Preparing for a new Parliament

The process of opening a new parliament has many stages. Investigate the process of closing a parliament, the transition between parliaments and the opening of a new parliament in Australia with this fact sheet.

In Australia, the federal electoral cycle is determined by the Australian Constitution and the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The House of Representatives can meet for a maximum of 3 years from the opening of the new Parliament before its members must face re-election. The Prime Minister chooses the date for a federal election. This could be at any time during the 3-year term.

Prorogation of Parliament and dissolution of the House of Representatives

A prorogation is a special announcement that brings the work of Parliament to a close. This British tradition is a formal way to close Parliament and is issued by the Governor-General. A prorogation may occur at any time but nowadays is usually used only before an election is called.

The House of Representatives is then dissolved – brought to an end. The dissolution of the House of Representatives triggers the issuing of writs for the election of new members to the House.

Half-Senate elections—to elect half of the 72 state senators plus the 4 senators representing the 2 territories—are usually held at the same time as elections for the House of Representatives, though they need not be.

The entire Senate is not dissolved, except in the special case of a double dissolution election under section 57 of the Constitution.

Caretaker government

After Parliament is prorogued, bills – proposed laws – and other business before the Senate and the House of Representatives expires, and will need to be reintroduced in the next Parliament. After the House is dissolved, the government becomes a caretaker government and, by tradition, does not make major decisions, except in consultation with the opposition. The sittings of the Senate are stopped but Senate committees may still meet. Parliamentary business can start again once the opening ceremony for the new Parliament has been held.

Opening a new parliament

A new Parliament starts with an opening ceremony that includes some traditional practices borrowed from the British Parliament. One such practice is that the new Parliament is declared open by the Governor-General in the Senate, not the House of Representatives. This is so the Governor-General can attend and deliver a speech.

This tradition dates back to the practice of the British Parliament in which, since the seventeenth century, the monarch has not entered the House of Commons. In Australia, the Governor-General does not enter the House of Representatives.

An important part of the opening ceremony is the swearing-in of all members of the House of Representatives, as well as the 4 senators elected to represent the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. New state senators begin their term of office on 1 July following a half-Senate election. After a double dissolution election, new state senators have their term of office backdated to 1 July before the election.

A modern addition to the opening of a new Parliament is a Welcome to Country ceremony, which was held for the first time in February 2008 before the opening of the 42nd Parliament.

The Governor-General delivers his opening of Parliament address.

The Governor-General sits in the President of the Senate's chair in the Senate for the opening of Parliament.

Penny Bradfield/DPS Auspic


The end of a T-shaped table is shown with a number of people in suits sitting around it. There is a raised platform with a man sitting in a large wooden chair speaking into a microphone. A woman is sitting in a high backed chair to the left of the man speaking. Three people stand behind the chairs under a wood and metal representation of the Australian coat of arms.

Smoking ceremony, part of the opening of a new Parliament.

Aboriginal Australian smoking ceremony in the forecourt of Australian Parliament House for the opening of Parliament.

David Foote/DPS Auspic


The picture shows the back of a person crouched down and placing a handful of eucalyptus leaves into a large bowl. The bowl is decorated with images in green and yellow and is filled with smoke. Yellow sand has been shaped to create a holder for the bowl. In the background a group of men and women watch on.