Dress and conduct in the Chamber

While the standard of dress in the Chamber is a matter for the individual judgement of each Member,[190] the ultimate discretion rests with the Speaker. In 1983 Speaker Jenkins stated that his rule in the application of this discretion was ‘neatness, cleanliness and decency’.[191] In a statement to the House in 1999, Speaker Andrew noted that Members had traditionally chosen to dress in a formal manner similar to that generally accepted in business and professional circles, and that this was entirely appropriate; that it was widely accepted throughout the community that the standards should involve good trousers, a jacket, collar and tie for men and a similar standard of formality for women; and that these standards applied equally to staff occupying the advisers boxes, members of the press gallery and guests in the distinguished visitors gallery. The Speaker said he did not propose to apply this standard rigidly. For example, it would be acceptable for Members to remove jackets if the air-conditioning failed, and it was accepted practice that Members hurrying to attend a division or quorum might arrive without a jacket. However, they should leave the Chamber at the conclusion of the count.[192] In 2005 this statement was endorsed by Speaker Hawker, who reminded Members of the accepted practice that Members should choose to dress in a formal manner in keeping with business and professional standards. He noted that while he did not intend to apply the standards rigidly, it was not in keeping with the dignity of the House for Members to arrive in casual or sports wear.[193] Clothes with printed slogans are not generally acceptable in the Chamber, and Members so attired have been warned by the Chair to dress more appropriately.

Rulings from earlier years include: that a Member was not permitted to remove his jacket in the Chamber;[194] that it was acceptable for Members to wear tailored ‘safari’ suits without a tie;[195] and that Members were permitted to wear hats in the Chamber but not while entering or leaving[196] or while speaking.[197]

The conduct of Members in the Chamber is governed by the standing orders and practice and is interpreted with some discretion by the Chair. It has always been the practice of the House not to permit the reading of newspapers in the Chamber, although latterly this has been accepted if done discreetly. It is in order for a Member to refer to books or newspapers when they are actually connected with the Member’s speech.[198] Members may not smoke in the Chamber[199] and refreshments (apart from water) may not be brought into, or consumed in, the Chamber.[200]

The Chair has also ruled that:[201]

  • a Member may keep his hands in his pockets while speaking;[202]
  • the beating of hands on[203] or kicking[204] of Chamber desks is disorderly;
  • a Member may distribute books to other Members in the Chamber;[205]
  • a Member may not distribute apples to other Members in the Chamber;[206]
  • climbing over seats is not fitting behaviour;[207]
  • a Member should not sit on the arm of a seat;[208] and
  • a Minister who had tossed papers onto the Table was required to retrieve them.[209]

Use of electronic devices

Mobile phones must not be used for voice calls and any audible signal from phones or pagers must be turned off. Members who have allowed phones to ring have been directed by the Chair to apologise to the House.[210] However, text messaging is permitted and notebook computers may be used for emails, if done discreetly and so as not to interrupt the proceedings of the House.[211] The use of cameras, including mobile phone cameras,[212] and iPods[213] on the floor of the House is not permitted.

In 2015 the House adopted the following resolution on the use of electronic devices:

(1) The House permits Members’ use of electronic devices in the Chamber, Federation Chamber and committees, provided that:
  1. use of any device avoids interference or distraction to other Members, either visually or audibly, and does not interfere with proceedings—in particular, phone calls are not permitted and devices should be operated in silent mode;
  2. devices are not used to record the proceedings (either by audio or visual means);
  3. communication on social media regarding private meetings of committees or in camera hearings will be considered a potential breach of privilege; and
  4. the use of devices is as unobtrusive as possible and is directly related to the Members’ parliamentary duties; and
(2) The House notes that:
  1. communication via electronic devices, whether in the Chamber or not, is unlikely to be covered by parliamentary privilege; and
  2. reflections on the Chair by Members made on social media may be treated as matters of order just as any such reflections made inside or outside the Chamber.[214]