The most common way for a Parliament to be terminated is by the dissolution of the House of Representatives, such dissolution being made by proclamation by the Governor-General. On six occasions the Parliament has been terminated by the simultaneous dissolution of the House of Representatives and the Senate and one Parliament expired by effluxion of time..
In the proclamation dissolving the House of Representatives the provision of section 5 of the Constitution, whereby the Governor-General may dissolve the House, is cited, and the House is dissolved (the date and time of dissolution is normally specified). Since 1993 the Parliament has been prorogued (see page 228) immediately prior to the dissolution of the House. This may be done by separate proclamation but sometimes the proclamation dissolving the House has also prorogued the Parliament.
The proclamation is published in the Commonwealth Gazette and read from the front of Parliament House by the Official Secretary to the Governor-General immediately prior to the hour of dissolution. This practice was adopted in 1963 following doubts being raised by the Attorney-General as to whether publication of the proclamation in the Gazette would be sufficient to proclaim it for the purposes of section 5 of the Constitution. It was considered that section 17(j) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 which makes publication in the Gazette sufficient publication for the purposes of Commonwealth Acts, was not applicable as the proclamation is not made under a Commonwealth Act.
The modern practice is that the Official Secretary reads the proclamation from the front of Parliament House, accompanied by the Clerk of the House, the Deputy Clerk and the Serjeant-at-Arms. The House staff then return to the entrance to the House of Representatives Chamber and the Clerk of the House posts a copy of the proclamation at the door of the Chamber. An artillery salute may be fired at the precise time of dissolution to mark the end of the Parliament.
Staff of the Senate have attended the reading of the proclamation on the occasion of a simultaneous dissolution of both Houses. They have not attended when the Parliament is prorogued and only the House is being dissolved.
Effects of dissolution
Dissolution has the following effects on the House of Representatives:
- All proceedings pending come to an end—that is, all business on the Notice Paper lapses.
- Members of the House cease to be Members, although those who renominate continue to receive their allowances up to and including the day prior to the day fixed for the election. Ministers, however, continue in office and the Speaker is deemed to be Speaker for administrative purposes until a Speaker is chosen in the next Parliament.
- Any sessional or other such non-ongoing orders or resolutions cease to have effect.
- All House committees and joint committees established by Act or resolution cease to exist.
It is considered desirable for bills passed during a session to be assented to before the dissolution proclamation is made.
If a notice of a motion to disallow a legislative instrument lapses because of the dissolution, the legislative instrument concerned is deemed to be presented to the House on the first sitting day after the dissolution, so allowing full opportunity for the notice of disallowance to be given again in the next Parliament. If there is no disallowance notice the count of 15 sitting days within which one may be given continues into the next Parliament.
Constitutionally, it is the House of Representatives that is regularly dissolved for electoral purposes and not the Senate. The Senate’s existence (coupled with its electoral system) is continuous in character, except in the circumstances of the simultaneous dissolution of both Houses.
There would be considerable constitutional and legal doubt in respect of any proposal for the meeting of the Senate after the dissolution of the House unless specific statutory or constitutional provision was made. The Senate has not met after a dissolution of the House has occurred but has passed a resolution which, according to Odgers, in effect asserts its right to do. (See also ‘Effects of prorogation’ at page 230).
Section 28 of the Constitution provides that a House of Representatives may ‘continue for three years from the first meeting of the House, and no longer’. This requirement is interpreted as meaning that a Parliament not earlier dissolved expires at midnight on the day before the third anniversary of the first day of sitting. The 3rd Parliament has been the only one to expire by effluxion of time. This Parliament first met on 20 February 1907 and the final meeting was on 8 December 1909, after which Parliament was prorogued until 26 January 1910. On 18 January 1910 Parliament was further prorogued until 19 February 1910 at which time it expired. Writs for the election of Members of the House of Representatives were then issued on 28 February 1910. Expiry affects the House of Representatives (and the Senate) in the same way as a dissolution.
On 2 March 1917, during World War I, the House agreed to a motion moved by the Prime Minister which requested the Imperial (United Kingdom) Government to legislate for the extension of the duration of the then House of Representatives until six months after the final declaration of peace, or until 8 October 1918, whichever was the shorter period, and to enable the next elections for the Senate to be held at the same time as the next general election for the House of Representatives. A motion in the same terms lapsed in the Senate and the proposition did not proceed further. Suggestions were made during World War II that the life of the 15th Parliament be extended. In answering a question in the House on the proposition, the Prime Minister stated that, in his opinion, ‘the extension of the life of the Parliament would, in certain circumstances, require an authorising act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom… [but that] the Government has not yet thought it necessary to consider it’. With the enactment of the respective Australia Acts by the Commonwealth and United Kingdom Parliaments, such a proposed method of prolonging the life of a Parliament is not possible.