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Chamber and Federation Chamber

The Clerk’s Office, Table Office, Procedure Office and Chamber Research Office work together to support the day-to-day operations of the Chamber and Federation Chamber, with other areas contributing as necessary.

During the reporting period we continued to:

  • advise the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives
  • advise on the programming of House business and provide procedural support
  • process and draft bills
  • prepare and publish the record of proceedings of the House
  • process, provide access to and manage the custody of the documents and records of the House
  • undertake procedural and parliamentary research
  • produce information and publications on House practice and procedure
  • maintain procedural and statistical records on the work of the House
  • provide secretariat support to several domestic committees
  • provide professional development resources and activities on parliamentary procedure.

In 2017–18 the budget allocation for this activity was $3.611 million and expenditure was $3.062 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 17); staff levels are shown in Table 12.

In January 2017, some of the additional funding ($2.1 million over four years) received in 2016–17 for parliamentary strengthening through publications and systems was used to create the role of Clerk Assistant (Procedure). This position was established for an initial 18-month period, and oversees the Chamber Research Office and the newly formed Procedure Office. Following an independent review, the Procedure Office and Clerk Assistant (Procedure) position will remain on an ongoing basis.

Performance summary

The focus of the offices is on supporting the sittings of the House of Representatives Chamber and meetings of the Federation Chamber. Our performance is usually measured in two ways: qualitatively, based on an annual survey of members; and quantitatively, based on information relating to the sittings of the House, meetings of the Federation Chamber, and business conducted in the Chamber and Federation Chamber.

The annual survey of members was supplemented by interviews with party whips, non-aligned members and members of the Speaker’s panel. Feedback from members on the range and standard of the services provided was generally positive. This result was largely consistent with comments received during the reporting period about the procedural resources available online and in hard copy, and the briefings on parliamentary topics of interest to members and their staff. The annual performance statement on page 17 provides more detailed analysis of the results of the survey and interviews.

Statistics on sittings of the House and meetings of the Federation Chamber in 2017–18 and the two preceding years are shown in Table 1.

There were 60 sitting days in 2017–18, a decrease of four days (6.25 per cent) on 2016–17. In 2017–18, the House sat for 22 fewer hours than in the previous year (3.9 per cent less time), and the Federation Chamber met for six fewer hours than it did in the previous year (2.5 per cent less time). Legislative activity continued at a high rate during the period: 222 bills were introduced (compared with 248 in 2016–17) and 128 bills were passed by both Houses and assented to (compared with 126 in 2016–17).

Changes to the House’s program in the Forty-fifth Parliament included an earlier adjournment on Mondays and Tuesdays and a change to the order of business for the Federation Chamber, making the optional Tuesday afternoon meeting a permanent fixture and adding a further 2 hours and 45 minutes of private members’ business on Monday afternoons.

Detailed information on the business of the House and the Federation Chamber is provided in Appendix 1 and in the department’s publicationWork of the Session(available on the Parliament of Australia website).

Table 1: Performance summary, Chamber and Federation Chamber, 2015–16 to 2017–18

Aspect of performance

2015–16

2016– 17a

2017–18

Number of sittings of the House

60

64

60

Number of meetings of the Federation Chamber

41

59

59

Hours of sittings of the Houseb

592

570

548

Hours of meetings of the Federation Chamberb

132

237

231

Number of bills introduced

162

248

222

Number of bills that passed both Houses and were assented toc

118

126

128

a. Election year.

b. Excludes suspensions and rounded to the nearest hour.

c. Includes bills that passed both Houses in the financial year but were assented to in the following financial year.

Advice on practice and procedure

During proceedings, the Clerk, Deputy Clerk and other staff members provided immediate support and advice on the practice and procedure of the House to the Speaker, the Leader of the House, ministers, shadow ministers, members and others. They also provided detailed written advice on subjects such as the application of the standing orders and the practice of the House; the content of questions without notice; procedures for private members’ business; delegated legislation and the disallowance process; the requirements of the Constitution and standing orders with respect to financial legislation; privilege matters; and requirements of the House for the registration of members’ interests. Since the House adopted a resolution on 4 December 2017, advice has been provided also in relation to members' statements in relation to citizenship.

