About Parliament – A new Parliament

Video duration: 6 min 24


Electing the House of Representatives

Narrator: In Australia, the House of Representatives can only meet for a maximum of three years before its members must face re-election.

Members of the House of Representatives in the chamber.

Narrator: Any time during this three-year term, the Prime Minister may request an election.

The Hon Julia Gillard PM, Prime Minister: This morning I asked Her Excellency the Governor-General to dissolve the House of Representatives so elections can occur for the House

Narrator: When this happens, the Governor-General issues a special proclamation and the House of Representatives is then dissolved. Or in other words, its business is brought to an end.

On election day, Australian citizens aged 18 years and over vote to choose the people who will represent them in the Parliament.

Members of the public voting to elect House of Representatives members at a polling place.

Narrator: The political party (or coalition of parties) with the support of the majority of members elected to the House of Representatives, forms the government.

A diagram of the seating plan of the House of Representatives demonstrates that more than half the total number of seats is required for a majority.

Narrator: The leader of the government becomes the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, speaks from the despatch box in the House of Representatives.

What about the Senate?

Narrator: In contrast to the House of Representatives, most senators are elected for a six year term.

Senators in the Senate chamber.

Narrator: The only exception to this rule is for territory senators who serve a maximum three year term.

Map showing two Australian territories: Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory.

Narrator: Senate elections use a system of rotation, with half the membership of senators elected every three years. When an election for the House of Representatives is called, a half-senate election is usually held at the same time.

Members of the public voting at a polling place.

Opening of the new Parliament

Narrator: After the general election, the new Parliament is formally opened. A recent addition to the opening ceremony is a ‘Welcome to Country’ by local Indigenous people, symbolically welcoming people to the land.

Welcome to Country ceremony at the front of Australia's Parliament House on 28 September 2010.

Narrator: Senators and members then assemble in their respective houses.  The Usher of the Black Rod delivers a message summoning all members to the Senate.

The Usher of the Black Rod at the entrance to the House of Representatives chamber.

Serjeant-at-Arms Honourable members, the Usher of the Black Rod with a message from the Deputy of her Excellency, the Governor-General.

Usher of the Black Rod: Honourable members, the Deputy of her Excellency, the Governor-General requires your presence in the Senate Chamber.

Narrator: The ceremony is held in the Senate because there is a convention that the Queen, or the Governor-General representing the Queen, does not enter the House of Representatives. This tradition dates back to the British Parliament in the 17th century.

Senators and members of the House of Representatives assemble in the Senate chamber.

Chief Justice Robert French AC: Members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives, her Excellency the Governor-General has appointed me as her deputy to declare open the Parliament of the Commonwealth.

Narrator: After the Parliament is officially opened, members return to the House of Representatives to be sworn-in. In the Senate, senators representing the territories are also sworn-in.

Narrator: The House of Representatives then elects a Speaker. This is important because no business can be conducted in the House until the Speaker takes the chair.

Clerk of the House of Representatives: I declare that the honourable member proposed Mr Jenkins has been elected as speaker.

Members: Hear! Hear!

Narrator: It is customary for the newly elected Speaker to be reluctantly escorted to the chair by his supporters. This is a tradition dating back to early UK Parliaments when some Speakers were beheaded or imprisoned.

Narrator: Later in the day, the Governor-General arrives at the Senate to address members of Parliament.

Usher of the Black Rod: Mr President, Her Excellency the Governor-General approaches the Senate chamber.

Narrator: Once again, a message is delivered to the House of Representatives summoning members to the Senate. As is tradition, the Usher of the Black Rod knocks on the door three times and waits to be admitted to the House.

Narrator: When all members of Parliament are gathered in the Senate, the Governor-General makes an opening speech and sets out the government's plans for the future.

Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia: ... the government will quickly implement new measures to enhance the dignity and effectiveness of this legislature ...

Narrator: The ceremony concludes with a reception in the Members' Hall at Australia's Parliament House.

Business as usual

Narrator: After the parliament is officially opened, it is business as usual for both the Senate and the House of Representatives.This includes debating and making new laws, discussing issues that are important to the nation and making decisions about governing the country, on behalf of all Australians.

Members and senators debating in the chambers and participating in parliamentary committees.