Monday, February 11, 2008

Tuesday and Wednesday: Two big days for Australia's Parliament

Here's how it will pan out. Much of it will be televised:

Following a Welcome to Country ceremony for members and senators in Members’ Hall at 9am, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Ian Harris, and Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, will begin proceedings in their respective chambers at 10.30am by reading the proclamation from the Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery, calling Parliament together.

In the House, the Usher of the Black Rod will arrive from the Senate to invite the 150 House MPs to the Senate chamber to hear the Governor-General’s appointed deputy, the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Anthony Murray Gleeson, declare open the 42nd Parliament at 10:40am.

The MPs will return to the House at about 10:55am to be sworn in and then elect their new Speaker.

Once the new Speaker is elected, he or she is dragged “unwillingly” to the Speaker’s Chair (centuries ago Speakers in the United Kingdom risked being beheaded by the Monarchy), and then the Mace is placed on the Table to signify the House of Representatives is properly constituted...

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, then informs the House that the new Speaker and the other MPs will be presented to the Governor-General at 2.30pm in the Members’ Hall.

Soon after the MPs return to the House at about 3pm, the Usher of the Black Rod will knock three times on the chamber door before announcing the members are required in the Senate to hear the Governor-General’s opening speech. This speech is a formal declaration of the causes for the calling together of the Parliament, which outlines the agenda of the 42nd Parliament.

His speech is followed by a 19-gun artillery salute fired from Federation Mall at about 3:50pm.

“Whereas many nations have endured bloody battles to secure their democracies, we are fortunate that the stable democracy we have enjoyed for more than a century was founded through peaceful negotiation and vote. The parliamentary procedures and traditions we inherited from Westminster in some way represent the bullet holes of our democracy,” Clerk of the House Ian Harris says.

The House resumes formal business at about 3.55pm, when the Prime Minister announces the Ministry and Whips, the Leader of the Opposition announces the Shadow Ministry and Whips, and the Leader of the Nationals announces Whips followed by the first reading of a formal bill.

On Wednesday morning (13 February), a motion will be moved in the new Parliament offering an apology to Australia’s Indigenous people, shortly after commencement at 9am. The new Parliament will sit for two weeks until Friday 22 February.