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Clerk of the Senate’s Office, President of the Senate’s Suite — M13.3North Wing, Main Floor

This room was used as the President of the Senate’s office (1927 - 1972) and later as the Clerk of the Senate’s office (1972 - 1988).

This suite of rooms was occupied by the President and his staff throughout the life span of the building. The President is the Presiding Officer in the Senate and is elected in a secret ballot by fellow Senators. The President of the Senate has administrative responsibilities for the Department of the Senate and is responsible for managing proceedings, maintaining order in the Senate and upholding the Standing Orders. This suite included offices (for the President of the Senate, the Clerk of the Senate, and their staff), a dining room, waiting room, kitchens, bathrooms and a change room. The suite was also made available to important visitors such as Queen Elizabeth II and the Governor-General when they visited the Provisional Parliament House. As a whole the suite demonstrates the importance of the President’s position as well as the responsibilities of this role, such as chairing meetings and committees and entertaining important guests and dignitaries.

This office was, up until the extensions in 1972, the front corner office occupied by the President of the Senate. It mirrored the original Prime Minister’s office on the other side of the building, and still retains many of its 1927 features, which provides a strong indication of what the original Prime Minister’s office looked like.

Once the extensions were completed in 1972 this room became the Clerk of the Senate’s office. The Clerk of the Senate is the chief advisor to the President on proceedings in the chamber. Only a person with a very detailed knowledge of the way the Senate works can do this job. The Clerk has many tasks, including:

  • providing advice to the President or Deputy President on the Standing Orders (rules of the Senate) during Senate meetings;
  • acting as chairperson of the Senate in Senate meetings before the election of a new President. At that time the Clerk has all the powers of the President;
  • acting as secretary to, and advising the Procedure committee; and
  • acting as the Head of the Department of the Senate (responsible for its budget, staffing and smooth running).

In each of the four corner suites in the Provisional Parliament House (the Prime Minister’s suite, the Speaker’s suite, the Leader of the Government in the Senate’s suite and the President of the Senate’s suite) was a secret safe. This safe was in the main office of each suite and was hidden behind a panel in the wall and could be accessed by stepping on a particular floorboard. After 1972 the Clerks used the safe in this office: Alan Cumming Thom kept gifts for the President’s visitors in the safe, and James Odgers kept manuscripts for his book Senate Practice in the safe. It is unknown what the Presidents who occupied this office may have kept locked away.