Despatch Boxes

Learn about the function, design and history of the Despatch Boxes—the 2 wooden chests that sit on the central table in the House of Representatives—with this fact sheet.

In the House of Representatives, 2 wooden chests—Despatch Boxes—sit on the central table.  One is next to the Prime Minister's chair and the other sits next to the Leader of the Opposition's chair.

Function

The Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, ministers and shadow ministers use the Despatch Boxes to rest their speech notes and other documents while addressing the House. This is called speaking 'from the Despatch Box'.

The Despatch Box on the government side of the chamber contains forms and religious books used for swearing-in new members of the House.

Design

The Despatch Boxes are made of rosewood and decorated with silver and enamel. They are hinged and lockable.

History

Despatch boxes were first used in seventeenth century Britain to transport parliamentary documents to the chamber. The Australian Parliament's Despatch Boxes are replicas of two boxes which sat in the House of Commons in the British Parliament, before being destroyed by a bomb explosion in 1941 during World War II.

King George V gave the House of Representatives' Despatch Boxes to the Australian Parliament to mark the opening of Old Parliament House in 1927. Inside the lid of each box is an inscription signed by King George V. In 1988, the Despatch Boxes were brought to the current Parliament House.

Along with other parliamentary symbols, the Despatch Boxes symbolise the link between the British House of Commons and the Australian House of Representatives.

A House of Representatives Despatch Box

A Despatch Box sitting on a wooden table in the green House of Representatives. There are  books on the table behind the box.

DPS Auspic

Description

This image shows a wooden Despatch Box with metal decorations in the House of Representatives chamber. The Despatch Box is positioned on a large table with books behind it.

The Prime Minister speaking from the Despatch Box in the House of Representatives.

The Prime Minister speaking from the Despatch Box in the House of Representatives. Other members are sitting behind him.

David Foote/DPS Auspic

Description

The Prime Minister stands and speaks at a box with a microphone in the House of Representatives. There are books on the table in front of him and people sitting on green benches in the background.