Clerk's Office


Advice on, and support for, proceedings of the Senate and its committees.

Leadership and strategic direction for the department.

Secretariat and advisory support to the Procedure and Privileges Committees.

Procedural information and related resources for senators and the department.

Performance information Performance results

Advice and support are sound and timely, and provided to the satisfaction of the President, other officeholders, Senate committees and senators so that they are able to fulfil their roles.

Senators and other recipients of advice on powers, privileges and proceedings continued to acknowledge its accuracy and value.

Advice and support was invariably provided in time to meet procedural and operational requirements.

The capacity of the department and its employees to provide advice and support meets operational requirements.

Activities under the learning and development framework underpinned the department’s advisory and support capacities. New clerks at the table were trained and briefing notes for clerks at the table were updated.

Governance structures advance the department’s accountability and the achievement of its outcome.

Governance forums achieved all significant targets for the year, including managing budgeting and staffing targets.

Contributions to interdepartmental forums advanced the strategic aims of parliamentary administration.

Advice, documentation, publications and draft reports are accurate, of a high standard and produced to meet the required timeframes.

All advice, documents and draft reports produced in support of committees supported by the office were of a high standard and met required timeframes; none were shown to be inaccurate.

Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice is updated to reflect significant changes in the Senate.

The Procedural Information Bulletin is produced after each sitting period and other procedural resources are updated and augmented as required.

The Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, Third supplement to the 14th edition – Updates to 30 June 2021, was published (tabled 3 August 2021).

The Procedural Information Bulletin was produced promptly after sitting periods and estimates hearings. Procedural and administrative information for senators was published to the intranet site, Senate Connect. The guide for temporary chairs was updated and refined.


The Clerk of the Senate, Richard Pye, manages the department in accordance with the Parliamentary Service Act. The Clerk is also the principal adviser to the President of the Senate and senators on proceedings in the Senate, parliamentary privilege, and committee proceedings and their outcomes in the Senate. The Deputy Clerk of the Senate supports the Clerk in these roles and, with the Clerk Assistant (Procedure), provides procedural and legislative advice and support to non-executive senators. The Deputy Clerk also has particular corporate governance roles, including as the department’s senior adviser to the Audit Committee and as chair of the Program Managers’ Group. The cost of the office for 2021–22 was $0.9m ($0.9m in 2020–21).

Advice and information

The provision of advice, particularly to the President, senators and parliamentary committees, is a core function of the department and a priority for the Clerk’s Office. With the resignation of Senator the Hon Scott Ryan in October 2021 (as President and a senator), a key responsibility of the office was providing briefings and support to the new President, Senator the Hon Slade Brockman.

In November 2021, the Presiding Officers entered a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Attorney-General and the Minister for Home Affairs regarding the execution of search warrants where parliamentary privilege may be involved. The Deputy Clerks of the Senate and House of Representatives provided secretariat support to a working group of parliamentarians led by the Presiding Officers who negotiated the terms of the MOU, and an associated Australian Federal Police (AFP) national guideline, with the AFP and relevant departments. The guideline updated the procedures that the AFP will follow for the collection and quarantining of material that could be subject to parliamentary privilege.

More generally, advice to senators and committees was often provided immediately, particularly in the Senate chamber, in private meetings of committees, and to senators who sought advice in person. Such verbal advice is impossible to quantify in any meaningful way, but the number and kinds of written advices provide some indication of work undertaken.

Written advice

The number of requests for written advice was again consistent with previous financial years. Advice addressed a diverse range of matters, predominantly concerned with either Senate or committee procedure, and included requests related to parliamentary privilege, compliance with orders for the production of documents and claims of public interest immunity by the executive. Figure 4 shows the number of written advices provided by topic, while figure 5 shows demand over recent years. Where appropriate, the Clerk’s Office maintained the approach of providing succinct, less formal advice that sought to directly address the needs of the senator requesting the advice.

Figure 4 – Types of written advice provided by the Clerk, 2021–22

Figure 4 – Types of written advice provided by the Clerk, 2021–22

Figure 5 – Number of advices provided by the Clerk’s Office, 2018–19 to 2021–22

Figure 5 – Number of advices provided by the Clerk’s Office, 2018–19 to 2021–22

Performance indicators for provision of advice focus on timeliness and accuracy. Senators and other recipients of advice continued to acknowledge its accuracy and its value. All advice was provided in time to meet the purposes for which it was sought. Most advice is provided on a confidential basis and it is for the recipient to decide whether to release it, and if so, on what basis. On a few occasions during the year, recipients of advice published it as a contribution to public debate, at the same time subjecting it to public scrutiny. As this advice can inform the actions of senators, the Senate and its committees, as well as public debate, all advice is prepared to the highest standards.

Procedural information

The Clerk produced issues of the Procedural Information Bulletin after each sitting period and the three rounds of estimates hearings, covering all the major procedural developments and matters of procedural interest which arose. Updates on procedural and administrative matters affecting senators were also published to an intranet site for senators and their staff, Senate Connect.

