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Parliament House, Canberra

Parliament House
The main entrance and the flag mast
General information
Location Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Country Australia
Construction started 1981
Completed 1988
Inaugurated 9 May 1988 (1988-05-09)
Cost A$1.1 billion
Height 107 metres (351 feet)
Technical details
Floor area 250,000 m²
(2,700,000 sq ft)
Design and construction
Architect Romaldo Giurgola
Architecture firm Mitchell Giurgola & Thorp Architects

Parliament House is the meeting place of the Parliament of Australia, located in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The building was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects and opened on 9 May 1988 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia. It cost more than A$1.1 billion to build.

Federal Parliament meetings were first held in Melbourne until 1927. Between 1927 and 1988, the Parliament of Australia met in the Provisional Parliament House, which is now known as "Old Parliament House". Construction of Australia's permanent Parliament House was delayed while its location was debated. Construction of the new building began in 1981. The principal design of the structure is based on the shape of two boomerangs and is topped by an 81-metre (266 ft) flagpole.

Parliament House contains 4,700 rooms, and many areas are open to the public. The main foyer contains a marble staircase and leads to the Great Hall, which has a large tapestry on display. The House of Representatives chamber is decorated green, while the Senate chamber has a red colour scheme. Between the two chambers is the Members' Hall, which has a water feature and is not open to the public. The Ministerial Wing houses the office of the prime minister and other ministers.


  • Before the establishment of Canberra 1
    • Old Parliament House 1.1
  • New Parliament House 2
    • Layout 2.1
      • House of Representatives 2.1.1
      • Senate 2.1.2
    • Art collection 2.2
  • Solar power project 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Before the establishment of Canberra

Parliament House, Melbourne, was home to Federal Parliament for 26 years from 1901 to 1927.

In 1901, when the six British colonies in Australia federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia, Melbourne and Sydney were the two largest cities in the country, but the long history of rivalry between them meant that neither could become the national capital. Section 125 of the Constitution of Australia therefore provided that:

The seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament, and shall be within territory which shall have been granted to or acquired by the Commonwealth, and shall be vested in and belong to the Commonwealth, and shall be in the State of New South Wales, and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney.
Such territory shall contain an area of not less than one hundred square miles, and such portion thereof as shall consist of Crown lands shall be granted to the Commonwealth without any payment therefor. The Parliament shall sit at Melbourne until it meet at the seat of Government.

In 1909, after much argument, the Parliament decided that the new capital would be in the southern part of New South Wales, on the site which is now Canberra. The Commonwealth acquired control over the land in 1911, but World War I intervened, and nothing was done for some years to build the city. Federal Parliament did not leave Melbourne until 1927.

In the meantime the Australian Parliament met in the 19th century edifice of Parliament House, Melbourne,[1] while the Victorian State Parliament met in the nearby Royal Exhibition Building for 26 years.

Old Parliament House

Old Parliament House opening, 1927

After World War I the Federal Capital Advisory Committee was established to prepare Canberra to be the seat of government, including the construction of a Parliament House. The committee decided that it would be best to erect a "provisional" building, to serve for a predicted 50 years until a new, "permanent" House could be built. In the event, Old Parliament House was Parliament's home for 61 years. In the last decade of its use as a parliament the building had a chronic shortage of available space.[2]

Turning the first sod, Parliament House, Canberra

New Parliament House

In 1978 the Fraser government decided to proceed with a new building on Capital Hill, and the Parliament House Construction Authority was created.[2] A two-stage competition was announced, for which the Authority consulted the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and, together with the National Capital Development Commission, made available to competitors a brief and competition documents. The design competition drew 329 entries from 29 countries.[3]

The competition winner was the Philadelphia-based architectural firm of Mitchell/Giurgola, with the on-site work directed by the Italian-born architect Romaldo Giurgola,[4][5] with a design which involved burying most of the building under Capital Hill, and capping the edifice with an enormous spire topped by a large Australian flag. The façades, however, included deliberate imitation of some of the patterns of the Old Parliament House, so that there is a slight resemblance despite the massive difference of scale.

