Clerk's Review

The 2016–17 financial year was an eventful one for the department. It was also one of transition in which the department focused on developing the capability of its people as more senior staff retire or approach retirement.

The beginning of the reporting period was preceded on 9 May 2016 by a double dissolution that brought the Forty-fourth Parliament to an end. As it was only the seventh double dissolution since Federation—and the first since 1987—the department’s resources were tested in terms of retrieving information on procedures and implementing processes that are not commonly used. The expertise and professionalism of the department’s staff meant that all proceeded smoothly.

The general election was held on 2 July 2016 and a Coalition government was formed with the slimmest of majorities. While the usual business of parliament is suspended during election periods, it is still a time of intense activity for the department. Over the election period, staff worked on a range of activities, including reviewing and updating departmental policies, preparing office suites for new and returning members, and preparing material for the new members’ seminar. They also completed the many tasks required to support the opening and commencement of a new parliament.

The 2016 election saw the retirement of more than 20 members with a collective experience of the House of more than 400 years. Those retirements, combined with the defeat of other members, resulted in a relatively large contingent of new members: 37 new members were elected and two former members were re-elected. In the last two parliaments—that is, since 2013—there has been a turnover of more than half the House. The effect of this on the assistance the department provides to members with their work in the Chamber and on committees has been significant.

One way in which we seek to orient new members is at a two-day seminar that provides an overview of the work of the House and committees and information about services and facilities available to members. All of the newly elected members attended the seminar, which was held in mid-August 2016 before the first sitting of the House. Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive.

The Forty-fifth Parliament was officially opened on 30 August 2016 with a Welcome to Country by local Indigenous people, followed by the swearing-in of members and the Governor-General’s opening speech.

The reporting year has been a busy one for the department in terms of staffing. There was a higher than usual turnover of staff, including the departure of some senior employees with many years of experience. To maintain the required staffing levels, the department undertook significant recruitment activity. We also continued our focus on professional development of new and existing staff and strengthening our culture of leadership. A renewed leadership statement was launched in April 2017 and a reinvigorated leadership development program was implemented for staff at most levels.

At the end of 2016 and in early 2017 some changes were made to the department’s structure. In December 2016, I approved the creation of an additional senior executive position dedicated to providing enhanced procedural capacity-building for members and staff. Priorities for the new Clerk Assistant (Procedure) are to oversee the completion of the seventh edition of House of Representatives Practice and to focus on processes for the future production of that key procedural document. As the definitive guide on matters of practice and procedure in the House, it is an invaluable resource for members and staff. I anticipate that the new edition will be ready for publication in 2017–18. Priority is also being given to diversifying the content, format and delivery of procedural guidance and other materials for both members and staff.

The other significant change was the co-location of the Parliamentary Skills Centre with the International and Parliamentary Relations Office. This move consolidates and rationalises the department’s support for international parliamentary engagement and parliamentary capacity-building.

The opening of the new parliament heralded the resumption of business-as-usual activities for the department. In the first few weeks of the Forty-fifth Parliament, members were appointed to committees, and by the end of 2016 a busy program of committee inquiries was well underway. In the latter part of 2016, the annual program of official parliamentary delegations gained momentum, and a full program of incoming and outgoing delegations commenced in earnest in early 2017.

A very positive feature of 2016–17 was the increased level of engagement and cooperation among the four parliamentary departments. The department heads held regular formal and informal meetings, culminating in our joint endorsement of the Australian Parliament’s Strategic plan for the parliamentary administration. The plan brings together the key priorities across the whole of the parliamentary administration, identifying shared goals and formalising a collaborative approach to achieving optimal outcomes in providing support and services for the parliament.

In addition to the resumption of business, a number of notable events occurred in 2016–17 that warrant mention.

In October 2016, the House welcomed His Excellency Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore. In an engaging address to members, senators and guests, he emphasised the close association and warm relations that exist between Singapore and Australia. The address was well supported by staff of the department.
In March 2017, Dr Rosemary Laing, Clerk of the Senate, retired after a distinguished career in parliamentary service. Throughout her tenure as Clerk, Dr Laing exemplified all of the best qualities of a parliamentary officer, with professionalism, a dedication to the institution and a commitment to providing the highest quality of service.
On 23 May 2017, the Address in Reply was presented to the Governor-General. As the formal acknowledgement from the House of the Governor-General’s speech given at the opening of parliament, it signified the end of formalities associated with the commencement of the Forty-fifth Parliament. Again, the event was well supported by staff of the department.

Finally, at a meeting convened by the Presiding Officers in June 2017, members and senators in attendance agreed unanimously to apply to reconstitute the Commonwealth of Australia Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The formal process for the branch to be recognised by the association’s governing body is now in train.
Looking to the year ahead, 2017–18 promises to be another busy one, as is typical of the middle years in the parliamentary cycle. Acknowledging that the experience, expertise and hard work of staff are crucial, the department continues to consult with staff on a new enterprise agreement. It is anticipated that an agreement will be finalised and implemented early in 2017–18.

I have noted over the years since I have been Clerk the pressure on the department’s budgetary position. A most welcome development in the 2017–18 budget process was the government’s commitment of additional funding over the next four years for the department’s core work of supporting the Chamber, Federation Chamber and parliamentary committees. I am pleased that all of the additional funding we sought has been allocated. This means that we are well placed to respond effectively to the opportunities and challenges that will inevitably arise in the years ahead.

In closing, I would like to thank the Speaker for his support to me and the department over the year and the support and encouragement we have had from members of the House.

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