Opinion Number. 1401


PARLIAMENT HOUSE parliament house: ALLOCATION OF ROOMS: Differences of opinion BETWEEN Cabinet Sub-Committee and President of Senate and Speaker of House of Representatives: control OF allocation of accommodation: POWERS OF SPEAKER AND PRESIDENT: POWER OF Government to intervene and decide manner in which particular space is to be allocated

Key Legislation


The Secretary, Home and Territories Department

The Secretary, Home and Territories Department, has forwarded to me the following memorandum asking for advice:

  • On the 12th July, 1923, the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, relating to the erection of Provisional Parliament House, Canberra, was presented to Parliament and, on the 19th July, 1923, it was ordered to be printed.
  1. The recommendations of the Public Works Committee were adopted, but some minor alterations to the interior arrangement of accommodation have been approved by the Government from time to time.
  2. Differences of opinion have recently arisen between a Cabinet Sub-Committee, on the one hand, and the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, on the other hand, regarding certain proposed alterations in the allocation of Rooms, as will be observed from the undermentioned papers which are attached:
    1. Letter dated 12th May 1926 (with enclosures) from the Federal Capital Commission.
    2. Letter dated 31st May to the Speaker.
    3. Letter dated 3rd June from the Speaker.
    4. Letter dated 11th June to the Speaker.
    5. Letter dated 1st July to the President of the Senate.
    6. Departmental memorandum of the 21st July.
    7. Letter from the President and the Speaker dated 26th July.
    8. Departmental memorandum of the 3rd August setting out the differences of opinion between the Cabinet Committee and the President and Speaker.
  3. I am directed to ask that you will kindly furnish this Department with confidential advice as to whether the President or the Speaker, or both acting together, have the right to veto the proposals of the Government in regard to the arrangement of internal accommodation at Parliament House.
  4. The question of the determination of the boundaries of Parliament House, Canberra, has also been considered. The Federal Capital Commission has been requested to submit a plan indicating the boundaries of the area to be set apart as the grounds of Parliament House.
  5. Your advice is desired as to whether a decision in relation to the area to be so allocated, is one for the Government or for the President and the Speaker.

The question upon which advice is desired is the question as to which authority controls the allocation of accommodation in Parliament House.

I have been unable to find any enactment, standing order or authoritative statement upon this subject, and it is necessary therefore to advise upon general principles.

Under the Public Service Act certain powers and functions in relation to the staffs employed in connexion with Parliament are conferred upon the President and/or the Speaker.

Under the Standing Orders of the Houses, various powers are conferred on the Presiding Officers for the purpose of ensuring the orderly transaction of business. These powers apply for the most part, if not exclusively, to matters in connexion with the actual sittings of the House.

But, in addition to these powers, the President and the Speaker have and exercise certain authority in respect of the building in which Parliament meets, and the question at issue is what is the exact scope of that authority.

The Speaker is the guardian of the privileges of the House and as such is responsible for the maintenance of those privileges, and for the preservation of the dignity of the House and enforcement of the rights of its members. (Halsbury, Laws of England Vol. IV ‘Parliament’ p. 668.) The same will apply to the President of the Senate.

It has for many years been the practice of the President and/or the Speaker to control the uses to which space in Parliament House is put. For instance, the consent of the President and/or the Speaker is required before any display may take place in Parliament House. In exercising this control, however, the President and the Speaker are really representing the Government. The administration of matters in relation to the building in which Parliament meets is an exercise of administrative powers for which in the last resort the Government of the day must accept responsibility. In this respect, the Parliamentary building is in the same position as any other Government building. The High Court buildings, for instance, are controlled by the Chief Justice on behalf of the Government. Any question of allocation of space in those buildings would ordinarily be decided by the Chief Justice. If, however, any matter in relation to the allocation of space became a question between the Chief Justice and the Government, the Government would, in my view, be within its rights in dealing with the matter as one of administration, for which the Government had to accept responsibility.

In the same way, whilst, in the ordinary course, matters in relation to the allocation of space in Parliament House are determined by the President and/or the Speaker, it is competent for the Government, in an appropriate case, to intervene and decide the manner in which any particular space is to be allocated.

The foregoing remarks apply to questions of allocation of accommodation where no expenditure of moneys upon structural alterations is involved. Where expenditure is involved, the decision is a fortiori one for the Government, necessitating as it does the expenditure of public moneys from votes for Works and Buildings. Before coming to a decision upon any such matter, the Government would presumably consider fully any views expressed by the President and/or the Speaker.

So far as the question of the determination of the boundaries of Parliament House is concerned, that is, in my view, a matter for the Government. When once the area has been defined, the authority of the President and/or the Speaker will apply to the area in like manner as the building itself.

[Vol. 22, p. 763]