For many observers of Australian politics, Parliament House is where ministers, politicians and their advisers work. This is certainly true but there is also a substantial workforce there to support the functioning of the nation’s legislature. Some we would expect to see in a parliament—the Hansard reporters who provide a record of the debates, the officials who run the chambers, and the security guards. But ‘the House’ is also home to the staff of four parliamentary departments, the Press Gallery and various retail and support operations.
Parliament House comprises more than 4,500 rooms interspersed with 22 kms of corridors and was built on the basis it could accommodate 3,000 people. However it is estimated that around 5,000 people work in the building when Parliament sits and the building receives an average of one million visitors each year.
Senators and Members
There are currently 76 Senators and 151 Members of the House of Representatives. In normal circumstances all 227 would be present in Parliament House when Parliament is sitting. Senators and Members can be granted leave of absence not to attend Parliament for reasons including parliamentary or public business overseas, ill health or maternity/paternity. However, the expectation is for MPs to be present physically in the building although special measures were implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, for a period from 24 August 2020 MPs were permitted to participate remotely via videolink (including the Prime Minister, following his travel to the G7 meeting).
‘Staffers’—Members of Parliament Staff
Senators or Members employ electorate and personal staff under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (MOPS Act).
As at 12 March 2021, a total of approximately 2,020 staff are employed under the MOPS Act according to Department of Finance data. Each MP is entitled to four electorate staff (most of whom are based in electorate offices, rather than Parliament House) and ministers and certain office holders are entitled to additional personal employees (most of whom are based at Parliament House). As at 1 March 2021 the government ministry had 463.8 full time equivalent (FTE) personal employee positions; the Opposition 102, and the Australian Greens 18. Most minor party members and independents are allocated four additional personal employees. Parliamentary office holders such as the Whips receive additional staff as do the Presiding officers (the President has 6 and the Speaker 5).
Most ministers have one or two Departmental Liaison Officers (DLO) who are outposted from departments and some agencies to, as their title suggests, liaise between the Ministers’ offices and their departments. There are also three Cabinet Liaison Officers (CLOs), two Parliamentary Liaison Officers (PLOs) and two Assistant Parliamentary Liaison Officers who assist with the legislative program. These staff are public servants employed by various departments under the Public Service Act 1999.
There are four parliamentary departments which employ staff under the Parliamentary Services Act 1999: the Department of the Senate (with 170 full time equivalent or FTE staff engaged at 10 November 2020), the Department of the House of Representatives (178 as at 30/6/2020), Department of Parliamentary Services (931.76 FTE as at 10 Nov 2020 ) and the Parliamentary Budget Office (37.3 FTE as at 10 Nov 2020).
The Chamber departments (Senate and House of Representatives) provide advisory and support services for the work of the Chambers and the parliamentary committees, and the Parliamentary Budget Office provides costing and budget analysis for parliamentarians.
As the largest and most diverse department, DPS provides a variety of services to the whole of Parliament including:
- information and communication technology services for parliamentary staff (both physically in the building as well as the network of electorate officers around the country)
- security within Parliament
- building and maintenance, with electricians, plumbers and builders
- landscaping services to maintain the gardens and grounds (including those of the nearby Prime Minister’s residence)
- audio visual and Hansard services for recording proceedings in the chambers and committee hearings
- art services, curating the building’s large art collection, that includes the Historical Memorials Collection of portraits of Prime Ministers and other notable figures.
- ·visitor services to look after the international and domestic tourists and numerous school students, who regularly number around 750,000. The Parliamentary Education Office (PEO) plays a major role in engaging and informing school students, as well as people of all ages, about Australia’s parliamentary democracy.
- kitchens and hospitality, with staff providing catering services to the public Queens Terrace Café, the Staff Cafeteria and the Members and Guests Dining Room as well as the large number of official events
- corporate, administrative and strategic services for DPS and, of course
- library and research services.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is responsible for operational security at Parliament House, and armed protective service officers are a visible presence outside the building.
Parliamentary Press Gallery
The Parliamentary Press Gallery is both a physical space in Parliament House and the formal group of journalists who work there. The role of the Press Gallery is to report on Australian federal politics in publications and broadcasts both nationally and internationally. There are over 250 accredited media in the Press Gallery although they may not all be routinely based in Parliament House.
Commercial, retail and services
Within Parliament House there are several retail outlets which include a child care centre, travel agent, bank, a physiotherapy clinic, hairdresser and Aussies Cafe.
Many of the visitors to Parliament are also there for work: there were 2,380 sponsored access card holders as at 23 September 2019 (more recent figures have not been released for security reasons) who are able to enter the private areas of Parliament House. An existing passholder with policy rights to sponsor another individual is required for the issue of a sponsored pass.
The ‘Sponsored Pass’ category contains lobbyists, representatives from non-Government and not-for-profit organisations, commercial companies, religious or specific interest groups, universities, cultural institutions, unions, representatives from diplomatic missions and media.