Clerks

The Clerks are parliamentary officers in the Senate and House of Representatives. Learn about their role and the history of their positions with this fact sheet.

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, other than members of parliament. The Clerk is the only non-elected person who regularly speaks in the chamber.

Senate and House of Representatives role

The Clerk has several responsibilities in the chamber, including:

  • assisting the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives to run proceedings, including having a thorough knowledge of the standing orders and tabling all documents
  • helping the President, the Speaker and members of parliament to organise the order of business each day, including providing advice on procedure
  • certifying the passage of bills 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.

The Senate and House also have a Deputy Clerk and several Clerk Assistants who support the Clerk in their duties.

Department role

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 Parliament.

History

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 3 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 they still wear a gown.

The Clerk of the Senate.

The Clerk working in the Senate chamber.

Michael Masters/DPS Auspic

Description

A man in a suit is sitting at a table writing in a book. There are books and 2 hourglasses in front of him.

The Clerk of the House of Representatives.

The Clerk, wearing a suit with a gown over it, stands at a desk with a microphone and books in front of her.

Penny Bradfield/DPS Auspic

Description

A woman in a suit with a gown over it is standing at a desk in the House of Representatives reading from a piece of paper. A Despatch Box and microphone are in front of her. Behind her the Speaker is sitting in his elevated chair.