The Clerk’s Office, Table Office and Procedure 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 and amendments
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 2018–19 the budget allocation for this activity was $3.973 million and expenditure was $2.715 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 17 of printed report); staff levels are shown in Table 11.
Following an independent review in 2017–18, the Clerk Assistant (Procedure) position will continue on an ongoing basis. In August 2018 the Clerk approved a structure for the House Procedure Office (expanding the former Chamber Research Office) to reflect the office’s increasing focus on procedural development activities in addition to its traditional role of undertaking procedural research and maintaining statistics on the work of the House. Following the restructure, the Procedure Office has an additional director to oversee its procedural development functions.
The focus of the offices is on supporting the sittings of the House of Representatives Chamber and meetings of the Federation Chamber. 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 members who had announced their intention to retire at the conclusion of the Forty-fifth Parliament.
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 2018–19 and the four preceding years are shown in Table 1.
There were 42 sitting days in 2018–19, 18 fewer than in 2017–18 (30 per cent fewer sitting days). In 2018–19, the House sat for 177 fewer hours than in the previous year (32 per cent less time), and the Federation Chamber met for 101 fewer hours than it did in the previous year (44 per cent less time). Legislative activity continued at a high rate: 155 bills were introduced and 148 bills passed both Houses and received assent from the Governor-General.
Detailed information on the business of the House and Federation Chamber is provided in Appendix 1 and in the department’s publication Work of the Session (available on the Parliament of Australia website).
Table 1: Performance summary, Chamber and Federation Chamber, 2014–15 to 2018–19
Aspect of performance
Number of sittings/meetings
Sittings of the House
Meetings of the Federation Chamber
Hours of sittings/meetings
Sittings of the Houseb
Meetings of the Federation Chamberb
a. Election year.
b. Excludes suspensions and rounded to the nearest hour.
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.
House Division Recording System project
The House Division Recording System (HDRS) was trialled in the final sitting week of the Forty-fifth Parliament and was used to record the four divisions that took place that week. The HDRS allows tellers to record members’ votes electronically on an iPad. The division result is published immediately on announcement by the Speaker in the Votes Officer’s Minutes and on Events in Progress screens located in the Chamber. A web page is currently under development that will publish the results of divisions in real time and also provide a searchable and filterable repository of divisions recorded in the HDRS.
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 2014–15 to 2018–19.
Table 2: Questions in writing to ministers and answers to questions in writing, 2014–15 to 2018–19
Questions in writingb
All sittings required the coordination of people, documents and actions, and the programming of the following categories of business:
government business (for example, government legislation)
private members’ business (motions and bills proposed by private members)
business of the House (matters potentially involving all members; for example, Question Time, debate on committee reports, and matters of privilege).
A longitudinal view of the proportion of sitting time the House (Chamber and Federation Chamber inclusive) devoted to each of these three types of business is shown in Figure 3: Government and private members’ business and business of the House (Chamber and Federation Chamber), 2015 to 2019.
a. 2019 data is for January to June 2019 only.
b. Private members’ business includes consideration of private members’ motions and bills and other opportunities for private members, such as adjournment debates and discussion of matters of public importance.
Processing and drafting of bills
Support for the legislative process in 2018–19 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 formal messages to the Senate; during 2018–19, we delivered 128 messages relating to the passage of bills (199 in 2017–18) and 12 other messages (16 in 2017–18)
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 the 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 1.49 million in 2018–19 (a decrease from 2.10 million in 2017–18), representing 12 per cent of the 12.56 million queries made via searches through ParlInfo, the database that includes all library publications as well as Hansard, bills, chamber and committee documents and the parliamentary handbook.
During the year, 155 bills were introduced (30 per cent fewer than the 222 introduced in 2017–18). Of these, 140 were initiated in the House of Representatives and 15 were received from the Senate.
The House passed 111 bills in 2018–19 (194 in 2017–18), an average of 2.6 bills for each sitting (a substantial decrease on the previous year, in which an average of 3.2 bills were passed per sitting).
A total of 148 bills were finally passed by both Houses in identical form (128 in 2017–18), of which 134 were initiated in the House of Representatives and 14 were initiated in the Senate. This figure includes a number of bills that passed the House prior to 2018–19 but either had not yet passed the Senate or were amended by the Senate and needed to be agreed to in their final form by both Houses.
Table 3 shows the number of bills introduced in the House and assented to in the five years from 2014–15 to 2018–19.
The House amended 20 (18 per cent) of the bills it passed, compared to 28 (14 per cent) in 2017–18. 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 28 House bills (18 in 2017–18). 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. On one occasion the House agreed to Senate amendments with House amendments.
The number of amendments moved during the consideration-in-detail stage remained high: 566 in 2018–19 compared to 599 in 2017–18. Of the 483 such amendments that were passed, two were amendments proposed by the opposition and 10 were amendments proposed by non-aligned members. The House amended two Senate bills in 2018–19.
