The Opening Day of the 42nd Federal Parliament, Tuesday 12 February 2008, emphasises that the authority of the Parliament comes from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. Section 1 of the Constitution provides:
“1. The legislative power of the Commonwealth shall be vested in a Federal Parliament, which shall consist of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives, and which is herein-after called "The Parliament” or "The Parliament of the Commonwealth."
The Parliament is thus the Australian Federal version of the Queen–in–Parliament at Westminster. Unlike the Westminster Parliament, ours is a Parliament whose powers are limited. These limits are specified in the Constitution, as interpreted by the High Court, whose rulings are authoritative.
In Australia, the powers of the Australian Crown in relation to the Federal Parliament are exercised by the Governor-General, whom the High Court has described as the “Constitutional Head of the Commonwealth”
Before the State Opening, the members of the House of Representatives are sworn in. ( New Senators do not take office until 1 July, 2008.) All members will take the Oath of Allegiance , or Affirmation, to The Queen of Australia Her heirs or successors according to law. ( We return to this below).
…The historical evolution of our Parliament…
The principal elements of the Opening are based on the State Opening of Parliament in London. Much of the ceremonial is grounded in the historical evolution of our constitutional monarchy.
The Opening normally takes place in the Senate Chamber. On one occasion, because of the then Prime Minister Paul Keating’s dislike of the Senate, whom he dismissed as “unrepresentative swill”, it was proposed that the Opening be held in the Great Hall. This was widely reported in the media, but did not in fact take place take place. It was explained to the Prime Minister that such a change would require the approval of both Houses, and that the Senate was unlikely to agree. (The original wording of this column has been changed as a result of a comment by Mr. Ian Cochran: see below.)
The reason for not holding the ceremony in the House of Representatives is because of an incident in 1642.
King Charles I entered the Commons Chamber and attempted to arrest five members. The Speaker refused to inform the King where the members were. Since then, no Sovereign has entered the House of Commons.
At Westminster, The Queen, wearing the Imperial State Crown, goes to the House of Lords, instructs the House by saying, "My Lords, pray be seated", and then motions the Lord Great Chamberlain to summon the House of Commons.
The Lord Great Chamberlain raises his wand of office to signal to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, who has been waiting in the Commons lobby. Black Rod turns andapproaches the doors to the chamber of the Commons.
The doors are slammed in his face – symbolizing the right of the Commons to debate without the presence of the Queen's representative.
He then strikes three times with his staff , the Black Rod, and is then admitted. At the bar, Black Rod bows to the speaker before proceeding to the Dispatch box and issuing the command of the Sovereign that the Commons attend Her Majesty in the House of Lords , in the following way:
"Mr ( or Madame) Speaker, The Queen commands this honourable House to attend Her Majesty immediately in the House of Peers."
The Sergeant-at-Arms picks up the ceremonial mace and, with the Speaker, leads the Members of the House of Commons as they walk, in pairs, towards the House of Lords.
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition usually walk side by side. Because no person who is not a member of the House of Lords may pass the Bar without invitation or leave they bow to The Queen and remain at the Bar.
A modified version of this ceremony is followed in the Federal Parliament.
…the preliminary matters…
9.00 am Members assemble in the Members' Hall for the Welcome to Country ceremony
10.25 am Bells, Members assemble in the Chamber, Serjeant-at-Arms places Mace below Table as bells cease.
10.30 am The Clerk reads the proclamation calling Parliament together. (House then awaits arrival of Usher of the Black Rod at Chamber door). The Usher of the Black Rod announces that the Deputy of His Excellency the Governor-General, desires the attendance of Members in the Senate Chamber. The Usher of the Black Rod retires and the House processes to the Senate chamber. In the Senate Chamber the authority of the Deputy to open Parliament will be read. The Deputy declares Parliament open and then informs Parliament that after Members have made an oath or affirmation of allegiance and the Speaker has been chosen, His Excellency the Governor-General will declare the causes of the calling together of the Parliament. Members return to the House.