New citizenship register for members supported

Following seven judgments of the Court of Disputed Returns in relation to section 44(i) of the Constitution in 2017, the House passed a resolution requiring members to provide a statement to the Registrar of Members' Interests with details of their Australian citizenship and any possible citizenship of another country. In the final week of sittings in 2017 and working to a tight timeframe, the Clerk's office coordinated staff in several offices in developing and applying new processes to support members of the 45th Parliament in making their declarations to the Registrar. The new citizenship register is published on the Parliament of Australia website.

Programming and coordination of business

During the year, we provided advice and services to facilitate sittings of the House and meetings of the Federation Chamber by:

  • offering programming and procedural advice to ministers, shadow ministers, party whips, other members, their staff and others
  • preparing and publishing, each sitting day:
    • the Notice Paper—a document listing all unresolved business before the House and providing information about committee memberships and other matters
    • the Daily Program (also known as ‘the Blue’)—an informal agenda for the day
    • procedural scripts for all items of business for use in the Chamber and Federation Chamber
  • providing staff from the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office to:
    • support sittings of the House and meetings of the Federation Chamber
    • oversee ceremonial and security arrangements
    • ensure the availability of chamber papers
  • processing members’ questions in writing to ministers, which involved:
    • editing them for compliance with the standing orders
    • publishing them in the Notice Paper for the next sitting day
    • managing answers to questions
  • providing a captioning service for the televised and webcast proceedings of the Chamber and Federation Chamber that describes the current item of business
  • publishing This Week in the House, a weekly online forecast of expected business for the House, and its counterpart, Last Week in the House.

Table 2 shows the number of questions in writing to ministers and answers that were processed by the House in the five years from 2013–14 to 2017–18.

Table 2: Questions in writing to ministers and answers to questions in writing, 2013–14 to 2017–18

2013–14a

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17a

2017–18

Questions in writingb

201

633

1,310

761

987

Questions answeredc

126

623

1,235

247

945

a. Election year.

b. Excludes questions withdrawn.

c. The responsibility for responding to questions in writing rests with the ministers to whom the questions are put.

All sittings required the coordination of people, documents and actions, and the programming of the following categories of business:

  • government business (e.g. government legislation)
  • private members’ business (motions and bills proposed by private members)
  • House business (matters potentially involving all members; for example, question time, debate on committee reports and matters of privilege).

A longitudinal view of the amount of time the House (Chamber and Federation Chamber inclusive) devoted to each of these three types of business is shown in Figure 4.

Processing and drafting of bills

Legislation

Support for the legislative process in 2017–18 included our traditional responsibilities of:

  • receiving bills from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and keeping them in custody under embargo before their introduction in the House
  • providing bills to ministers for introduction, and to all members in the Chamber after introduction
  • uploading to the Parliament of Australia website bills, explanatory memorandums and proposed amendments, and providing an over-the-counter service for access
    to hard copies of bills and associated material
  • processing all bills and amendments to bills:
    • initiated in the House—from introduction to assent
    • initiated in the Senate—from introduction in the House until passage by the House
  • providing a legislative drafting service for private members
  • preparing and delivering messages to the Senate; during 2017–18, we delivered 199 messages relating to the passage of bills (170 in 2016–17) and 16 other messages (30 in 2016–17)
  • preparing and issuing a Daily Bills List for each sitting day; the list provides cumulative information on the status of all bills before the parliament, or assented to in the current calendar year.

Chamber staff of both Houses continued to work with the developer of the computerised bills processing system to maintain optimal levels of technical support. This included testing of upgrades to the system. Staff also provided input to the Bills System Advisory Group, which continued its role of overseeing the operational governance of the system, the quality of service and the fulfilment of business requirements.

Queries on the bills and legislation collection on the Parliament of Australia website totalled 2.1 million in 2017–18, representing 18.2 per cent of the 11.6 million queries made via searches through ParlInfo, the database that includes all library publications as well as Hansard, bills, committee documents and the parliamentary handbook.

During the year, 222 bills were introduced (248 in 2016–17), a decrease of 10.5 per cent on the previous year. Of these, 202 were initiated in the House of Representatives and 20 were received from the Senate. A total of 130 bills passed both Houses (126 in 2016–17), of which 113 were initiated in the House of Representatives (121 in 2016–17) and 17 in the Senate (five in 2016–17). Table 3 shows the number of bills introduced in the House and assented to in the five years from 2013–14 to 2017–18.

