President of the Senate

Learn about the Senate's Presiding Officer with this fact sheet. Explore how the President is chosen, their role in the chamber and in the department, their chair and the history of the position.

The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are both Presiding Officers. The President is addressed as Mr or Madam President.

Choosing the President

All 76 senators vote to elect the President. This is conducted by a secret vote on the first sitting day after 1 July following a Senate election. The President is usually a member of the government with a lot of parliamentary experience. They are expected to treat all senators fairly and equally. A Deputy President is also elected to assist the President. Major parliamentary parties nominate a panel of Acting Deputy Presidents to share the load of chairing the Senate throughout the day.

Chamber role

The President has several responsibilities within the chamber, including:

  • running meetings of the Senate, much like a chairperson runs a meeting
  • making sure that the rules of the Senate, known as the standing orders, are obeyed
  • participating in special ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of Parliament.

Department role

When not in the chamber, the President works in an office in the Senate and has several responsibilities, which include:

  • overall responsibility for the Department of the Senate, including budgets, staffing and allocation of senators' offices
  • working with the Speaker of the House of Representatives to ensure that many services in Parliament House are maintained, including broadcasting and computing services, and the cleaning and upkeep of Parliament House and its surrounds
  • representing the Senate in dealings with the House of Representatives, the government, the Governor-General, and other parliaments or foreign heads of state.

Representation in the Senate

The President does not usually participate in debates. However, in accordance with section 23 of the Australian Constitution, they vote along with other senators. This section was included in the Constitution to make sure all states have equal representation when votes are taken. In the event of a tied vote, a question is resolved in the negative—lost—because a majority vote has not been reached.

President's Chair

The President's Chair is located at one end of the Senate facing the U-shaped seating. It is the focus of parliamentary meetings, positioned so the President can see and hear everything that happens in the chamber and so everyone in the chamber can see the President.

The President's microphone is always switched on, unlike those of other senators. This means that the President can always be heard and is able to maintain order in the chamber.

Vice-Regal Chair

Situated behind the President's Chair is the Vice-Regal Chair. This is used by the Queen or the Governor-General. When the Vice-Regal Chair is occupied, it is moved forward and the President's Chair is moved to the right of its usual location.

A third chair to the left of the Vice-Regal Chair is for distinguished visitors to the Senate, such as visiting heads of state. When this chair is in use it is placed immediately to the left of the President.

History

The name of the President of the Senate was borrowed from the United States (US) Congress. Although the Australian Constitution was drafted with reference to the English and US systems of parliamentary democracy, the role of the President in the Senate is different from that of English and US parliamentary presiding officers.

The President of the Senate

The President of the Senate sits in a large red chair. In front of him, the Clerks sit at a table with books on it.

David Foote/DPS Auspic

Description

The President of the Senate sits in a large red chair. There is another chair to the right. In front of the President, the Clerk and Deputy Clerk sit at a table with books on it.