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 2019–20 the budget allocation for this activity was $3.056 million and expenditure was $3.469 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 16); staff levels are shown in Table 12.
The offices focus 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 and meetings of the Federation Chamber.
Feedback from members on the range and standard of the services provided was 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 16 provides more detailed analysis of formal feedback received.
Statistics on sittings of the House and meetings of the Federation Chamber in 2019–20 and the four preceding years are shown in Table 1.
There were 62 sitting days in 2019–20, 20 more than in 2018–19 (an election year). In 2019–20, the House sat for 177 more hours than in the previous year (48 per cent more time), and the Federation Chamber met for 55 more hours than it did in the previous year (42 per cent more time). Legislative activity continued at a high rate: 248 bills were introduced and 153 bills passed both Houses and received assent from the Governor-General.
Detailed information on the business of the Chamber 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, 2015–16 to 2019–20
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.
Impacts of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response to it have had implications for the provision of advice and the programming and processing of business conducted by the Chamber and Federation Chamber. The need for the House, as a legislative and representative body, to continue to carry out its essential work in the context of limitations on gatherings and travel posed logistical and procedural challenges. In the lead-up to and during sittings, regular advice was provided to the Speaker and other key stakeholders to support the effective operation of the Chamber and Federation Chamber in these unfamiliar circumstances.
The government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fluidity of arrangements for unscheduled sittings of the House, added complexity to the programming of business. Supporting sittings of the House in these circumstances also required processing urgent legislation within limited timeframes — particularly the coronavirus economic response package and associated bills — and implementing an additional requirement to record members who were unable to attend divisions in the Chamber due to social distancing measures.
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; 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 and in respect of members’ qualifications relating to sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution.
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.
Table 2 shows the number of questions in writing to ministers and answers that were processed by the House in the five years from 2015–16 to 2019–20.
Table 2: Questions in writing to ministers and answers to questions in writing, 2015–16 to 2019–20
Questions in writingb
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 (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.
a. 2020 data is for January to June 2020 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 2019–20 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
preparing and delivering formal messages to the Senate; during 2019–20, we delivered 190 messages relating to the passage of bills (128 in 2018–19) and 39 other messages (12 in 2018–19)
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.
Queries on the bills and legislation collection on the Parliament of Australia website totalled 1.57 million in 2019–20 (an increase from 1.49 million in 2018–19), representing 7.67 per cent of the 20.46 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, 248 bills were introduced (60 per cent more than the 155 introduced in 2018–19). Of these, 229 were initiated in the House of Representatives and 19 were received from the Senate (compared with 140 and 15, respectively, the previous year).
The House passed 177 bills in 2019–20 (111 in 2018–19), an average of 2.9 bills for each sitting (an average of 2.6 bills were passed per sitting in the previous year).
There was a marked reduction in the number of amendments moved during the consideration in detail stage: 139 in 2019–20 compared to 566 in 2018–19. Of the 35 such amendments that were passed, three were amendments proposed by the opposition.
The House amended eight (5 per cent) of the bills it passed, compared to 20 (18 per cent) in 2018–19. The department incorporated the amendments into the text of seven of the bills and reprinted them (as third reading prints) before transmittal to the Senate. In one case, in relation to the coronavirus economic response package of bills, a bill was required to be transmitted urgently to the Senate for its consideration and, by agreement with Senate counterparts, a schedule of amendments was instead prepared and transmitted with the copy of the bill as originally introduced.
The House agreed to Senate amendments, made amendments requested by the Senate, or did both, in relation to 19 House bills (28 in 2018–19). The House disagreed to Senate amendments to four bills. For two of these bills, the Senate did not insist on its amendments and agreement was reached by both Houses. In the remaining two cases, the Senate insisted on its amendments and the House insisted on disagreeing to the Senate amendments. In relation to the Treasury Laws Amendment (2019 Measures No. 3) Bill 2019, the Senate did not further insist on its amendments, and the bill was finally passed by both Houses in identical form. At the end of the reporting period, the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 2) Bill 2020 was still before the Senate.
