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Members’ and corporate support

Members’ and corporate support is provided by the Finance Office, the Parliamentary and Business Information Services Office, the People Strategies Office and the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office, all of which report to the Serjeant-at-Arms. The offices liaise with the Department of Finance and DPS to provide comprehensive services to departmental staff as well as to members and their staff, including:

  • facilitating committees’ private meetings, public hearings and site inspections
  • providing advice and support on financial and human resource management, as well as records management, publishing and office services
  • paying members’ salaries and allowances
  • organising members’ office accommodation, furniture and fittings
  • providing mail and courier services, and a booking service for committee rooms and chamber gallery seating
  • maintaining and publishing key information about members and former members.

In 2019–20 the budget allocation for this activity was $8.750 million and expenditure was $9.470 million. There were expenses of $2.557 million that did not require an appropriation; the budget allocation for these was $2.526 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 23).

Performance summary

A high priority for the program area is to provide advice and support to the Speaker and the Speaker’s Office on the control and management of the precincts, chambers and gallery security, and ceremonial and other events at Parliament House. Staff work closely with colleagues in the Department of the Senate, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Australian Federal Police and DPS.

Arrangements to support the safe operation of the House and committees during the COVID-19 pandemic were a significant area of focus. Seating in the Chamber, Federation Chamber and committee rooms was adjusted to meet social distancing requirements. Revised seating plans were produced for the Chamber, typically on a daily basis, with microphones installed for use by those members not allocated seats on any given day. These measures enabled nearly all members to progressively take part in sittings while still maintaining safe numbers in the Chamber, particularly during divisions, quorums and Question Time. Hand sanitiser was placed at entrances and other locations in the Chamber, Federation Chamber and committee rooms, and chamber support staff engaged in frequent cleaning of surfaces during sittings.

Photo of the socially-distanced seating pattern used in the chamber during COVID-19.
Revised seating arrangements to comply with COVID-19 social distancing requirements, 11 June 2020. Image: Penny Bradfield, Auspic/DPS.

Several services for members were also suspended or reduced, including some mail runs, delivery of water and documents to members in the Chamber and Federation Chamber, placement of stationery and water in committee rooms, and provision of shared hard-copy newspapers in the chamber lobbies. Special arrangements were put in place for the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, including use of enclosed chamber galleries normally reserved for visiting school groups, to enable the media to cover proceedings while maintaining safe numbers in the Chamber and surrounds.

Similar arrangements were made for departmental operations more generally, with signage placed in common areas to signify occupancy limits, an audit undertaken of departmental accommodation to ensure that social distancing requirements can be met as staff return to work, and supply to all offices of hand sanitiser, soap dispensers and travel packs for relevant staff.

The ongoing program of building works to improve security at Parliament House also remained a priority. Staff welcomed the opening in August 2019 of a redeveloped House of Representatives entrance and carpark lift, following the use through the previous year of a temporary entrance to the House of Representatives wing.

Opening of the Forty-sixth Parliament

A major activity for the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office during the reporting period was the opening of the Forty-sixth Parliament. This involved ceremonial duties, gallery attendance and security, and logistics associated with members’ accommodation at Parliament House. The opening was marked by ceremonies and traditional practices derived from those of the United Kingdom parliament and included a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony to pay respect to the traditional custodians of the land.

Photo of the Sejeant-at-Arms leading the procession from the House Chamber to the Senate Chamber.
The Serjeant-at-Arms leads the procession of members of the House of Representatives to the Senate Chamber to hear the address of the Governor-General, the Hon David Hurley AC DSC (Retd). Image: David Foote, Auspic/DPS.

Address in Reply

The Address in Reply for the Forty-sixth Parliament was presented to the Governor-General at Government House on 4 December 2019. The Address in Reply is the formal acknowledgement by the House to the Governor-General for their speech given at an opening of parliament. The address is printed on goatskin parchment and signed by the Speaker and the Clerk.

Photo of the Speaker addressing the Governor-General.
The Speaker, the Hon Tony Smith MP, presents the Address in Reply to the Governor-General, the Hon David Hurley AC DSC (Retd). Image: David Foote, Auspic/DPS.

Media services

The Serjeant-at-Arms and staff continued to work with the various media bureaus and the governing committee of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery to ensure compliance with the rules for media-related activity in Parliament House and its precincts.

During the year, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the Usher of the Black Rod and their delegates liaised closely with the press gallery to balance media access, security and parliamentary requirements on a daily basis and at major events, including the opening of the Forty-sixth Parliament and the swearing-in of His Excellency General the Hon David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) as Governor-General.

On a day-to-day level, the Serjeant-at-Arms and delegates work with members’ and ministers’ offices, representatives of the press gallery, the Australian Federal Police and the Parliamentary Security Service to ensure that media events in the precincts are conducted in compliance with the media rules and with minimum inconvenience to all.

