House of Representatives Chamber
The House of Representatives is the place where Australia’s governments are formed by the majority party or coalition of parties. Major decisions were made in this Chamber that continue to affect our lives today. It was the scene of debate and argument, regulated by rules known as ‘Standing Orders’. The Speaker, who sat in the carved chair at the head of the centre table, was in charge of the debate.
Government members sat on the Speaker’s right and Opposition members to the left. The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition sat at the central table facing each other, while ministers and senior members of the Opposition sat behind them on the front benches. The backbenchers initially had no offices of their own in the building. They worked at the desk in front of them and in their party rooms, and kept their papers in the lockable drawer under their seats. Hansard reporters were seated at the central table on the Opposition side. They recorded by hand, and later by machine, all parliamentary sessions, except for some secret meetings held during the Second World War.
Many remarkable characters have sat in the Chamber. The fiery Labor politician Eddie Ward holds the record for 15 suspensions from the House of Representatives for misconduct. Billy Hughes was the longest serving member. Prime Minister from 1915–23, Hughes was one of the original members of the Federal Parliament in 1901. He served until 1952, when he died in office at the age of 90.
Some major turning points in Australian history have been announced and debated in this room. In the early 1950s, the Chamber saw passionate debates when Robert Menzies argued for the banning of the Communist Party of Australia. The constitutional amendment to give the Commonwealth power to legislate for Aboriginal people was debated in 1967 and overwhelmingly supported when it was put to the people in a referendum. In 1975, Malcolm Fraser told the House of Representatives that the Governor-General had dismissed the Whitlam Government and appointed him Caretaker Prime Minister.