The party whip is a member of parliament who is selected by their parliamentary party to take on the role of team manager. Each party has whips who work in the House of Representatives or the Senate.
The whip's role is so diverse and busy that the major parties have a chief whip and two deputy whips. They have several responsibilities, including:
- meeting with the whips of opposing parties to plan the parliamentary day, set the agenda and sort out procedural details
- organising a list of party members who wish to speak on bills (proposed laws) and other business and giving this to the Speaker or President
- making sure that all party members attend and vote as a team in a division
- counting and recording the votes in a division
- providing advice and support for party members
- ensuring that party decisions are carried out
- negotiating 'pairs' from opposing parties, so that numbers between the government and opposition are kept in balance if members of parliament are absent.
In the chamber
In the House of Representatives, whips sit in the back row behind their party. In the Senate, whips sit among their party and towards the President. In both cases, the whips are positioned in the chamber so that they are able to see who is present and what is happening among party members.
Whips are quite visible as they move around the chamber speaking to colleagues, organising the business of the party and making decisions with opposing party whips, the Clerks, the Speaker or the President.
The term 'whip' comes from the sport of fox-hunting in England. The whipper-in was the person who whipped all the hunting hounds into a pack, pointed them in the right direction to chase the fox and ensured that the pack did not stray. The use of the term 'whip' may date back as far as the seventeenth century in the British Parliament.