The Table Office prepared 18 third-reading prints (27 in 2017–18) and 134 assent prints (122 in 2017–18). All documents accurately reflected the decisions of both Houses.
Table 3: Number of bills introduced in the House, and number of bills assented to, 2014–15 to 2018–19
Bills assented tob
a. Election year.
b. Includes bills that passed both Houses in the financial year but were assented to in the following financial year.
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 2018–19, 30 private members’ bills were introduced (including two private senators’ bills). Of the 566 amendments moved during consideration in detail, 95 were private members’ amendments, 12 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), 2014–15 to 2018–19
Second-reading amendments moved
Consideration-in-detail amendments moved
a. Election year.
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.
The Votes and Proceedings is 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.
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 2018–19, a total of 2,556 documents were presented to the House, a decrease from the 3,354 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.
Online Tabled Documents project
With colleagues from the Department of the Senate and DPS, Table Office staff supported the Online Tabled Documents project, which will establish a system for the electronic receipt and storage of documents for tabling in the parliament, and their subsequent publication via the Parliament of Australia website.The system will streamline administrative handling of documents, and make them available online immediately afte rtabling through a searchable database, thereby significantly reducing the need for hardcopies.
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 2018–19, a total of 190 petitions were presented, compared with 424 in 2017–18. The number of signatures decreased from 371,491 in the previous year to 199,084 in 2018–19.
Table 5: Petitions and signatories to petitions, 2014–15 to 2018–19
Number of petitions presented
Number of signatories
a. Election year.
The Procedure Office continued its principal function of collecting, analysing and publishing procedural and statistical information on the work of the House and its committees.
In 2018–19, 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.
The seventh edition of the Department’s flagship publication, House of RepresentativesPractice, was launched in August 2018. The new edition details more significant events in the Chamber and Federation Chamber that occurred between 2012 and 2018, including a prorogation without dissolution, several uses of the Speaker’s casting vote, and a double dissolution. It updates references to the impact of section 44 of the Constitution as it relates to citizenship, has greater analysis of the work of House committees and the Federation Chamber, and references members’ use of electronic devices and the House’s new e-petitioning system.
The Procedure Office continued to produce regular publications outlining significant procedural events and popular statistics for a variety of readers. After each sitting fortnight, three publications were produced:
House Review, a plain-English analysis of significant House events for a general audience, published on the second Friday of the sitting fortnight.
These were complemented by Last Week in the House, which lists and links to official transcripts (Hansard) of key House business transacted each week. Workof the Session, a comprehensive six-monthly overview of the business of the House and committees, was published in July 2018, January 2019 and May 2019.
The publicly available, non-technical Infosheet series on the work of the House was expanded by two to a total of 24 topics. New titles were Basic legal expressions and Glossary of procedural terms. All infosheets were updated during the year.
Together, these publications provide a current and concise public record of the work of the House and the more significant aspects of that work. Several other Procedure Office publications were updated in preparation for the Forty-sixth Parliament—for example:
the Members’ Handbook was fully revised and renamed the New Members’ Handbook—this guide provides an introduction to the role of a member and a guide to services, entitlements and facilities
Members’ Notes—information sheets specifically for members—were updated, and a fourteenth note added: Register of Members’ qualifications relating to sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution.
The Procedure Office also maintains, publishes and distributes the standing orders of the House.
The Procedure Office has continued to update and increase 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. The department’s publications are listed in Appendix 4.
During the reporting period, the Procedure Office commenced work on a collaborative project with the Australian Dictionary of Biography at the Australian National University. A Dictionary of the House of Representatives will include biographies of all Speakers, Deputy Speakers and Clerks of the House since Federation. The Procedure Office will contribute introductory essays on the roles and history of the positions of Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Clerk.
Collaboration with the Department of the Senate
The Procedure Office continued its longstanding collaboration with colleagues in the Department of the Senate, including through participation in orientation seminars for the Australian National Internships Program and the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program (discussed in more detail on page 61).
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.
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. Committees supported by the Chamber and Federation Chamber activity area in 2018–19 were as follows:
Standing Committee on Appropriations and Administration
Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests
Standing Committee on Procedure
Standing Committee on Publications
Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings.
In 2018–19, those committees held 29 meetings and produced 15 reports. Details of meetings and reports are set out in Appendixes 2 and 3.
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 10 times during the reporting period and presented 10 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 twice and presented two reports.
Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests
The Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests met 10 times during the reporting period, and presented two reports to the House. One of the reports was presented under the resolution agreed to by the House to allow individual citizens to have published in Hansard a response to an adverse reference made to them in the House. The other report recommended an amendment to the wording of the resolutions for the registration of members’ interests, following consideration of a proposal by a member.
The committee’s inquiry into the development of a foreign influence transparency scheme to apply to parliamentarians, referred by the House on 25 October 2018, lapsed upon the dissolution of the House on 11 April 2019.