In 2017–18, the House passed 194 bills (150 in 2016–17), an average of 3.2 bills for each sitting (a substantial increase on the previous year, in which an average of 2.3 bills for each sitting were passed).

The House amended 28 (14.4 per cent) of the bills it passed, compared to 12 (8 per cent) in 2016–17. The Table Office incorporated the amendments into the text of the bills and arranged for their reprinting (as third-reading prints) before transmittal to the Senate. The House agreed to Senate amendments, made amendments requested by the Senate, or did both, in relation to 16 House bills (13 in 2016–17). After further processing by the Table Office, the bills were presented to the Governor-General for assent. The House did not make any amendments to bills in place of Senate amendments that were not agreed to.

The number of amendments moved during consideration in detail increased from 173 in 2016–17 to 599 in 2017–18. Of these, 456 were passed, of which three were opposition amendments. The House amended one bill initiated in the Senate in 2017–18.

The Table Office prepared 27 third-reading prints (12 in 2016–17) and 112 assent prints (121 in 2016–17). All documents accurately reflected the decisions of both Houses.

Table 3: Number of bills introduced in the House, and number of bills assented to, 2013–14 to 2017–18

2013–14a

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17a

2017–18

Bills introduced

182

203

162

248

222

Bills assented tob

94

168

118

126

128

a. Election year.

b. Includes bills that passed both Houses in the financial year but were assented to in the following financial year.

Legislative drafting

The department drafts bills, amendments and second-reading (in-principle) amendments for private members, and ensures that those documents comply with the Constitution and the standing orders. We also arrange copies for circulation in the Chambers.

In 2017–18, 35 private members’ bills were introduced (including five private senators’ bills). Of the 599 amendments moved during consideration in detail, 146 were private members’ amendments, three of which were agreed to. Table 4 provides chamber statistics for private members’ legislation for the past five years. The table does not reflect all of the department’s work in this area, because some material is drafted but is not introduced into the House.

Since 2010, the department has had an arrangement with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel for one of its senior drafters to be seconded to the department. That arrangement continues to be mutually beneficial.

Table 4: Private members’ bills introduced and amendments moved (Chamber and Federation Chamber), 2013–14 to 2017–18

2013–14a

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17a

2017–18

Bills introduced

7

12

21

35

35

Second-reading amendments moved

36

22

16

40

45

Consideration-in-detail amendments movedb

66

303

119

173

599

a. Election year.

b. Includes government amendments.

Record of proceedings and House documents

Votes and Proceedings

The Votes and Proceedings—the official record of the proceedings of the House—continued to provide an accurate, comprehensive and concise record of proceedings. The draft document for each sitting is published on the Parliament of Australia website, usually within an hour of the adjournment of the House.

TheVotes and Proceedingsis prepared from the Votes Officer’s Minutes( better known as the Live Minutes), which is an electronic draft record of the proceedings of the Chamber and Federation Chamber. The Votes Officer’s Minutes are more detailed than the Votes and Proceedings, and are compiled progressively throughout a sitting. Because they are available in real time, they provide a practical means for members, staff and the public to follow House proceedings online. Internal and external users continued to rely on this service and provided positive feedback.

Table Offices Production System

Further enhancements were made to the Table Offices Production System (TOPS) during 2017–18. The system is used to produce chamber documents, including the Notice Paper, the Daily Program, the Votes and Proceedings, and the Live Minutes. A final set of scheduled enhancements was completed in April 2018. Further defects were identified and work will continue on these in 2018–19.

Documents

During the year, the Table Office processed all documents presented to the House and recorded their details in the Votes and Proceedings and the Index to Papers Presented to Parliament. Copies were made available on request to members and their staff and others, principally in Parliament House. The original documents were added to the records of the House, which are maintained by the Table Office. Tabling stock requirements continue to be reviewed in light of the online availability of documents and the declining demand for hard copies.

In 2017–18, a total of 3,354 documents were presented to the House, a decrease from the 3,702 presented in the previous year.

Each sitting day, the Table Office prepares and issues a Disallowable Instruments List in both electronic and hard-copy form. The list provides details of all instruments presented to the House that are subject to disallowance, listed by the number of sitting days remaining in which a notice of disallowance can be lodged.

