Parliament House, Canberra


Parliament House, Canberra

Parliament House is the meeting place of the Parliament of Australia. It is located in Canberra, the capital of Australia. It was opened on 9 May 1988 by Queen Elizabeth II. [ The Australian Political System, p.737 ] Its construction cost was over $1.1 billion. At the time of its construction it was the most expensive building in the Southern Hemisphere. Prior to 1988, the Parliament of Australia met in the Provisional Parliament House, which is now known as "Old Parliament House".

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Before the establishment of Canberra

In 1901, when the six British colonies in Australia federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia, Melbourne and Sydney were the two largest cities in the country, but the long history of rivalry between them meant that neither could become the national capital. Section 125 of the Constitution of Australia therefore provided that:

The seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament, and shall be within territory which shall have been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth, and shall be vested in and belong to the Commonwealth, and shall be in the State of New South Wales, and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney."

Such territory shall contain an area of not less than one hundred square miles, and such portion thereof as shall consist of Crown lands shall be granted to the Commonwealth without any payment therefor. The Parliament shall sit at Melbourne until it meet at the seat of Government.

In 1909, after much argument, the Parliament decided that the new capital would be in the southern part of New South Wales, on the site which is now Canberra. The Commonwealth acquired control over the land in 1911, but World War I intervened, and nothing was done for some years to build the city. Federal Parliament did not leave Melbourne until 1927.

In the meantime the Australian Parliament met in the 19th century edifice of Parliament House, Melbourne [ Australia Spirit of a Nation, p.101 ] , while the Victorian State Parliament met in the nearby Royal Exhibition Building for 26 years. Begun in 1853 and ready for occupancy (though not actually finished) in 1856, it was built at the height of the gold rush when Victoria was awash with money.

Old Parliament House

After World War I the Federal Capital Advisory Committee was established to prepare Canberra to be the seat of government, including the construction of a Parliament House. The committee decided that it would be best to erect a "provisional" building, to serve for a predicted 50 years until a new, "permanent" House could be built. In the event, Old Parliament House was Parliament's home for 61 years.

New Parliament House

In 1978 the Fraser government decided to proceed with a new building on Capital Hill, and the Parliament House Construction Authority was created. A two-stage competition was announced, for which the Authority consulted the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and, together with the National Capital Development Commission, made available to competitors a brief and competition documents. The competition drew 329 entries from 28 countries.

The competition winner was the US-based Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola [Tony Stephens, "Like his work, he'll blend into the landcape", Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 1999] , with a design which involved burying most of the building under Capital Hill, and capping the edifice with an enormous spire topped by a large Australian flag. The facades, however, deliberately echoed the designs of the Old Parliament House, so that there is a family resemblance despite the massive difference in scale.

Construction began in 1981, and the House was intended to be ready by Australia Day, 26 January 1988, the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia. It was expected to cost A$220 million. Neither the deadline nor the budget were metFact|date=August 2007. The building was finally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 9 May 1988, the anniversary of the opening of both the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne on 9 May 1901 by the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) [ Australia Spirit of a Nation, p.100 ] , and of the Provisional Parliament House in Canberra on 9 May 1927 by the Duke of York (later King George VI) [ Australia Spirit of a Nation, p.146 ] .

From above, the design of the site is in the shape of two boomerangs enclosed within a circle. Much of the building is buried beneath Capital Hill, but the meeting chambers and accommodation for parliamentarians are free-standing within the boomerang-shaped arms.

There are 25,000 granite slabs on the curved walls which, placed end to end, would stretch 46 kilometres. The building required 300,000 cubic metres of concrete, enough to build 25 Sydney Opera Houses and has a design life of at least 200 years. The building has 4,700 rooms and has 2,416 clocks that are used for voting. On a non-sitting day there could be 2,000 to 3,000 people working there.

The flag flown from the 81-metre flagpole is 12.8m by 6.4m, about the size of half a tennis court. The flagpole weighs 220 tonnes and is made of polished stainless steel from Newcastle, New South Wales. It was designed to be the pinnacle of Parliament House and is an easily recognizable symbol of national government. It is visible by day from outside and inside Parliament House and floodlit at night. The flag itself weighs approximately 15 kg.

Although security has been greatly tightened in recent years, much of the building is open to the public.

The building was designed to "sit above" Old Parliament House when seen from a distance but, when the idea was floated to demolish Old Parliament House so that there would be an uninterrupted vista from the New Parliament House to Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian War Memorial, there were successful representations for preservation of the historic building, which now houses a parliamentary museum and part of the National Portrait Gallery. It is listed as a nation-building icon for the Centenary of Federation.

The original concept was for Parliament House to be freely open to the public, and the sweeping lawns leading up to the entrances were intended to symbolize this. Since the terrorist attacks of recent years, however, security at Parliament House has been greatly tightened. One measure has been the erection of crash barriers blocking vehicular access to the lawns.

Layout

The public entrance to Parliament House opens into a main foyer leading into the Great Hall, which features a tapestry based on a painting by Arthur Boyd, the original of which is also on display in the building. Functions that have parliamentary and federal relevance often take place here, but the Great Hall is also open to functions for the general public, such as weddings, and the nearby University of Canberra hosts graduation ceremonies here.