The third supplement to the 14th edition of Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice was published in August 2021. Most notably, this updated supplement recorded procedural changes related to formal business and the routine of business, as well as the evolution of procedures allowing for remote participation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Clerk and Deputy Clerk prepared and presented sessions in the department’s learning and development program, and in other forums for parliamentary staff. They also provided eight introductory briefing sessions to senators whose terms commenced during the year and two training sessions to senators who took on the role of temporary chair of the Senate.


The office provided secretariat support to two Senate standing committees. Advice and support was acknowledged as meeting the needs and timeframes of the committees and their members.

Procedure Committee

The Clerk served as secretary to the Procedure Committee, which responds to references from the Senate or the President by evaluating, and recommending improvements to, Senate procedure.

The committee presented one report during the year, tabled in February 2022, which examined the issue of pairing arrangements in the Senate. This inquiry was referred to the committee by the Senate through a resolution which expressed concerns about the opacity of pairing arrangements to cross-bench senators and the public. The committee endorsed various practical steps which had been taken (after the matter was referred) to ensure the transparency of pairing arrangements including reinstating recording of pairs in Hansard.

Committee of Privileges

The Deputy Clerk served as secretary to the Committee of Privileges, which met ten times in 2021–22 (nine in 2020–21) and presented two reports. The committee protects the integrity of Senate and committee proceedings by inquiring into matters which may amount to contempt of the Senate. Those matters, which arise from concerns raised by other committees or individual senators, are referred to the committee by the Senate.

Unusually, the committee reported on two inquiries relating to potential contempt matters. The first report (tabled on 30 November 2021), related to Senate orders requiring the Commissioner of Taxation to publish information about entities in receipt of JobKeeper payments. The committee accepted that the public interest immunity grounds put forward by the Commissioner resisting these orders reflected genuine concerns related to the administration of the taxation system. The committee acknowledged the Commissioner’s submission that an acceptable compromise might be possible and noted that it was reluctant to recommend a contempt where there was a genuine prospect of resolving the matter through negotiation.

The committee also reported on allegations of improper interference with the Economics References Committee inquiry into Australia’s naval shipbuilding capability. This inquiry was referred to the committee during the previous reporting period and related to the Economics Committee seeking access to Australian Industry Capability plans relevant to the shipbuilding inquiry. After the Senate made orders requiring that documents be provided, and protracted negotiations, the Economics Committee was ultimately given access to the documents in February 2022. As the documents had been provided, the committee concluded that no minister or departmental official should be found to have committed a contempt. However, the committee noted that it would make such a finding if it was necessary to resolve such matters without implicitly conceding an unfounded constraint on the powers of the Senate. The Senate adopted the committee’s conclusion on 29 March 2022.

Strategic direction and governance

A key responsibility of the office and the department’s senior executive is to set the strategic direction of the department. An important area of focus this year was supporting staff to work from home in order to reduce the risks of transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. Later in the year, the department implemented arrangements to support staff to return to working predominantly in the office. This occurred against the backdrop of staff maintaining very high levels of flexibility to accommodate the need to isolate where they were exposed to, or contracted, COVID-19. Manager’s received positive feedback from staff about the support provided by the department in relation to these adjustments.

The department’s senior managers also maintained their focus on longer term priorities related to workforce capability and the adoption of enhanced ICT capabilities. In relation to workforce capability, the department adjusted its approach to recruitment in response to the tightening labour market.

The Deputy Clerk was the department’s senior adviser to its Audit Committee and chaired the Program Managers’ Group. A key area of work for Program Managers was facilitating staff participation in the Jenkins’ review regarding parliamentary workplaces and commencing work on implementation of recommendations of the review directed at the parliamentary departments.

During the financial year, the Clerk attended four meetings of the Heads of the Parliamentary Departments. This group provides a forum to support coordination across the parliamentary service on administrative matters and to set the strategic direction of the service. During the year, the Clerk’s Office took on providing secretariat support to these meetings (a function which is rotated annually between the parliamentary departments).

More broadly, the Clerk and other senior officers collaborated with their counterparts in the other parliamentary departments on matters connected to parliamentary administration. These relationships show increasing levels of maturity with greater informal communication and cooperation including through preparation of joint responses to various reviews and inquiries.

More information on governance is in the ‘Management and accountability’ chapter.

Performance outlook

The next reporting period, the first year in an electoral cycle, will see the department focus on supporting newly elected senators and those taking on new roles including a new President and Deputy President. It is likely to see an increase in committee and legislative activity in the second half of the year. The number of requests for advice may increase in light of the election of several new cross-bench senators.

Work will commence on the 15th edition of Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, as well as updating other supporting procedural resources to reflect changes to Senate procedures and the evolution of practices. This core work supports the institutional knowledge required to support the department providing timely, accurate and consistent advice to senators and committees.

The department will continue to refine its corporate governance processes and systems, including maintaining a focus on implementing improvements to the efficiency of its operations. Further efficiencies largely rest on improving integration of information technology systems into the processes of the Senate and its committees and require close collaboration with our ICT colleagues in the Department of Parliamentary Services. Perhaps most significantly, this will include bringing to fruition a project to develop a new online tabled documents system and upgrades to the system used to produce and publish committee reports.