Parliamentary Papers Series

The Parliamentary Papers Series comprises documents of a substantial nature presented to the parliament since 1901. An electronic repository for the series, instituted in 2013, enables centralised electronic access to the documents through the ParlInfo Tabled Papers Register. The documents section of TOPS has helped to streamline the process of uploading parliamentary papers to the repository.

The Presiding Officers advised that 2016 would be the last year in which hard copies of the series would be distributed to the 27 external recipients. In 2015–16, the department took over responsibility from the external service provider for administering the distribution of the printed copies, and work continued during 2017–18 on clearing the distribution backlog.

On 28 March 2018, on the recommendation of the Publications Committee, the House resolved to classify as parliamentary papers all reports previously included in the Parliamentary Papers Series. The resolution was in response to a recommendation of the Joint Committee on Publications inquiry into printing standards for documents presented to parliament (discussed in more detail on page 39).

The department is responsible for the custody and preservation of, and provision of access to, the official records of the House, including Acts, bills, the Votes and Proceedings and all documents presented to the House dating from 1901. The records are stored in an archive in the basement of Parliament House, in a suitable, monitored archive environment.

Records of the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry

The Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry was established in May 1986, under the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry Act 1986, to inquire into allegations concerning the conduct of then Justice of the High Court, the Hon Lionel Keith Murphy. The Act required the commission to inquire into and advise the parliament of whether any conduct of Justice Murphy had been such as to amount, in its opinion, to ‘proved misbehaviour’ within the meaning of section 72 of the Constitution.

In September 1986, following Justice Murphy’s diagnosis with a terminal illness, the parliament passed the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (Repeal) Act 1986, which had the effect of ceasing the commission and placing its records into the custody of the Presiding Officers.

The commission’s records are divided into class A and class B records. The class B records contain material mostly relating to the interpretation of section 72 of the Constitution. The Presiding Officers authorised the publication of these records on the Parliament of Australia website on 19 December 2016.

The class A records of the commission contain material relating to the conduct of Justice Murphy. Processes to prepare the documents for publication were carried out. These processes included contacting persons named in the records, and the closest living relatives or legal representatives of deceased persons, to notify them of the forthcoming publication of the documents; scanning of documents; and redaction of personal information such as addresses and signatures. The records were then presented in the House and the Senate on 14 September 2017, and published on the Parliament of Australia website.

Petitions

The House petitioning process enables Australians to raise issues with the House that are of interest to them. Table 5 shows the number of petitions presented to the House, and the number of signatories, for the past five years. In 2017–18, a total of 424 petitions were presented, compared with 185 in 2016–17. The number of signatures increased to 371,491 from 235,751 in the previous year.

Table 5: Petitions and signatories to petitions, 2013–14 to 2017–18

2013–14a

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17a

2017–18

Number of petitions presented

75

101

87

185

424

Number of signatories

1,365,151

250,369

118,846

235,751

371,491

a. Election year.

Research

The Chamber Research Office continued its principal function of collecting, analysing and publishing procedural and statistical information on the work of the House and its committees.

In 2016–17, the office provided:

  • advice, and assistance with advice, to the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and members on the application of the standing orders and House practice
  • secretariat services to the Standing Committee on Procedure
  • advice about and publications on House statistics, practice and procedure
  • information to the public, the media and other parliaments on the operations of the House.

The services of the office continued to be in high demand, reflecting sustained high levels of interest in the procedures and operations of the House.

Publications

The Chamber Research Office continued to produce regular publications outlining significant procedural events and popular statistics for a variety of readers. After each sitting fortnight, two publications were produced: the Procedural Digest, an online, subject-based record of proceedings; and the Statistical Digest, a statistical record of the work of the House. Work of the Session, a comprehensive six-monthly overview of the business of the House and committees, was published in July 2017 and January 2018. The series of 22 information sheets (the Infosheet series) on the work of the House was updated to incorporate changes introduced in the Forty-fifth Parliament.

Together, these publications provide a current and concise record of the work of the House and the more significant aspects of that work. The department’s publications, including the Infosheet series, are listed in Appendix 4.

The Chamber Research Office maintains, publishes and distributes the standing orders of the House. The standing orders were reprinted as at 4 December 2017, incorporating the resolution of the House in relation to the creation of a citizenship register.