(There is a pause in the proceedings at this point while the Chief Justice is escorted to the Chamber).
…Oath of Allegiance to the Sovereign…
10.55 am. The Serjeant-at-Arms conducts the Governor-General’s Deputy, the Hon. Anthony Murray Gleeson, AC, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, to the Chamber.
The Chief Justice is received standing and his Associate hands to the Clerk the Chief Justice's authority to administer the oath or affirmation of allegiance. The Clerk reads the authority. The Clerk lays on the Table the writs for the general election of Members of the House of Representatives held on 24 November 2007.
Members are called to the Table in groups, make an oath or affirmation and sign the form of the oath or affirmation. This Oath is to the Sovereign personally as Queen of Australia, and to Her Heirs and successors according to law. The Queen and the representatives of the Australian Crown, our oldest institution, remain above politics, and act in accordance with the Constitution as trustees for the people.
This emphasises that in the performance of their duties, the Members and Senators sworn allegiance to the Australian Crown, which is above politics, and their duties under the Constitution and according to law, must take priority over any other loyalty. This of course includes their loyalty to political parties and to supporters.
The forms are prescribed under the Constitution and are:-
I, A.B., do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her heirs and successors according to law. SO HELP ME GOD!
I, A.B., do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her heirs and successors according to law.
After the Chief Justice signs the attestation forms (containing details of the number of Members sworn and affirmed) he retires from the Chamber.
….election of the Speaker…
11.35 am The election of Speaker takes place, the Speaker takes the Chair and the Serjeant-at-Arms places the Mace on the Table.
Traditionally, the Speaker is dragged unwillingly to the Chair. This again has its basis in history; if the House defied the King, it would be the Speaker who would have to inform the King, and thus risk his wrath.
Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Leader of The Nationals and other Members offer their congratulations which the Speaker acknowledges.
The Prime Minister informs the House that the Governor-General will receive the Speaker, in the Members' Hall, immediately after the resumption of the sitting at 2.30 pm.
Sitting suspended until 2.30 pm.
2.25 pm Bells.
2.30 pm Speaker resumes the Chair and says “I shall be glad if honourable Members will accompany me when I present myself to His Excellency the Governor-General”. Speaker, Members and Clerks are presented to His Excellency the Governor-General in the Members Hall, then return to the House and the Speaker resumes the Chair.
Oaths or affirmations are administered to any Members not already sworn or affirmed.
…The Governor-General opens the Parliament….
(There is a pause in the proceedings at this point while the Senate assembles and the Governor-General proceeds to that Chamber.)
3.05 pm Usher of the Black Rod arrives at, and knocks 3 times on Chamber door, is admitted and announces “Mr Speaker — His Excellency the Governor-General desires the attendance of honourable Members in the Senate Chamber” and then retires from Chamber.
The Speaker, preceded by the Serjeant-at-Arms with Mace, accompanied by the Clerks, and followed by Party Leaders and Members, depart the House Chamber and process to the Senate Chamber.
Once all are seated in the Senate Chamber His Excellency declares the causes of the calling together of the Parliament.
His Excellency retires from the Senate Chamber and the Speaker and Members return to the House.
….The House resumes….
The Speaker to call the Prime Minister (who will announce the Ministry, ministerial representation and Whips), then the Leader of the Opposition (who will announce the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Whips) and then the Leader of The Nationals (who will announce the Leader and Deputy Leader of The Nationals and Whips).
The Speaker to call the Prime Minister who will present the “formal bill” (the Amendments Incorporation Amendment Bill 2008). The second reading of the Bill is then made an order of the day for the next sitting.
The Speaker to present a copy of the Governor-General's speech and the Prime Minister to move that a Committee be appointed to prepare an Address-in-Reply to the speech delivered by His Excellency the Governor-General.
Sitting are then suspended until later in the afternoon at the ringing of the bells.
Speaker resumes the Chair.
The Deputy Speaker and Second Deputy Speaker are elected.
The Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Leader of The Nationals and other Members offer their congratulations. Speaker makes acknowledgment.
The House adjourns.