Fact Sheet 21 - The Secretary and Other Officials (2023)

This fact sheet outlines the duties of House staff that House visitors and session observers may observe working in the House during the House session. There is also a brief introduction to the Department of the House of Representatives and the Parliamentary Service.

the domestic

There are two employees at the head of the house table, right in front of the speaker's chair. The Clerk of the House sits to the right of the Speaker. The Clerks can be distinguished from the members by their black robes (until 1995 they also wore wigs, similar to those worn by lawyers).

The secretary advises the speaker

The Clerk of the House is the only non-member to have a speaking role in House proceedings. The clerk announces each trade item. His other routine oratory role is to 'read' bills at each stage of their progress in the House, i.e. when the bill is introduced (first reading) or when the House orders the bill to be read. a second or third time. At each stage, the clerk actually only reads the title of the invoice - seeFact Sheet No. 7 Making Laws. This procedure has its origins in the distant past, before the printing press and widespread literacy, when the full text of proposed legislation had to be read to members as many times as necessary.

At the beginning of each Parliament, the Secretary presides over the House of Representatives until a Speaker is elected.

Since the house handles all business, the secretary keeps a record of the decisions the house has made.

The Secretary also certifies all actions taken by the House in the legislative process, that is, when a bill has been approved or modified, and when both houses have approved a bill originating in the House.

When the House takes a formal vote (a partition) or when a member requests a quorum, the clerk rings the bells that call the members to the chamber. During a division, the secretary counts the members who voted yes. (SeeFact Sheet No. 14 Decision Making – Debate and Division).

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One of the most important duties of the Secretary is to advise the President and members on the conduct of proceedings. Each day before the House of Representatives meets, the Clerk reviews the business scheduled for session and notifies the Speaker of any procedural issues that may arise. While sitting at the table, the secretary should always be attentive to the debate, as he may be called upon to offer immediate advice to the president or others regarding a technical or procedural matter that has suddenly arisen. Any member may ask the Secretary for advice during the process, perhaps on a point of order he wishes to make or a motion he wishes to make. The Speaker of the House (the minister responsible for planning the affairs of the government) can often be seen advising the Secretary on the conduct of business.

Outside the House, the Secretary is available to the Speaker and Members to advise on the interpretation of the Rules of Procedure, parliamentary practice and precedent, and the requirements of the Constitution and statutes affecting Parliament and the House of Representatives. The secretary should have extensive knowledge and experience in these areas. Invariably, an officer appointed Secretary has long served the House and served at the table.

In addition to being a specialist in parliamentary rules and practices, the Clerk also has an administrative role as department head of the House of Representatives. This department has around 170 officials in charge of providing services to the Speaker and to the members of the Chamber. The secretary administers this parliamentary department under the authority of the speaker in the same way that the secretaries (chief executives) of government departments administer their department under the authority of a minister.

The position of Secretary of the House has its origin in the first English Parliament. At the time, the title "Kaufmann" referred to a person who was literate, which was not common at the time. The first record of the appointment of a Clerk to the House of Commons dates from 1363. There have been 16 Clerks to the House of Representatives since 1901, the longest serving for 18 years.

Assistant Secretary and other employees

In the Chamber, the Deputy Secretary sits at the Chamber table to the left of the Speaker. Like the registrar, the deputy registrar advises members on the conduct of proceedings. The Deputy Clerk also keeps a detailed record of proceedings which, together with the record kept by the Clerk, forms the basis for the official record of the House: voting and proceedings. It is the duty of the assistant secretary to operate the clocks that time the speeches of the members and to rotate the hourglasses that time the division and quorum chimes. During a division, the assistant secretary counts the number of members who vote no.

The Deputy Clerk is the second-ranking official in the department of the House of Representatives. He or she is responsible for advising and assisting members, their staff and officers on matters of parliamentary law and practice, and for preparing private member bills and amendments. The assistant secretary helps the secretary manage the department and performs secretary duties during her absence. The Deputy Secretary is also the Secretary of the Chamber of the Federation (the second deliberative chamber of the Chamber, cf.Pamphlet No. 16 Chamber of the Federation) and holds the position of Registrar of Members' Interests.

Employees of the next highest seniority carry the title "administrative assistant." There are three Assistant Secretary and the Sergeant-at-Arms, each responsible for managing one of the department's four main areas of work (House Services, Procedures, Committees, and Corporate Services).

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Desk clerks, like chair holders, work from a roster. Both the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary sit at the table on important occasions and usually during Question Time. At other times, the assistant secretary or one of the secretaries may be found in the secretary position, assuming the role of secretary, and a secretary or other senior staff member in the assistant secretary position.


The Sergeant-at-Arms (or a deputy) is present in the House at all times when the House is in session. They are seated in the back of the chamber, to the left of the center aisle (as viewed from the speaker's chair).

