Usher of the Black Rod

This fact sheet explores the role of the Usher of the Black Rod, one of the parliamentary officers in the Senate. It looks at their role in the chamber and in the department, the symbolism of the Black Rod and the history of the position.

The Usher of the Black Rod is one of the few people, other than senators, who work in the Senate.

Chamber role

The Usher of the Black Rod has several responsibilities within the Senate chamber, including:

  • escorting the President of the Senate into and out of the chamber, while carrying the Black Rod
  • assisting the President to maintain order in the chamber and the public galleries of the Senate
  • recording the attendance of senators
  • standing guard during a division vote when all chamber doors are locked
  • delivering formal messages from the Senate to the House of Representatives
  • playing an important role in ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of Parliament.

The Usher of the Black Rod is required to be in the chamber at the beginning of each sitting day, during Question Time, divisions and after meal breaks.

Department role

When not in the chamber, the Usher of the Black Rod works from an office in the Department of the Senate and has several responsibilities, including:

  • organising office accommodation and supplies for senators and staff
  • maintaining security in the Senate areas of Parliament House
  • finance and human resources for the Department of the Senate 
  • printing and publishing Senate business documents
  • organising special ceremonial occasions, such as the opening of Parliament.

The Black Rod

The Usher of the Black Rod is also responsible for the Black Rod, which is their official symbol. The Black Rod is 1.44 metres long and made of ebony wood. It has a silver crown on the end above the Australian Coat of Arms. The Usher carries the Black Rod on ceremonial occasions.

History

The role of the Usher of the Black Rod dates back to the fourteenth century in Britain. The Usher was appointed to serve the monarch in the British House of Lords and was originally an officer of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, a British order of knighthood. The Black Rod was used to discipline anyone who offended the Order. From its beginning, the Australian Parliament adopted the practice of appointing an Usher of the Black Rod to serve in the Senate.

Dress

Traditionally, the Usher of the Black Rod wore a long-tailed coat, knee-breeches or kilt, court shoes, gloves, lace cuffs and sword. In the current Parliament, the Usher of the Black Rod wears a suit.

The Usher of the Black Rod in the Senate.

A man wearing suit and holding a black staff with a silver crown is standing in a red room. A man is walking in behind him.

David Foote/DPS Auspic

Description

A man wearing suit and holding a long black staff with a silver crown at its top is standing in a red room. Another man in a suit is walking into the room behind him.