Below the tapestry of the Great Hall is a removable division which opens on to the Members' Hall, which has a water feature at its centre. This is an area restricted to security-classified occupants of the building and special visitors. Directly ahead of the Members' Hall is the Ministerial Wing, housing the office suites of the Prime Minister and government ministers. The Members' Hall has access to the House of Representatives and the Senate buildings to the left and right of the main entrance to the halls respectively. Public access to the visitors' galleries and the Main Committee Room is via an upper level reached by impressive marble staircases ascending from the entrance foyer.

The House of Representatives

In a reflection of the colour scheme of the British House of Commons, the House of Representatives is decorated in green. However, the colour is muted to suggest the colour of eucalyptus leaves.

From the perspective of the image to the right, the press gallery is ahead, with public galleries to the left and right. Soundproofed galleries for school groups lie directly above these, as no talking is permitted when the House is sitting.

Frontbench (Cabinet) members approach the table with the ornate box (pictured), known as the dispatch box, to speak. Backbenchers have a microphone on their desk, and merely stand to speak (unless they cannot stand), in accordance with standing order 60.

Also seen on the table is a copy of Hansard and where the clerk and deputy clerk sit. The clerk needs to know all the rules of Parliament and is responsible for ringing the bells during a division. In front of the clerk are the hour glasses. The outer glasses last for four minutes and the middle glass runs for two. These glasses are turned when there is a division; one of the four-minute glasses is turned and the bells will ring and the clocks will flash green for the House of Representatives or red for the Senate for four minutes. After the hour glass runs out, the house's attendants will lock the doors and the whips will count the votes. Members vote by either moving to the government side of the house for a vote for a bill or the opposition side for a vote against a bill. If there is a division shortly after another division, the middle hour glass will be turned and the bells will ring for two minutes.

As is the custom with Westminster parliaments, members of the governing party sit to the Speaker's right, and the Opposition sits to the Speaker's left. Independents and minor parties sit on the cross-benches. The long benches (the front benches) closest to the despatch boxes are reserved for the Cabinet on the government's side and the Shadow Cabinet on the Opposition's side.

The Senate

The Senate building follows the colour scheme of the House of Lords, decorated in red, this time muted to tints of ochre, suggesting the earth and the colours of the outback.

The gallery arrangement is almost identical to that of the House of Representatives. Unlike the House of Representatives, only the leader of the government or opposition in the Senate approaches the lectern; other frontbench senators and all backbench senators have their desk microphone. As can be seen from the illustrations, unlike the House of Representatives, there is no distinction between the front and back benches in the Senate chamber; Senate ministers and their opposition counterparts have the same two-seat benches as all other senators. The press gallery is located above the Senate chamber. The presiding officer of the Australian Senate is the President of the Senate. He occupies a position in the Senate chamber similar to that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Behind the seat of the President of the Senate can be found two large seats which are modern versions of thrones. The larger is used by the Governor-General or Her Majesty the Queen (when in residence) when they open Parliament at the start of a new parliamentary session. Their consort sits in the smaller throne.

References

Books, Letters, Articles, Websites

*cite book
last = Parliament House Construction Authority
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Australia's New Parliament House
work =
publisher =
date = 1986
location = Barton, ACT
pages = 85pp
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0 64209-999-5

*cite book
last = Lovell
first = David W
authorlink =
coauthors = Ian MacAllister, William Maley, Chandran Kukathas
title = The Australian Political System
work =
publisher = Addison Wesley Longman Australia Pty Ltd
date = 1998
location = South Melbourne
pages = 950
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0 582 81027 2

*cite book
last = Cannon
first = Michael
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Australia Spirit of a Nation
work =
publisher = Curry O'Neil Ross Pty Ltd
date = 1985
location = South Melbourne
pages =
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0 85902 210 2

*cite book | first = Ken | last = Charlton | coauthors = Rodney Garnett, Shibu Dutta| year = 2001 | title = Federal Capital Architecture Canberra 1911-1939| edition = 2nd Edition, Paperback, 2001 | publisher = National Trust of Australia (ACT) | location = Canberra, Australia | id = ISBN 0-9578541-0-2
*cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Old Parliament House -Canberra
work =
publisher =
date =
url = http://www.australianexplorer.com/canberra_old_parliament_house.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-10-08

*cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = A Closer Look: Australia's Parliament House
work =
publisher = Parliamentary Education Office
date =
url = http://www.peo.gov.au/students/cl/aph.html
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-08-12

*cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Parliament House Canberra
work =
publisher =
date =
url = http://teachit.acreekps.vic.edu.au/cyberfair2002/parliamenthousecanberra.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-10-08

*cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Canberra - Australia's Culture Portal
work =
publisher =
date =
url = http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/canberra/
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-10-08

*cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Parliament of Australia: a Bibliography
work =
publisher = Indiana University
date = 2005
url = http://www.indiana.edu/~librcsd/bib/australia_parliament/Parliamentary_Government/Parliament_House/
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-08-12

External links

* [http://www.oph.gov.au/ Old Parliament House]
* [http://www.aph.gov.au/ New Parliament House]
* [http://www.pictureaustralia.org/trails_politicsgovt.html Parliament House] / image trail from Picture Australia.
* [http://www.abc.net.au/news/features/aph/page01.htm This Australian ABC page] gives an account of the new Parliament House.
* [http://www.australianexplorer.com/canberra_parliament_house.htm Australianexplorer] Parliament House tourism site.
* [http://www.glasssteelandstone.com/OZ/CanberraParliament.html Glasssteelandstone.com] Architecture of Parliament House.


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