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People in Parliament – Usher of the Black Rod

Video duration: 3 min 27

Transcript

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Interview My name is Brien Hallett, and I'm the Usher of the Black Rod.
Opening titles read "People in Parliament: Usher of the Black Rod" Music

Interview

Overlay: Black Rod sitting in glass case.

The Black Rod is actually a stick. It was first created in 1927, when what is now the "old" parliament house was opened.

Overlay: The Usher removes black rod from case, polishes the silver, and leaves the office.

Overlay: The rod in the chamber

 

It sits in a glass case in my office when we're not sitting, and then on sitting days I take it out of its glass case, I give it a polish, and I carry it with my in my right hand as I bring the president in.

It then sits in a bracket at my seat in the chamber and stays there for the rest of the day until the Senate adjourns – or when the Senate finishes for the night.

Interview

Overlay: The Usher of the Black Rod enters the House of Representatives.

If I'm doing anything in my official capacity as "Usher of the Black Rod", for example – taking a message to the House of Representatives – I take the stick with me because the stick is a symbol of my authority.
Overlay: The Usher of the Black Rod addresses the chamber. "The Deputy of Her Excellency, the Governor General, requires your presence in the Senate chamber."
Interview But it's a role with two sides, if you like. There's the side working here in the chamber with the President and with Senators, and there's the behind the scenes role.
Interview Well when the Senate is sitting, there's a particular order to the day, if you like.

I go into the President's office with the black rod, which is my "stick of office" if you like, and I bring the President into the chamber and I announce the President.

Overlay: The Usher of the Black Rod leads the President of the Senate into the Senate chamber

Interview

"The Deputy of Her Excellency, the Governor General, requires your presence in the Senate chamber."

We then say prayers, and we acknowledge country, and then the Senate gets down to business. And then I might perform one of two roles.

Overlay: The Senate opening prayers

Interview

Um, I either might continue in my Black Rod role, where I have a responsibility for keeping order in the chamber, or I might work as a clerk at the table. And working as a clerk at the table basically means that we are keeping the minutes of the meeting and helping Senators with advice as to the order of business.

Overlay: The Usher of the Black Rod talking with staff in his office.

Interview

Overlay: The Usher of the Black Rod talking with staff in his office. Staff members in an office.

I also have another role looking after all the corporate affairs – the management of the Department of the Senate.

So I make sure that every Senator has an office, that in that office they have computers that work, the lights work, and all those sorts of things.

I also make sure that senators get paid, and I also have responsibilities for making sure that the department of the Senate which supports Senators in their work, can operate as well.

Overlay: Staff member working on a computer.

Overlay: Close up of schedule on a desk

So that staff in the department can get paid, that staff have workplaces, that our budgets are balanced, and that we meet all our reporting requirements.
Interview The usher doesn't wear a uniform currently. I just wear a simple suit, as I'm wearing today.
In the past some chamber staff including the usher of the black rod have worn a uniform.
In the past some chamber staff including the usher of the black rod have worn a uniform.
Overlay: Photo of a former Usher of the Black Rod wearing uniform There were buckled shoes, there were britches, there were stockings, there were black gloves.
If you were a military person you wore your medals. And there was this wonderful lace ruff, or tie.
Overlay: Photo of Brien in the Senate chamber But that was dispensed with in the 1990s.
And I suppose it shows that Parliament and the Senate in particular can adapt and keep changing.
Interview There are many challenges in this job. Obviously serving 76 senators you have to be equitable and you have to treat all senators equally irrespective of whether they are in government or opposition or whatever party they come from.
And you have to make sure that you are being as fair and even handed as possible.
Overlay: The Usher of the Black Rod working in his office. A lot of things have to be done to very tight timeframes. If a senator needs a piece of advice or there's an issue with something in their office, it needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed right now.
Interview But having said that, while that's a challenge, there's also a great sense of achievement when you do get these things completed to the satisfaction of senators and within the required timeframes.
Closing titles Music