The Chamber Research Office continued to expand and diversify its publications about the work of the House, to cater to the wide range of needs and interests of members, staff and the public. The intention is to increase procedural capability and understanding of the House’s role and formal processes. Nine editions of House Review, a publication that provides a plain-English analysis of significant events in the House in the previous fortnight, were published on the Parliament of Australia website. House Review is prepared by the Procedure Office and is published on the second Friday of the sitting fortnight. It is intended for a general audience and complements Last Week in the House, which collects and outlines the business transacted each week in the House, and the Procedural Digest, which provides more technical, procedural analysis.

Collaboration with the Department of the Senate

The Chamber Research Office continued its longstanding collaboration with colleagues in the Department of the Senate, including through participation in orientation seminars for the Australian National Internship Program and the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program (discussed in more detail on page 45).

Collaboration with other parliaments

Staff members are frequently asked to share their experiences and knowledge with counterparts from other parliaments. The offices continued to participate—together with colleagues and members from other parliaments—in study programs, meetings during delegation visits and capacity-building work. Colleagues from other parliaments continued to be interested in the longstanding practices of the department in recording, analysing and publishing information on the procedural work of the House.

Parliamentary committees

The department continued to provide effective secretariat and advisory support to five House committees and one joint committee dealing with the powers and procedures of the House (see Table 6).

In 2017–18, those committees held 57 meetings and produced 22 reports. Details of meetings and reports are set out in Appendixes 2 and 3.

Table 6: Committees supported by the Chamber and Federation Chamber activity, 2017–18

House committees

Selection Committee

Standing Committee on Appropriations and Administration

Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests

Standing Committee on Procedure

Standing Committee on Publications

Joint committee

Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings

Selection Committee

Table Office staff support the Selection Committee in fulfilling three important roles:

  • selecting and programming private members’ business and committee and delegation business
  • selecting items of private members’ business and committee and delegation business for referral to the Federation Chamber or return to the House
  • considering all bills introduced and determining whether to refer bills directly to House or joint committees for inquiry.

The committee has 11 members: the Speaker (as chair), the chief whips of the three largest parties, four government members and three non-government members. The committee met 15 times during the reporting period and presented 14 reports.

Standing Committee on Appropriations and Administration

The Standing Committee on Appropriations and Administration considers, among other things, estimates of the funding required for the operation of the department each year. When conferring with its counterpart Senate committee—the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing—the House committee may consider estimates of the funding required for the operation of DPS each year.

The committee has nine members: the Speaker (as chair), four government members and four non-government members. It is supported by the Clerk, the Serjeant-at-Arms and other officers of the department. During the year the committee met three times and presented two reports.

Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests

The Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests met 11 times during the reporting period, and presented two reports to the House.

The report of the committee’s Inquiry concerning the former Member for Dunkley in the 44th Parliament: possible contempts of the House and appropriate conduct of a Member (presented 26 March 2018) followed its consideration of two formal matters relating to the Hon Bruce Billson during his term as the Member for Dunkley in the last parliament. The task for the committee was to consider whether, as a member, Mr Billson had acted in a manner contrary to the House resolutions on the registration of members’ interests, or whether his actions gave rise to any issues that either constituted a contempt of the House or concerned the appropriate conduct of a member, having regard to their responsibilities to their constituents and to the public interest. The central issues were that while Mr Billson was the Member for Dunkley, he had accepted an appointment as a paid director of the Franchise Council of Australia, and he did not include this interest on his statement of registrable interests, as required by resolutions of the House.

The committee concluded that Mr Billson had failed to comply with the requirements in relation to his registrable interests when he was the Member for Dunkley, that this was an interest ‘where a conflict of interest with a Member’s public duties could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise’ and that his decision to accept the paid role while he was a member fell below the standards expected of a member of the House. The day after the report was presented, the House passed a resolution censuring the former member for failing to discharge his obligations as a member in taking up paid employment for services to represent the interests of an organisation while he was a member, and failing to fulfil his responsibilities as a member by appropriately declaring his personal and pecuniary interests in respect of this paid employment in accordance with the resolutions and standing orders of the House.

The committee presented two sets of alterations of members’ interests and volume 6 of the statements of registrable interests during the period. Also, in February 2018, the committee reported on its operations in connection with the registration and declaration of members’ interests in 2017.

