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The Queensland Parliament and Parliamentary Process

The parliamentary calendar

A sitting day commences when the Speaker takes the Chair and ends when the House carries a motion to adjourn the day's proceedings. If the House continues sitting after midnight, a sitting day can extend into the next calendar day.

Historically, the three year life of a parliament was divided into three or four parliamentary sessions, which extended from the first sitting day after a general election until the day parliament was dissolved by the Governor prior to the next general election. However, the Queensland Parliament has not followed this pattern since the 47th Parliament (1992-1995). During the 47th Parliament, the Goss Labor Government did not prorogue the parliament at any time, so only one session applied for the entire parliamentary period. In 1996, during the 48th Parliament, because the Goss Government lost power to the Borbidge-Sheldon National-Liberal coalition, a second session eventuated. Only one session has applied since the 49th Parliament.

Although the Constitution of Queensland 2001 requires that there must be at least two sittings of the Legislative Assembly every calendar year, there is no prescribed program that the parliament is obliged to follow with regard to its sittings. Generally, the parliament begins the year in February, with its heaviest period of sittings during the budget and Estimates debates (which can be in May/June or September depending on the government of the day's planning), and sits at different times in other months up until November, and even December.

Sessional Orders set out the days and hours of sitting and the order of business. The current Sessional Orders state that the House shall sit on Tuesday, and Thursday from 9.30am until by its own resolution the House adjourns, and on Wednesday's the House sits from 2pm until by its own resolution the House adjourns (Wednesday mornings of sitting weeks are dedicated to committee meetings and hearings). Occasionally, the House will also meet on a Friday. The Parliament breaks for lunch between 1pm and 2.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Sessional Orders set out the adjournment times for each of the days. If there is a reason for the parliament to sit beyond those adjournment times, a motion is required to suspend the Sessional Order which has laid down the specific time for an adjournment.

The parliamentary chamber

Within the Legislative Assembly Chamber, the Speaker (or Deputy Speaker) controls the proceedings from a Chair on a raised dais at the head of the room. Below the Speaker is the Table at which the Clerk and Table Officers sit in order to record the daily business of the House.

The mace, which symbolises the Speaker's, and hence the Parliament's authority, is located at the end of the Table and is always present in the Chamber when the House is sitting.

Government members sit to the right of the Speaker's Chair and opposition members sit to the left. Where the governing party or parties hold a large majority, it is necessary for some government members to sit on the left. Members of the minor parties and Independents sit on the left also. The government ministers and the opposition shadow ministers occupy the front benches of their respective sides of the Chamber. (Hence the term "frontbenchers"  for cabinet ministers.) The remaining members, not in either group, sit further back from their colleagues and are known as backbenchers.

A minister is appointed the 'Leader of the House' and is responsible for the organisation of government business and tactics when the Assembly is sitting.  A shadow minister is appointed as the 'Leader of Opposition Business' in the House. Both the government and opposition appoint 'Whips' and 'Deputy Whips'. These are political party positions, but in the parliamentary sphere, the whips are responsible for the coordination of speakers for debates and the numbers for divisions.

The opening of Parliament 

When the writs have been returned after a general election, and a government has been formed, Queensland's Governor issues a proclamation announcing a date for the opening of parliament. Section 19 of the Constitution of Queensland 2001 ensures that "There must be at least two sittings of the Legislative Assembly in every calendar year" and also that "six months must not pass between a sitting of the Legislative Assembly and the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly".

Before members can take their seats or vote in the Assembly, they are required to take an oath or affirmation of allegiance recognising Her Majesty as the lawful sovereign. The Governor issues a commission appointing the Premier and two senior Ministers as the administering authorities. 

Election of the Speaker

As no Speaker has been elected for the new Parliament, tradition requires the longest-serving member to preside over the election procedures for the Speaker. Usually, the government's nominee fills the position of Speaker. However there have been occasions when another nominated candidate has received support from a majority of members in the House. On election, the successful member is escorted to the Speaker's Chair, whereby tradition requires a display of reluctance from the incumbent in deference to earlier times when, as the monarch's representative in the House of Commons, the Speakership could be a dangerous occupation. 

The Premier adjourns the House until the next day to allow the Speaker-elect (accompanied by the Sergeant-at-Arms, the Clerk and other members) to visit Government House for a formal presentation and to receive the Governor's congratulations, as well as a commission of authority for the administering of oaths or affirmations of allegiance. (The Governor's congratulations involve a traditional recognition of the prestigious office of the Speaker.)

The Governor's opening speech

Members, along with the judiciary, clergy, consular representatives and invited guests, then assemble in the Legislative Council Chamber to hear the Governor's opening speech. (Traditionally, as the Queen's representative, the Governor is prevented from entering the Legislative Assembly Chamber. Therefore the opening speech is delivered in the Legislative Council Chamber, as it is synonymous with the House of Lords' Chamber at Westminster.) This speech outlines the Government's policies and program for the forthcoming parliament. 

At the end of the speech, the Governor leaves the Council Chamber, the Speaker takes the Chair and invites the members to take their seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Speaker and the members are led into that Chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms carrying the mace. After all members are assembled, the Premier adjourns the House until the next day.

Address-in-Reply debate

The Address-in-Reply debate is the traditional parliamentary acknowledgment and reply to the Governor's opening speech, and provides an opportunity for all members to debate and analyse the government's policies and legislative program. (Originating from the reply to the monarch's opening speech at the beginning of each session of the British Parliament, the Address is an expression of humble thanks for the monarch's "Gracious Speech", which evolved from the medieval period when the Chancellor addressed the Parliament and explained the cause for its summons.) 

Debate on the Address-in-Reply is always moved and seconded by two newly elected members, and it also allows many new members to deliver their first speeches. Although the debate usually centres upon the government's outlined program, there is little limitation on the broad range of topics which may be introduced. 

Presentation to the Governor

After the Address-in-Reply has been agreed to by the House, the Speaker, accompanied by the Sergeant-at-Arms with the Mace, the two movers of the debate and any other members who so wish, present the Address to the Governor at Government House, who then makes a reply on behalf of the monarch.  At the next sitting of parliament, the Speaker informs the House of this presentation, and reads the Governor's official reply.