A total of 153 bills were finally passed by both Houses in identical form (148 in 2018–19), of which 138 were initiated in the House of Representatives and 15 were initiated in the Senate. After further processing by the Table Office, bills finally passed by both Houses in identical form were presented to the Governor-General for assent. Table 3 shows the number of bills introduced in the House and assented to in the five years from 2015–16 to 2019–20.
In total, during the reporting period the Table Office prepared seven third reading prints (18 in 2018–19) and 139 assent prints (134 in 2018–19). All documents accurately reflected the decisions of both Houses.
Table 3: Number of bills introduced in the House, and number of bills assented to, 2015–16 to 2019–20
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 prepare copies for circulation in the chambers.
In 2019–20, 35 private members’ bills were introduced (including two private senators’ bills). Of the 139 amendments moved during consideration in detail, 107 were private members’ amendments, three of which were agreed to. Table 4 provides chamber statistics for private members’ legislation for the past five years. These figures do 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. The seconded officer provides drafting advice to members, and supports the drafting of private members’ bills and detailed amendments.
Table 4: Private members’ bills introduced and amendments moved by private members (Chamber and Federation Chamber), 2015–16 to 2019–20
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 alongside the Live Minutes, which is an electronic draft record of the proceedings of the Chamber and Federation Chamber. The Live Minutes is more detailed than the Votes and Proceedings, and is compiled and published online progressively throughout a sitting. Because it is available in real time, it provides 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 2019–20, a total of 3,290 documents were presented to the House, an increase from the 2,556 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.
House Division Recording System
The House Division Recording System has been in use since the final sitting week of the Forty-fifth Parliament. It allows tellers to record members’ votes electronically on an iPad. The division result is published immediately on announcement by the Speaker in the Live Minutes and on display screens located in the Chamber. A webpage publishes the results of divisions in real time and also provides a searchable and filterable repository of divisions recorded in the system. The House Division Recording System is now fully operational and used to record divisions on an ongoing basis. Since the start of the Forty-sixth Parliament, which commenced during the reporting period, the system has recorded 372 divisions.
Online Tabled Documents project
With colleagues from the Department of the Senate and DPS, Table Office staff continued to support 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, following tabling, make documents available online through a searchable database, providing an enhanced service for members and other interested parties. The project is expected to be completed in the next reporting period.
The Procedure Office maintained its focus on collecting, analysing and disseminating procedural and statistical information on the work of the House. In 2019–20 the office undertook the following activities within this purview:
maintaining comprehensive procedural and statistical records
preparing advice for the Speaker and members on House practice and the operation of the standing orders
responding to requests for procedural and statistical information from various stakeholders including members, parliamentary staff and members of the public
producing a range of publications on House statistics, practice and procedure.
The office also provided research and administrative support to the House Standing Committee on Procedure (see page 42).
The Parliamentary Procedural Records System, a key research tool maintained by the Procedure Office, was upgraded in 2019–20, resolving technical issues and adding a number of useful functions.
Sustained demand for House publications and high numbers of requests for procedural and statistical information over the year indicated positive engagement by stakeholders with House practice and procedure.
The Procedure Office continued to produce a range of publications on the work of the House, suited to the different needs and interests of readers. The following publications provided an overview of House business at the end of each sitting fortnight:
Statistical Digest, a statistical break-down of the business conducted by the House
House Review, a plain-English analysis of significant events in the House for a general audience
Procedural Digest, a technical record of the Speaker’s rulings, precedents and other procedurally interesting items.
In addition, the Last Week in the House webpage listed key events in the previous sitting week, with links to the Hansard transcript, and the Work of the Session provided a comprehensive periodic review of the work of the House and committees. Each of these publications is available on the Parliament of Australia website.
At the beginning of the Forty-sixth Parliament, the fully revised New Members’ Handbook provided new members with an introduction to their role and a guide to services, entitlements and facilities. The updated Members’ Notes series offered both new and returning members practical procedural guidance.
Work continued on updating the Infosheet series comprising short guides on the workings of the House and parliament in an easy-to-read format.
In addition to these more traditional publications, the Procedure Office collaborated with the Parliamentary and Business Information Services Office to create informative social media content related to House proceedings.
