Inside the Australian House of Representatives

The Australian House of Representatives Chamber differs from the British and Canadian Houses of Commons in that the seating arrangements for Members are in a horseshoe shape rather than the Government and Opposition sitting on opposite sides directly facing each other. The Speaker’s Chair faces the main entrance, and the Government is seated to the right of the Speaker, the opposition to the left. Like the Canadian House of Commons, Members have allotted seats.

There are other notable differences in the Australian Chamber. There are two chairs on either side of the Table which are reserved for Prime Minister [#3] and Deputy Prime Minister on the Government side, and for the Leader of the Opposition [#4] and Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the other side.

You will also note the presence of sandglasses (hourglasses) [#1] on the Table. Before any division or ballot is taken, the Clerk rings the bells for the period specified in the Standing Orders, as indicated by the sandglasses kept on the Table for that purpose. For most divisions, a four-minute sandglass is used; a one-minute sandglass is used when successive divisions are taken and there is no intervening debate after the first.

While the Australian Chamber doesn’t have division lobbies like the British Chamber, recorded divisions do proceed differently than they do in the Canadian House of Commons. When not less than four minutes have elapsed since the question was first put, the Speaker orders that the doors to the Chamber be locked, and directs that the Ayes proceed to the right side of the Chamber, and that the Noes proceed to the left. Members then take seats on the appropriate side of the Chamber, rather than entering a lobby, and then the Speaker appoints tellers for each side, unless fewer than five Members are seated on one side, in which case the Speaker calls off the division and declares the result for the side with the greater number of Members. If the division is still on, the tellers count and record the names of the Members. The Speaker announces the result, but does not himself vote unless there is an equality of votes.

As in the British House of Commons, there are two despatch boxes on the Table [#2], exact replicas of the ones used at Westminster prior to their loss when the Chamber was destroyed by bombs in 1941. The Prime Minister, Ministers and members of the Opposition executive speaker from the despatch box.

The Chamber is designed to seat up to 172 Members with provisions for an ultimate total of 240. This means that there are currently more seats in the Chamber (172) than there are elected Members (150).

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