Standing Committee on Procedure

The Standing Committee on Procedure usually meets once each sitting week. The committee presented two reports during the reporting period, one into the provisions relating to disorder in the House, and one (interim report) into the maintenance of the standing orders.

Standing Committee on Publications

The House Publications Committee makes recommendations to the House on which of the documents presented to the House (and on which the House or the Senate has not already made a determination) should be included in the Parliamentary Papers Series. The committee may confer with the Senate Publications Committee, forming the Joint Committee on Publications. The House Publications Committee held two meetings in 2017–18, and met with the Senate Publications Committee on four other occasions. The committee presented five reports containing recommendations on documents for inclusion in the Parliamentary Papers Series. All recommended documents were agreed for inclusion.

On 5 December 2017, the Joint Committee on Publications presented the report of its inquiry into printing standards for documents presented to parliament. The report contained five recommendations, one of which was implemented on 28 March 2018 when the House passed a resolution to the effect that documents previously included in the Parliamentary Papers Series on the recommendation of the Publications Committee be made parliamentary papers on their presentation to the House. The other four recommendations were aimed at optimising digital accessibility of documents presented to the parliament.

Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings

The Parliamentary Proceedings Broadcasting Act 1946 requires Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) radio and, in some circumstances, ABC television to broadcast the proceedings of parliament. It is the statutory role of the Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings to advise parliament on general principles for the allocation of radio broadcasting time between the House and the Senate chambers, and to determine a more detailed schedule of broadcasting allocations. The committee is supported by the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office.

Under the Act, the committee has nine members, including the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. By tradition, the Speaker is chair and the President is vice-chair. The committee meets when required and did not meet during the reporting period.

Procedural training and resources

The department continued with its strong commitment to the development of procedural knowledge and skills of members and staff, particularly through the work of the Procedure Office. Sitting-day briefings for staff who act as Clerk-at-the-Table and Deputy Clerk-at-the-Table in the Federation Chamber continued during the reporting period. These briefings complement the sitting-day briefings traditionally provided by the Deputy Clerk, for staff who are rostered for duty as Clerk and Deputy Clerk in the House. Both sets of briefings provide an opportunity for staff to prepare for the day’s events and discuss procedural issues in general.

The regular program of House briefing sessions for members and their staff continued; it included topics such as opportunities for members during the budget debate, the legislative process and reading legislation. Two new publications were designed by the Procedure Office for use by members and by the Speaker’s panel of chairs.

The sixth edition of the Guide to Procedures—a concise and practical introduction to the procedures of the House—was launched by the Speaker at a House briefing in February 2018. A separate launch was held for departmental staff. The guide is popular because of its plain-English style, and because it is concise it allows readers to easily obtain a broad understanding of all elements of parliamentary procedure. The content does not include history and analysis; this is contained in the department’s flagship publication, House of Representatives Practice.

Last year’s annual report anticipated that the 2017–18 financial year would see the publication of the seventh edition of House of Representatives Practice. However, publication was delayed to await the judgment in the matter of questions referred to the Court of Disputed Returns pursuant to section 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) concerning the citizenship of Senator Katy Gallagher. This decision was taken because if the High Court found there was a vacancy in the representation for the Australian Capital Territory in the Senate, this was likely to have significant implications for four sitting House members. On 9 May 2018, the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns unanimously determined that Senator Katy Gallagher was ‘a citizen of a foreign power’, and was therefore incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator by reason of section 44(i) of the Constitution when she nominated for election on 31 May 2016. Following this ruling, four House members in comparable circumstances resigned their seats. Relevant updates were made to the text of the seventh edition of House of Representatives Practice, which has now been finalised. Launch is scheduled for August 2018.

A package of new procedural learning opportunities for departmental staff commenced during the reporting period. In June 2018, the first in a series of nine lunchtime discussions titled ‘A taste of procedure’ was presented. Together, the sessions will provide broad coverage of most aspects of parliamentary procedure. Each session is delivered by one or more senior staff members from the Procedure, Table and Chamber Research offices in collaboration. The first in a series of six drop-in sessions also commenced in June, hosted by the Clerk Assistant (Procedure) and Clerk Assistant (Table). These sessions provide opportunities for staff to ask questions of senior colleagues in an informal environment, to help them to understand more about the House environment and operations. After the last of the lunchtime sessions, the offices will again be collaborating to offer a tutorial course in procedure, which is currently being developed. These longer sessions will explore key procedural knowledge components in greater depth, and will include skill development for staff beginning to work as Deputy Clerks-at-the-Table in the Federation Chamber.