During the year, the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office responded to around 150 requests to film or photograph in the private areas of the building.

Information for members

As part of the department’s commitment to keep members and their staff informed about developments in the House, five editions of the members’ bulletin House Update were published, and five procedural briefing sessions were held during the year. Two planned procedural briefings were not held in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Videos on aspects of parliamentary procedure were also made available to members, their staff, and members of the Speaker’s panel, on the House Connect members’ intranet site.

Accommodation services

The Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office provides a concierge service for members. As part of that, it coordinates accommodation, capital works and routine maintenance services in the House of Representatives wing.

During the year, the office arranged 40 office relocations as a result of changes to the ministry and office-holder positions. That number is significantly lower than the 102 relocations in 2018–19, which included the swearing-in of the first and second Morrison ministries and several relocations arising from the 2019 federal election. The Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office worked closely with the government and opposition whips to ensure that the relocations were completed quickly. The office also coordinated 615 requests to supply and move furniture (compared with 473 requests in 2018–19). All tasks were performed within agreed timeframes, to agreed standards, and to the satisfaction of senior office holders and individual members.

Maintenance, access and transport services

Requests for maintenance work in members’ suites are coordinated by the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office, and include both emergency and routine work. During the year, the office coordinated 348 emergency requests, all of which were attended to promptly. In addition, the office coordinated 174 routine requests for repairs or alterations to suites or common areas. The office takes a proactive approach by performing office shutdowns and inspections over the autumn and winter recesses, so that issues can be identified, reported and addressed while parliament is not sitting.

The office coordinated 584 requests for assistance with telephone faults, relocations and allocations of telephone numbers (compared with 1,048 requests in 2018–19). Faults reported were referred to telephone support in DPS within five minutes of receipt, and appropriate timeframes for resolution were agreed with the affected areas.

As the area responsible for access to members’ suites, the office approved 1,011 requests by DPS and contractors working on behalf of DPS for access to suites and general circulation areas for works related to general maintenance, services and projects. This is a small increase on the previous year (998 requests).

Since September 2019 access by DPS and its contractors to suites in the House of Representatives wing has been managed through an online Authority to Work approval system. The online system has significantly reduced manual handling of paper forms for all parties, and has improved visibility for Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office staff over the schedule of works in the House of Representatives wing.

The Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office operates a Transport Office that delivers a parliamentary shuttle service during sitting periods. The shuttle provides a readily available, secure car-with-driver service in Canberra for members. In 2019–20, the Transport Office managed some 7,720 bookings from members, compared with 6,630 bookings in 2018–19 (figures exclude unbooked shuttle trips from the House of Representatives entrance). This represents a 16 per cent increase in bookings on the previous year, reflecting a busy sitting period in the second half of 2019. A decrease in bookings was noted in 2020, reflecting the reduced sittings due to COVID-19.

Parliament House security

The Serjeant-at-Arms represents the department on the Security Management Board. The board is established pursuant to section 65A of the Parliamentary Service Act 1999, to advise the Presiding Officers on security policy and the management of security measures for Parliament House. The board met four times during the reporting period.

The department is also represented on three other security-related consultative groups, all chaired by the Australian Federal Police. The Incident Planning and Response Committee is attended by representatives of the parliamentary departments and several external agencies. It meets before meetings of the Security Management Board in order to provide specialist advice to the board. The Joint Management Group is attended by representatives of the parliamentary departments, the Department of Finance and the Australian Federal Police. This group meets weekly to consider security-related matters and coordinate responses at the operational level. The third group, the Emergency Management Working Group, is also attended by representatives of the parliamentary departments, the Department of Finance and the Australian Federal Police. The primary role of the Emergency Management Working Group is to develop, coordinate and facilitate security exercises at Parliament House, as determined and scheduled by the Incident Planning and Response Committee.

The department has a business continuity network to coordinate contingency plans for work areas in the event of business disruptions, with a particular focus this year on responding to COVID-19. The department also ran a desktop scenario exercise in November 2019 for staff of the Procedure Office, to test their responses in the event of emergencies disrupting sittings. Further exercises are planned for other areas of the department.

Security screening

Certain guests are exempt from security screening on entry to Parliament House. Approvals for any other exemptions are made jointly by the Serjeant-at-Arms and the Usher of the Black Rod. During the year, exemptions were approved for 10 groups and individuals (compared with 19 in 2018–19).

Information and communications technology

Under the parliamentary ICT service-delivery framework, most of the department’s ICT functions are provided by DPS. The framework is underpinned by a memorandum of understanding and service-level agreement between the parliamentary departments.

In support of this arrangement, the department continued to participate in a range of ICT advisory and management committees.

