The Senate and the House of Representatives each have a Clerk, who is the top-level parliamentary officer in their chamber. They are one of only a few people who work in the Senate or the House of Representatives chambers, other than members of parliament. The Clerk is the only non-elected person who regularly speaks in the chamber.
David Foote, AUSPIC/DPS
The duties of the Clerk are conducted both within the chamber and the Department of the Senate or the Department of the House of Representatives.
The Clerk has several responsibilities in the chamber, including:
- assisting the President or the Speaker to run chamber proceedings, including having a thorough knowledge of the rules of the chamber (see Standing Orders) and tabling (recording) all documents presented to the chamber
- helping the President, the Speaker and members of parliament to organise the order of business each day, including providing advice on chamber procedure
- certifying the passage of bills (proposed laws) through the Parliament
- recording the actions and decisions of the chamber in a daily publication (in the Senate this is called Journals of the Senate, and in the House of Representatives this is called Votes and Proceedings)
- assisting with ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of Parliament and the swearing-in of new members of parliament.
Each chamber also has a Deputy Clerk and several Clerks' Assistants who support the Clerk in their duties.
When the Clerks are not in the chamber, they work from an office in the Department of the Senate or the Department of the House of Representatives. They have several responsibilities, including:
- running the department, which organises the daily operations of the Parliament and assists members of parliament in their work
- advising members of parliament on chamber rules, parliamentary practice and procedure, the requirements of the Australian Constitution and laws that affect the Parliament.
The role of the Clerk dates back to the origins of the British Parliament, with the first Clerk appointed in 1363. In keeping with tradition, the Clerk in each house of the Australian Parliament reads the title of each bill aloud three times before it is passed, signalling the chamber's agreement to the bill at different stages. This practice dates back to the early British Parliament, before printing or literacy was widespread. The Clerk had to read the whole bill aloud to inform members of its contents.
In previous Australian parliaments and in keeping with tradition, the Clerk wore a wig and gown while working in the chamber. This practice stopped in the Senate in 1996. In 1995, the Clerk of the House of Representatives ceased wearing a wig, although still wears a gown.