bill of the 36th Parliament, the Parliamentary Presiding Officers Amendment Bill 1990, were included in the Parliamentary Presiding Officers Amendment Bill 1992. The privilege bill of the 42nd Parliament, the Amendments Incorporation Amendment Bill 2008, contained components of a bill to be introduced at a later date.
45. S.O. 6(c); e.g. VP 2010–12/9. No committee was appointed to prepare an Address in Reply following the opening of the 1st Session of the 7th Parliament on 14 June 1917, VP 1917/5.
46. The committee has consisted of four Members excluding the mover, VP 1909/6; two Members excluding the mover, VP 1912/5; and two Members, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, VP 1954/2. A Member has subsequently been discharged from the committee and another Member appointed in his place, VP 1976–77/21.
47. E.g. VP 1998–2001/13. A specific hour (3.30 p.m.) has been included in the resolution for the time of report, VP 1903/3.
48. E.g. VP 2010–12/58.
49. May, 24th edn, p. 160.
50. E.g. VP 1967–68/11; VP 2008–10/11.
51. E.g. H.R. Deb. (12.2.2008) 33–61; H.R. Deb. (28.9.2010) 35–9.
52. VP 1943–44/8; VP 1967–68/10; VP 1985–87/11; VP 2002–04/10.
53. E.g. H.R. Deb. (12.2.2008) 26–9; VP 2010–12/9–10.
54. VP 2008–9/39.
55. VP 1969–70/12–18; VP 2002–04/10.
56. VP 1920–21/6.
57. H.R. Deb. (12.2.2008) 61–149.
58. E.g. VP 2008–10/26–7; VP 2010–12/10.
59. VP 1993–95/14–16.
60. VP 1980–83/9–10.
61. VP 1967–68/10.
62. VP 1967–68/10.
63. VP 1964–66/11.
64. VP 1969–70/18.
65. VP 1913/7, 12.
66. VP 1987–90/433, 445.
67. Standing Committee on Procedure, The standing orders governing: General rule for conduct of business; Procedures for the opening of Parliament. PP 167 (1991); Procedures for the opening of Parliament. PP 159 (1995).
68. Standing Committee on Procedure, Balancing tradition and progress—Procedures for the opening of Parliament. PP 165 (2001).
69. Standing Committee on Procedure, Re-opening the debate—Inquiry into the arrangements for the opening day of Parliament. PP 489 (2008). The government response to the report supported formal provision in the standing orders for the Indigenous ceremony, and the proposal for the function in the Great Hall, but was otherwise in favour of retaining traditional arrangements, VP 2008–10/1572.