The sergeant's outfit is very distinctive. The costume for a male sergeant consists of a black morning coat with a large rosette on the back, waistcoat, white shirt and bow tie, and black trousers. The female sergeants wear a similar coat, vest, white blouse with lace jabot, and black pants or skirt. On ceremonial occasions, the sergeant wears a lace jabot, lace cuffs, shoes with silver buckles, stockings, breeches (male), white velvet gloves, a cocked hat (worn under the left arm), and a ceremonial sword. This outfit is based on that worn at the royal courts of the United Kingdom in centuries past.

the sergeant at arms

The Sergeant is responsible for the security of the Chamber of the House of Representatives and for controlling the entrance to the galleries. Security staff in the House and in the stands are staff from the Department of Parliamentary Services, working under the direction of Sgt. The main formal duty of the sergeant during sessions of the House of Representatives is to assist the Speaker in maintaining order by removing disorderly persons from the House of Representatives or from the galleries. Other duties of the Sergeant in the House include recording member attendance and relaying messages (formal communications) from the House of Representatives to the Senate. The Sergeant also has a ceremonial role: he is the steward of the mace, the symbol of the authority of the Speaker and the Chamber, which is placed on the Chamber table when the Chamber is in session. The sergeant-at-arms carries the mace on his right shoulder and precedes the speaker as the speaker enters and exits the chamber at the beginning and end of a session. The Sergeant also has ceremonial duties at the opening of each session of Parliament.

Outside the House, the Sergeant has administrative responsibilities as head of Congressional and Corporate Services, and has particular responsibility for the security of the House-controlled portion of the Legislative Districts. The Sergeant is a member of the Security Management Committee responsible for the overall security of the parliamentary districts.

The sergeant also advises the speaker on House television and radio broadcasting and media policy in general.

The sergeant-at-arms also traces its origin to early English parliamentary history. Sergeants-at-arms were originally members of the king's personal guard. In the 14th century, royal sergeants-at-arms were given duties in the House of Commons. Today, the Sergeant of the House of Commons is appointed by the King and is empowered to “look after his Majesty's person when there is no Parliament; and at the hour of each Parliament the Speaker of the House of Commons shall attend. In the Australian Parliament, the Serjeant-at Arms is a staff member of the Department of the House of Representatives.

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Guardians in green and tan uniforms can sit outside the Chamber or move within the Chamber. They are responsible for distributing bills, amendments, and other documents to members of the House. They also support members by providing easels, stationery, drinking water, and message delivery. Members can call an assistant by pressing a button on their desktop.

personal de hansard

Hansard's reporters sit at a small table in the center of the chamber, near the end of the house table. You are responsible for preparing a written record of the process. Today, computer-aided transcription and speech recognition technologies are used instead of shorthand. Reporters are usually only on camera for a short time, then return to Hansard's office to prepare the minutes. Outside the House, the other duties of Hansard's reporters include transcribing parliamentary committee meetings and ministerial conferences, both in Canberra and at locations around Australia.

The Department of the House of Representatives

The Department of the House of Representatives provides administrative support to the House of Representatives and its committees, as well as a range of services and facilities for members of the Houses of Parliament. The department also administers some joint functions on behalf of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The department's work covers five main areas:

Chamber and Chamber of Associations provides the necessary programmatic, procedural and administrative support for conducting the affairs of the Chamber and the Chamber of the Federation; investigates parliamentary affairs; produces publications and provides information about the house and its procedures; and provides administrative and investigative services to some national committees.

community awarenessprovides services to inform, educate, and interact with the public about the work of the House of Representatives and Parliament.

support committeeprovides procedural, investigative, analytical, drafting, and administrative support to House committees and some joint committees in carrying out their role in parliamentary scrutiny of policy and legislation and government scrutiny (other joint committees have the support of the Department of the Senate).

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Inter-parliamentary relations and capacity buildingprovides advice and support to facilitate and maintain Parliament's relations with parliaments, parliamentary bodies and international and regional organisations.

Member Services and Business Supportprovides advice, services and support to members of Parliament House and the Department. This includes advice and services:

  • in relation to member salaries and allowances
  • to members for accommodation and office services
  • to the Department of Financial Management and Human Resources and Office Services.

The Parliamentary Service

Parliament support staff work for the Australian Parliamentary Service, which provides services to each House of Parliament, House committees, joint committees and Senators and Members. There are four parliamentary departments. The Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of the Senate assist the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively. The Parliamentary Services Department provides common services to Parliament as a whole. Established in 2012, Parliament's Budget Office provides independent and impartial analysis of the budget cycle, fiscal policies and the financial implications of proposals.

The Australian Parliamentary Service is separate from the Australian Public Service. Civil service departments (also called government departments) serve the executive government. Parliamentary departments provide technical advice and support to the state parliament and its members, independent of the executive.

Parliament officials provide the same services to members of the opposition or other non-government members and senators as they do to members of the government and senators. It must be nonpartisan and impartial at all times.

For more information

House of Representatives practice, 7th Edition Department of the House of Representatives, Canberra, 2018, pp. 208–16.

House of Representatives website:www.aph.gov.au/casa

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Images courtesy of AUSPIC.


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