The Strategic ICT Group, which comprises senior parliamentary staff, provides strategic advice on ICT strategy, policy and risk. It considers the priorities for DPS capital expenditure on replacing or upgrading parliamentary business systems and closely monitors the service-level agreement. It met four times in the reporting period. The Serjeant-at-Arms is the department’s representative on the committee.

Information services

During the year, the department continued to work with DPS and the other parliamentary departments to develop new ICT systems and enhance existing applications. These systems support the work of the House, parliamentary committees and members, and include the:

  • Content Manager 9.3 (an upgrade from HPE Records Manager 8.3)
  • Online Tabled Documents project (to enable the electronic receipt and publishing of documents tabled in the House and Senate)
  • Common Data Access Platform (a new centralised data source based on a revised information architecture)
  • Parliamentarian Information Portal (a replacement for the Members Information Database)
  • International and Parliamentary Relations Office Virtual Office (a replacement for the Parliamentary Relations Office Database)
  • venue management system (enhancements to the existing system)
  • Shared Committee Information Database and Report Builder (enhancements to existing systems)
  • Parliamentary Procedural Records System (used to record and retrieve information on procedural events and precedents)
  • Authority to Work (a new online process for the request of works within the House of Representatives)
  • department’s intranet
  • e-petitions system
  • Technology One Finance (migration from an on-premise to a cloud-based solution)
  • Technology One eRecruitment
  • House Division Recording System
  • Australian Parliament’s delegation portal for outgoing delegations.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the department worked closely with DPS to ensure staff could access departmental ICT systems to work remotely in support of the parliament.

The department continues to use its electronic document and records management system to file and manage records electronically. During the reporting period a formal project was initiated in conjunction with the other parliamentary departments to upgrade this system to the latest version. This project is due for completion in 2020–21. Other significant information management activities undertaken during the year include the Records Authority review project, due for completion in early 2020–21, and ongoing digitisation of significant paper collections to improve accessibility. The department is also participating in a working group comprising representatives from all parliamentary departments and collecting areas to develop a Digital Preservation Framework for the records of the parliament and the parliamentary departments.

The department continued to support House of Representatives pages on the Parliament of Australia website, the consolidated intranet portal for senators and members, the portal for outgoing parliamentary delegations and the departmental intranet site. There is an ongoing focus on updating content and improving user experience of intranet and Parliament of Australia webpages.

Digital strategy

The vision and direction for the future delivery of digital services for the parliamentary departments is outlined in the Australian Parliament Digital Strategy 2019–2022. The strategy is a statement of intent which is intended to:

  • provide an overarching reference to guide all digital decision-making, particularly investment and architectural design
  • set enterprise ICT direction and priorities for the parliament that align with business needs
  • establish an agreed understanding of digital direction and priorities in support of the parliament’s business.

The department is continuing to work with DPS and the other parliamentary departments to implement initiatives and improvements under the digital strategy.

Parliamentary assistants program

The parliamentary assistants program is managed by the Serjeant-at-Arms’ Office. Parliamentary assistants are university students who perform the roles of messengerial attendants for an average of 10 hours per week with rosters planned around student commitments and the requirements of the House.

Six students took part in the program in 2019–20: three were existing assistants, and three were new appointments. The new assistants are all studying at universities in Canberra.

Three parliamentary assistants in the chamber.
Parliamentary assistants Ms Brianna Woodhead, Mr Arthur Treloar and Ms Ella Gillespie. Image: Penny Bradfield, Auspic/DPS.

Members’ salaries

All processing of members’ salaries and entitlements by the People Strategies Office was in accordance with legislation and administrative decisions. In the 2020 members’ survey, 95 per cent of members said that they were satisfied with support for salary payments.

Corporate support

The department was in compliance with internal and external governance and reporting requirements throughout the year. However, based on the results of the internal staff survey, operational performance indicators for finance, human resources and other corporate support services were not met in 2019–20.


In 2020–21, the department will continue to provide advice and services of a high standard to support the Speaker, members in Parliament House and the department. Priorities for the members’ and corporate support program during the year include:

  • in response to COVID-19, ongoing support for special arrangements for sittings of the House and Federation Chamber, meetings of parliamentary committees and general departmental operations
  • planning for the resumption of school visits to Parliament House from July 2020, and contingency planning for any re-opening of the chamber galleries to the public
  • arrangements for the October 2020 presentation of the federal budget and the opposition leader’s speech in reply, including logistical support for the budget lock-up, seating arrangements in the chamber galleries and coverage of events by the press gallery.

 Penny Bradfield, Auspic/DPS.
His Excellency Mr Joko Widodo, President of the Republic of Indonesia, addresses the Australian Parliament, 10 February 2020. Image: Penny Bradfield, Auspic/DPS.