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Joint meetings of the Australian Parliament

This article is about Joint meetings of the Australian Parliament.

Australia has a bicameral federal parliament, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Subject to the Constitution of Australia, each House has its own rules, standing orders and procedures; its own presiding officer; and meets separately, at dates and times it alone decides.

However, there are some occasions when the two Houses have come together as a single body.

Reasons for joint meetings

The reasons for joint meetings have included:

  • to resolve deadlocks between the Houses following a double dissolution
  • to fill casual vacancies in the representation of the territories in the Senate
  • a special commemorative joint sitting to celebrate the Centenary of Federation
  • secret meetings to discuss security-related issues, such as Australia’s participation in war
  • to receive addresses by invited guests such as visiting foreign heads of state or government.

Resolving deadlocks between the two Houses

The Constitution makes provision for a joint sitting as part of a procedure to resolve legislative deadlocks between the House of Representatives and the Senate. Section 57 provides that, under certain circumstances where there is a deadlock over a bill, both houses may be dissolved in a double dissolution. This is followed by a general election, and the bill may be put to the separate Houses of the newly elected parliament for reconsideration. If this still fails to resolve the deadlock, the bill may be considered by a joint sitting, convened as a single legislative body. If passed by the joint sitting, the bill will be treated for all purposes as if it had been separately passed by the two Houses.

The only time such a joint sitting has occurred was on 6-7 August 1974.

Casual vacancies in the representation of the Territories in the Senate

Between 1975, when the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT) gained direct representation in the Senate, and 1989, when the ACT gained self-government (the NT had gained self-government in 1978), the choice of a replacement ACT or NT senator to fill a casual vacancy was made by a joint sitting of both Houses. This occurred twice:

Casual vacancies for ACT or NT senators are now filled by the ACT Legislative Assembly or the NT Legislative Assembly respectively, under Section 44 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

A joint sitting of the federal parliament would still be used to fill a casual vacancy in the representation of any external territory, in the event that such a territory ever gains separate Senate representation.

Special commemorative joint sitting

On 9 May 2001, the Parliament met in a special joint sitting at the site of the 1st Parliament, the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, to commemorate the Centenary of that event specifically, and the Centenary of Federation more generally. The joint sitting was addressed by the Governor-General, Sir William Deane.[3]

Secret meetings

During World War II, the Parliament met in secret on a number of occasions, to hear confidential reports on the progress of the war. There is no Hansard record of the proceedings.[4]

The House of Representatives met in secret on 13 December 1940, 29 May 1941, and 20 August 1941.

Both Houses met in secret joint sittings on 20 February 1942,[5][6] 3 September 1942,[7] and 8 October 1942.[7]

It has been claimed that one of these joint sittings was addressed by General Douglas MacArthur,[8] but as there is no official record of the proceedings, this cannot be confirmed.

Addresses by invited guests

The first address by an invited guest to the Parliament in a formally convened joint sitting of which there was an official record was on 2 January 1992, by the U.S. President, George H. W. Bush. Later addresses to joint sittings were from U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton (1996) and George W. Bush (2003); and President of China Hu Jintao (2003). (George W. Bush's and Hu Jintao's addresses occurred on consecutive days in October 2003.)[9]

Subsequently, the Senate Standing Committee on Procedure and the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges both recommended that the practice of formally convening a joint sitting for these purposes be discontinued, as they had no constitutional authority, and there were doubts about the validity of the presiding officer of one house giving instructions to members of the other house. On 2 March 2006, it was agreed that future addresses by invited dignitaries would be to a meeting of the House of Representatives only, but to which the members of the Senate would be invited as guests.

List of addresses

Date Speaker Office Prime Minister Chamber Link to speech Notes
2 January 1992 George H. W. Bush President of the United States Paul Keating Senate [10] The address had been arranged under Keating's predecessor, Bob Hawke
20 November 1996 Bill Clinton President of the United States John Howard Reps [11]
23 October 2003 George W. Bush President of the United States John Howard Reps [12]
24 October 2003 Hu Jintao President of the People's Republic of China John Howard Reps [13]
27 March 2006 Tony Blair Prime Minister of the United Kingdom John Howard Reps* [14] * Formally, this and subsequent addresses were made to the House of Representatives only, to which members of the Senate were invited as guests. Previously, addresses were made to formally convened joint meetings of both Houses.
11 September 2007 Stephen Harper Prime Minister of Canada John Howard Reps [15]
10 March 2010 Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono President of Indonesia Kevin Rudd Reps [16] [9]
20 June 2011 John Key Prime Minister of New Zealand Julia Gillard Reps [17] [18] This reciprocated the address by Julia Gillard to the New Zealand Parliament in February 2011.[19]
17 November 2011 Barack Obama President of the United States Julia Gillard Reps [20] This reciprocated an earlier address by Julia Gillard to the United States Congress.[21]
8 July 2014 Shinzō Abe Prime Minister of Japan Tony Abbott Reps [22] [23]
14 November 2014 David Cameron Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Abbott Reps [24]

Note: On 29 November 1951, a visiting delegation from the United Kingdom House of Commons presented a Mace to the House of Representatives, a gift from King George VI to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Federation.[25] Each of the three members of the delegation (Richard Law, David Rhys Grenfell and Joseph Grimond) also addressed the House.[9]


  1. "Senate Hansard, 5 May 1981". Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  2. Rules for Joint Sittings: footnote, p.3, [1]
  3. "Australian". Australian Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  4. House of Representatives Practice
  5. House of Representatives Hansard, 20 February 1942[dead link]
  6. House of Representatives Practice
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Diary of a Labour Man". Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  8. "Fred Daly". Top Secret Canberra. Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Timothy Kendall, Australian Parliamentary Library, Within China’s Orbit?: China Through the Eyes of the Australian Parliament; Chapter Three: Foreign Policy and Identity Stuff: Hu Jintao Addresses the Australian Parliament[dead link]
  10. Senate Hansard, 2 January 1992: Address by George H. W. Bush. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  11. House of Representatives Hansard, 20 November 1996, pp. 7165-72, Address by Bill Clinton. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  12. House of Representatives Hansard, Address by George W. Bush. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  13. House of Representatives Hansard, Address by Hu Jintao. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  14. House of Representatives Hansard, Address by Tony Blair. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  15. House of Representatives Hansard, Address by Stephen Harper. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  16. House of Representatives Hansard, Address by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  17. House of Representatives Hansard, Address by John Key. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  18. Jeremy Thompson (2011-06-20). "ABC News, 20 June 2011". Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  19. Time in New Zealand: 3:42 am , 7 Mar. "Prime Minister John Key to address Australian Parliament". Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  20. House of Representatives Hansard, Address by Barack Obama. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  21. "ABC News, 17 November 2011". Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  22. House of Representatives Hansard, Address by Shinzaro Abe. Retrieved 17 July 2014
  23. ABC News: Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe addresses Federal Parliament, signs free trade deal with Australia. Retrieved 11 July 2014
  24. ABC News. Retrieved 14 November 2014
  25. House of Representatives Practice