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People in Parliament – Usher of the Black Rod

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The Usher of the Black Rod sits in the Senate chamber. Usher of the Black Rod: My name is Brien Hallett, and I'm the Usher of the Black Rod.
Title: People in Parliament: Usher of the Black Rod. Music
The Usher of the Black Rod sits in the Senate chamber. Usher of the Black Rod: The Black Rod is actually a stick. It was first created in 1927, when what is now the 'old ' parliament house was opened.

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

The Black Rod in the chamber.

Usher of the Black Rod: 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 me 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.

The Usher of the Black Rod enters the House of Representatives. Usher of the Black Rod: 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.
The Usher of the Black Rod addresses the members of the House of Representatives. Usher of the Black Rod: The Deputy of Her Excellency, the Governor General, requires your presence in the Senate chamber.
The Usher of the Black Rod sits in the Senate chamber.

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.

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.

The Usher of the Black Rod leads the President of the Senate into the Senate chamber. Usher of the Black Rod: Honourable senators, the President

Senators stand in the Senate chamber for opening prayers, and acknowledgment of country.

The Usher of the Black Rod at the clerks ' table in the Senate.

Usher of the Black Rod: 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.

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.

The Usher of the Black Rod meeting with staff in his office.

Staff in the Black Rod's office.

Usher of the Black Rod: 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.

A staff member working on a computer.

Close up of a schedule on a desk.

Usher of the Black Rod: So staff in the department are paid, that staff have workplaces, that our budgets are balanced, and that we meet all our reporting requirements.
The Usher of the Black Rod sits in the Senate chamber. Usher of the Black Rod: 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.
A photograph of a former Usher of the Black Rod wearing a uniform. Usher of the Black Rod: 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.

The Usher of the Black Rod sits in the Senate chamber.

A photograph of Brien Hallett, the Usher of the Black Rod standing with the Black Rod in the Senate chamber.

Usher of the Black Rod: 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.

The Usher of the Black Rod sits in the Senate chamber.

The Usher of the Black Rod working in his office.

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.

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.

The Usher of the Black Rod sits in the Senate chamber. 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.

Title: Parliamentary Education Office.

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Parliamentary Education Office website: www.peo.gov.au

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