Parliament House

This fact sheet explores the building that houses the Australian Parliament. Discover key facts about the building and its symbolism.

Parliament House is located on Capital Hill in Canberra. Members of parliament meet here to represent the Australian people and make decisions for the nation. Parliament House is a unique building which has become an enduring symbol of Australia's democracy.

Parliament House was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp Architects, whose design was selected from 329 entries in an international competition. Parliament House replaced the provisional Parliament House. Old Parliament House, as it is now called, opened in 1927 and was only intended to be a temporary home for the Parliament. By the 1980s the Parliament had outgrown this building, with 3000 people working in a space originally designed to accommodate 300. It was decided the Parliament needed a permanent home.

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser broke the ground to officially start construction on Capital Hill on 18 September 1980. Parliament House was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1988. Ten thousand people worked on the construction of the building, which is built almost entirely of Australian materials. Parliament House is one of the largest buildings in the southern hemisphere and it cost $1.1 billion to build. It is 300 metres long and 300 metres wide, has a floor area of more than 250 000 square metres and has more than 4500 rooms. When Parliament meets, 4000 to 5000 people work in the building.

The design is based on 2 curved walls, each 460 metres in length, which separate Parliament House into 4 main zones:

  • the House of Representatives chamber and offices on the eastern side
  • the Senate chamber and offices on the western side
  • a central zone which includes ceremonial and public spaces
  • the executive government wing on the southern end of the structure.

The building is designed to blend with the environment. One million cubic metres of earth and rock were removed so the central zone of Parliament House could be built into Capital Hill. It was placed within the 2 curved walls and covered over with grass to recreate the shape of the hill.

The Forecourt, which is the main entrance to Parliament House, is designed to invite people into the building to observe the democratic process. A large open space, it is framed by 2 walls that appear to be outstretched as if in a gesture of welcome. The Forecourt mosaic is based on a design by Warlpiri artist Michael Nelson Jagamara called Possum and Wallaby Dreaming.

The 2 curved walls in Parliament House also separate the 2 chambers. This separation represents Australia's bicameral parliamentary system in which laws can only be passed if both houses agree. The House of Representatives and Senate chambers are the largest spaces in the building. Members of parliament meet in the chambers to debate bills—proposed laws—and represent the people from their electorate or state/territory.

The colours of the chambers are based on those used in the United Kingdom Parliament, with red for the Senate and green for the House of Representatives. These traditionally rich colours have been adapted to reflect the Australian landscape. The green used in the House of Representatives and the red in the Senate are similar to the grey-green and red ochre colours of the Australian landscape.

The distinctive flagmast marks the exact centre of the building, stands 81 metres high and weighs 220 tonnes. It is one of the largest stainless steel structures in the world. The Australian flag flies over Parliament House 24 hours a day and is about the size of the side of a double-decker bus.

Parliament House by the numbers

  • 1.1 billion—cost to build Parliament House in Australian dollars
  • 10 000—number of workers involved in constructing and fitting out the building
  • 5000—number of people working in the building when Parliament meets
  • 760 000—number of visitors each year
  • 200—number of years Parliament House is designed to last
  • 90—percentage of building materials that are Australian
  • 300 000—cubic metres of concrete
  • 24 000—tonnes of steel
  • 460—length of each curved wall in metres
  • 2700—number of clocks
  • 32—size of the site in hectares
  • 1 million—cubic metres of soil and rock removed from the site
  • 250 000—square metres of floor space
  • 4500—rooms
  • 81—height of the flagmast in metres
  • 220—weight of the flagmast in tonnes

Australian Parliament House.

The front of Australian Parliament House with the Great Verandah and the flagmast. In the foreground is water.

DPS Auspic

Description

This photo shows the front of Parliament House with the Great Verandah and the flagmast. In the foreground Michael Nelson Jagamara's Possum and Wallaby Dreaming mosaic is surrounded by water.

Aerial view of Australian Parliament House.

Parliament House including the Senate wing, the House of Representatives wing and the Executive wing.

DPS Auspic

Description

This aerial photograph shows Parliament House, including the curved walls, the Senate wing, the House of Representatives wing and the Executive wing.

The Senate.

The red Senate chamber. There are people sitting in seats which are arranged in a U-shape around a large central table.

David Foote/DPS AUSPIC

Description

This image is of a large room with red furnishings. The seats are arranged around a large central table. There are 3 large chairs at the open end of the U-shaped seats that are elevated above the other chairs. There are people sitting in the seats and papers on the desks.

The House of Representatives.

The green House of Representatives. There are people sitting in seats arranged in a U-shape.

DPS Auspic

Description

This image is of a large room with green furnishings. The seats are arranged around a large central table. There is a large chair at the open end of the U-shaped seats that is elevated above the other chairs. There are people sitting in the seats and papers on the desks.