Another new project that the Chamber Research Office has commenced, in collaboration with the Parliamentary and Business Information Services Office (PBIS), is the production of a catalogue of short educational videos using footage from the House and Federation Chamber, to explain key elements of House procedure for Clerks-at-the-Table and others: the CATTalogue. A web page is currently being developed to host the videos on the departmental intranet, with the first videos expected to be available in the latter half of 2018.

The Chamber Research Office also prepared content for use by PBIS in a series of infographics to be posted online by its social media team. The content included procedural information, statistics and other material relating to the operations of the House, such as the legislative process, terminology and question time.

The department continued to use a range of measures to support its staff to develop the specialised knowledge and skills required for applying parliamentary law, practice and procedure. These included the following:

  • debriefs following each sitting week or fortnight, focusing on matters of procedural interest—the format was changed to include videos of some of the more complex events, allowing for easier explanation and analysis
  • regular parliamentary briefings and training provided by senior departmental staff or external experts
  • specialist training and coaching for departmental staff who undertake duty as Clerks and Deputy Clerks in the Chamber and Federation Chamber—the number of these sessions was increased, and supporting written materials were made more detailed and formal
  • shadowing opportunities that enable staff to learn specialist skills such as preparing House procedures, the Notice Paperand the Votes and Proceedings—once the trainee staff have sufficient experience, the use of shadowing allows chamber support staff to finish work earlier on some sitting nights, and provides a back-up in the event of staffing absences or turnover
  • opportunities for participation in parliamentary conferences, including the annual Australia and New Zealand Association of Clerks-at-the-Table (ANZACATT) professional development seminar
  • participation in the Graduate Certificate in Parliamentary Law and Practice, currently taught by the University of Tasmania under the auspices of ANZACATT.

Independent review of Clerk Assistant (Procedure) Office

In April 2018, an independent consultant was engaged to undertake a review of the Clerk Assistant (Procedure) Office, which was established in December 2016 for an initial period of 18 months. At that time, the Clerk announced that there would be an independent review of the office before any decisions were made about future changes, including whether to establish the office on an ongoing basis.

The terms of reference for the review focused on the office’s contribution to the objectives of providing additional support and procedural advice and support to both members and departmental staff. The review also examined whether the office should continue and, if so, what its future focus would be and what resources would be needed to support it. Staff were invited to make written submissions or to request interviews with the external reviewer (or both), which took place from 30 April to 4 May. In addition, a workshop was convened and interviews were held with other stakeholders.

In June, a summary comprising the conclusions of the review was circulated by the Clerk to staff, together with the department’s proposed response. Staff were invited to comment on either the review’s findings or the proposed departmental response. Shortly after the end of the reporting period the Clerk announced that, in line with the review’s recommendations, the Clerk Assistant (Procedure) Office would be ongoing, and consequently an ongoing vacancy at the SES Band 1 level would become available.

Improving performance

The department’s commitment to procedural training and development continued to be a priority during the year, and the range of new resources and activities continued to be developed; where possible, these resources and activities have been designed so that they can be easily adapted for use by more general audiences. The debate in the House on the Marriage Amendment (Definitions and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 in particular also saw a renewed interest in the procedures of the House from the media and the broader public. Publications such as House Review are designed to provide a current, non-technical follow-up to House proceedings that can be useful to a wide audience.

Outlook

Further improvements to TOPS and the Parliamentary Procedural Records System will make them easier to use and will result in further efficiencies. The long-term pattern of chamber support activity that resumed in 2016–17 continued in 2017–18, and is expected to continue in 2018–19.

Our focus in 2018–19 will continue to be on providing high-quality services to meet the needs of the Speaker, members and others, and on increasing the understanding of the role and operations of the House.

In 2018–19, highlights for the Procedure Office will include the publication of the seventh edition of House of Representatives Practice, additions to the Infosheet series, and a continued focus on the development of resources to improve the procedural knowledge and skills of members and departmental staff.