A resolution of the House adopted on 4 April 2019, relating to members’ qualifications, gave further responsibilities to the committee. These include determining procedures for the maintenance of a Register of Members’ qualifications relating to sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution, and prescribing a form or forms for the purposes of members attesting to the accuracy and completeness of material provided to the Australian Electoral Commission in accordance with Part XIV of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, and providing supplementary material as required. The resolution also gives the committee the same powers and functions in relation to the new Register of Members’ qualifications as it has in relation to the Register of Members’ Interests, including the power to inquire into a relevant matter referred to it by the House.
The committee presented two sets of alterations of members’ interests and volume 7 of the statements of registrable interests during the period. Also, in February 2019, the committee reported on its operations in connection with the registration and declaration of members’ interests in 2018.
Standing Committee on Procedure
The Standing Committee on Procedure usually meets once each sitting week. During the reporting period, the committee presented its final report into the maintenance of the standing orders.
Standing Committee on Publications
The House Publications Committee considers documents presented to the House that are not covered by the resolutions of the House (of 28 March 2018) and Senate (of 8 February 2018)—or for which the House and Senate has not already made a determination—and recommends to the House whether they 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 did not meet during the reporting period, and nor did the Joint Committee on Publications.
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 reporting period saw an increase in the delivery of innovative procedural training and the development of resources to expand the procedural capacity of departmental staff. From June to November 2018 senior staff in the Procedure Office and Table Office delivered a series of nine lunchtime discussions for departmental staff, titled ‘A taste of procedure’. The series covered, broadly, most aspects of parliamentary procedure. The Clerk Assistant (Procedure) and Clerk Assistant (Table) also hosted informal drop-in sessions, enabling staff to ask questions about the House environment and operations. The Procedure Office, in collaboration with the Table Office, also developed and delivered a more formal tutorial course in procedure. Held from February to May 2019, this course explored key procedural components in greater depth, and targeted skills development for staff, including some preparing to work as Deputy Clerks-at-the-Table in the Chamber and Federation Chamber.
A major innovation that came to fruition during the reporting period was the procedural training resource, the ‘CATTalogue’. This glossary was developed by the Procedure Office in collaboration with the Parliamentary and Business Information Services Office (PBIS), which managed the information and communications technology (ICT) aspects of the project. The CATTalogue is a collection of over 25 short educational videos that explain key elements of House procedure for Clerks-at-the-Table and other staff. The videos incorporate footage from proceedings in the House and Federation Chamber, and are supplemented by additional reference materials. The CATTalogue was launched by the Clerk in April 2019 and is hosted on the departmental intranet. New videos will continue to be added. Some CATTalogue content has been adapted for use on the members’ intranet site, House Connect.
In addition to the customary procedural publications (see details in the section on page 39 titled ‘Research’), the Procedure Office continued to collaborate with PBIS by reviewing and contributing content to be posted online.
Sitting-day briefings for staff rostered for duty as Clerk-at-the-Table and Deputy Clerk-at-the- Table in the House continued. These were complemented by briefings for staff who act as Clerk and Deputy Clerk in the Federation Chamber. Both briefings provided an opportunity for staff to prepare for the day’s events and discuss procedural issues in general.
Other departmental measures supporting staff to develop knowledge and skills in parliamentary law, practice and procedure included:
debriefs following each sitting week or fortnight, focusing on matters of procedural interest
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
shadowing opportunities that enable staff to learn specialist skills such as preparing House procedures, the Notice Paper and 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, Practice, and Procedure currently offered by the University of Tasmania under the auspices of ANZACATT.
The department’s commitment to innovation in procedural training and development continued to be a priority during the year, with the ‘House main course’ tutorial program delivered and complemented by lunchtime discussions and also drop-in sessions. The CATTalogue is available to all staff, and where possible new resources and activities have been designed so that they can be easily adapted for use by other audiences. Feedback from staff on the new activities and the CATTalogue has been extremely positive. General public and media interest in the procedures of the House continued. Publications such as House Review and contributions to the About the House newsletter and departmental social media accounts are designed to provide current, non-technical information on House proceedings that can be useful to a wide audience.
Following the commencement of the Forty-sixth Parliament, the focus of the chamber support areas will be on continuing to deliver high-quality services to meet the needs of the Speaker, members and others, to assist the House in fulfilling its representative and legislative roles. The level of support required is often heightened early in a new parliament, due to the incoming cohort of first-time members, but also due to changes to the ministry and to other key House roles.
Further improvements to the Parliamentary Procedural Records System will make it easier to use and will result in further efficiencies. In 2019–20, highlights for the Procedure Office will include progressing the Dictionary of the House of Representatives, and the development of further resources to improve the procedural knowledge and skills of members, and departmental and other parliamentary service staff. The Procedure Office will also continue to expand its resources that seek to increase understanding of the role and operations of the House by the broader public.