Progress continues on the Dictionary of the House of Representatives, in collaboration with the Australian Dictionary of Biography at the Australian National University. The dictionary will include biographies of all Speakers, Deputy Speakers and Clerks of the House since Federation and is expected to be completed in early 2021.
Collaboration with the Department of the Senate
The Procedure Office and colleagues in the Department of the Senate continued to work together effectively, including through involvement with the Australian National Internships Program and the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program (see pages 60–61).
Collaboration with other parliaments
The department continued its tradition of knowledge-sharing with colleagues from other parliaments. This included participation in study programs, meeting with incoming delegations and capacity-building work. The value of sharing experiences and ideas with other parliaments has been highlighted as parliaments face common challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Procedural training and resources
The provision of training and resources to build the procedural capacity of staff remained a priority. Following the success of the ‘House main course’ tutorial program on procedure in 2018–19, the course was again offered in 2019–20. The Procedure Office, in collaboration with the Table Office, developed the tutorial program to provide staff, particularly those working in chamber support, with high-level procedural training and targeted skills development. As COVID-19 prevented staff from gathering in early 2020, the program was postponed to later in the calendar year.
The CATTalogue, a video-based procedural training resource, provides a series of educational videos on key House principles and procedures and is intended for those preparing to work in Deputy Clerk-at-the-Table roles and other staff interested in House procedure. The CATTalogue was expanded in 2019–20 and is available to all staff through the department’s intranet. Video content from the CATTalogue and accompanying material was also adapted for members and their staff, and for members of the Speaker’s panel.
In addition to the newer procedural training initiatives, the department continued to support staff to develop expertise in parliamentary law, practice and procedure in the following ways:
debriefs following each sitting week or fortnight, focusing on matters of procedural interest (after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, while regular debriefs continued to be delivered, the introduction of physical distancing requirements meant attendance was restricted to staff in chamber support roles)
regular parliamentary briefings and training provided by senior departmental staff and external experts
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 and the Daily Program, and processing bills and documents — 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
participation in parliamentary conferences
participation in the Parliamentary Law, Practice, and Procedure course currently offered by the University of Tasmania under the auspices of the Australia and New Zealand Association of Clerks-at-the-Table (ANZACATT).
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 2019–20 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 2019–20, those committees held 50 meetings and produced 20 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 18 times during the reporting period and presented 17 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 five times and presented one report.
Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests
The Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests met eight 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 related to the registration and declaration of members’ interests during 2019.
The committee presented one set of alterations of members’ interests and four volumes of statements of registrable interests during the period. The department facilitated the transition to online lodgement of registrable interests and notifications of alterations, which has resulted in a more efficient service.
Standing Committee on Procedure
The Standing Committee on Procedure inquires into and reports on the practices and procedures of the House and its committees. It usually meets once each sitting week. In 2019–20, the committee commenced inquiries into the practices and procedures relating to Question Time, the practices and procedures put in place by the House in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the maintenance of the standing orders. The committee undertook a range of inquiry-related activities during this period, especially for the Question Time inquiry.
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 have 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 met twice during the reporting period, and the Joint Committee on Publications also met twice.
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.
As discussed earlier, the chamber support areas provided tailored, responsive support to the Speaker, members and other stakeholders in the uncertain and volatile circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Technology continues to facilitate the department’s improved performance in supporting the Chamber and Federation Chamber, including through the House Division Recording System and the Online Tabled Documents project.
The department remains committed to developing the procedural capacity of its staff through a range of methods, both formal and informal. The response to new initiatives in this area has been positive, with briefings consistently well attended and with many staff seeking to participate in the tutorial program on procedure.
Following the commencement of the Forty-sixth Parliament on 2 July 2019, the focus of the chamber support areas has been 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 demand for procedural advice remained high, and additional support was provided to members in the unfamiliar circumstances imposed by COVID-19. Demand for advice and support is expected to be sustained in the next year, as the practices of the House continue to respond to the ongoing situation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Procedure Office will continue to respond to the changing needs and expectations of stakeholders with regard to the publication of procedural and statistical information. In particular, the office looks forward to increasing its use of social media platforms to deliver engaging and informative content on the role and operations of the House to a wider audience. Background work underway throughout 2019–20 will support the creation of a new edition of House of Representatives Practice in due course.