Aerial view of Parliament House

Giurgola placed an emphasis the visual aethestics of the building by using landscape architect, Peter G. Rolland to direct civil engineers, a reversal of the traditional roles in Australia.[3] Rolland played a pivotal role in the design, development and coordination of all surface elements including pool design, paving, conceptual lighting and art work locations.[3] Horticultural experts from the Australian National Botanic Gardens and a government nursery were consulted on plant selection.[3] Permanent irrigation has been limited to only the more formal areas.[3]

Construction began in 1981, and the House was intended to be ready by Australia Day, 26 January 1988, the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia.[3] It was expected to cost A$220 million. Neither the deadline nor the budget was met.[6]

Opening ceremony in 1988

The building was finally opened by

  • Parliament of Australia
  • Old Parliament House
  • Parliament House / image trail from Picture Australia.
  • This Australian ABC page gives an account of the new Parliament House.
  • Australianexplorer Parliament House tourism site.
  • Todae Solar Parliament House Solar Power Case Study
  • Silex Systems Press Release
  • Australian Parliament House Project Page

External links

  • Parliament House Construction Authority (1986). Australia's New Parliament House. Barton, ACT: The Authority. pp. 85pp.  
  • Lovell, David W; Ian MacAllister; William Maley; Chandran Kukathas (1998). The Australian Political System. South Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman Australia Pty Ltd. p. 950.  
  • Cannon, Michael (1985). Australia Spirit of a Nation. South Melbourne: Curry O'Neil Ross Pty Ltd.  
  • Charlton, Ken; Rodney Garnett; Shibu Dutta (2001). Federal Capital Architecture Canberra 1911–1939 (2nd Edition, Paperback, 2001 ed.). Canberra, Australia: National Trust of Australia (ACT).  
  • "Old Parliament House – Canberra". Retrieved 8 October 2007. 
  • "Parliament House Canberra". Retrieved 8 October 2007. 
  • "Canberra – Australia's Culture Portal". Retrieved 8 October 2007. 
  • "The Parliament of Australia: a Bibliography". Indiana University. 2005. Retrieved 12 August 2008. 

Books, letters, articles, websites

  1. ^ Australia Spirit of a Nation, p. 101
  2. ^ a b Blenkin, Max (1 January 2009). "Parliament forced to build new Parliament House in Canberra".  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cantor, Steven L. (1996). Contemporary Trends in Landscape Architecture. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 160–166.  
  4. ^ Tony Stephens, "Like his work, he'll blend into the landscape", Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 1999
  5. ^ "A symbol built to last" (PDF). Australian Government. Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 17 February 2009. 
  6. ^ Dunkerley, Susanna (8 May 2008). "Parliament House to mark 20th birthday".  
  7. ^ The Australian Political System, p. 737
  8. ^ Australia Spirit of a Nation, p. 100
  9. ^ Australia Spirit of a Nation, p. 146
  10. ^ "43 Parliament House Facts". Parliamentary Education Office. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "A Closer Look: Australia's Parliament House". Parliamentary Education Office. Retrieved 12 August 2008. 
  12. ^ "Great Hall Tapestry". Parliament of Australia. 
  13. ^ "Parliament of Australia Visitors". Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 30 December 2010. 
  14. ^ Peatling, Stephanie (1 February 2015). "Parliament House art collection: The art collection nobody gets to see".  
  15. ^ "Parliament House Art Collection". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 3 January 2015. 
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^
  18. ^


See also

The system received an award from the Clean Energy Council in 2012 for 'Best design and installation of a grid-connect power system greater than 10 kW.'[18]

According to the Department of Parliamentary Services, the system was switched on in June 2011 and has performed as expected by providing enough power for lighting in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.[16] This equates to an approximate saving of $9,000 which is expected to rise to $17,000 annually.

In 2011, the Department of Parliamentary Services commissioned a pilot 43.3 kW photovoltaic system on the roof of Parliament House in Canberra. The system is split between two locations, with 192 panels installed on the Senate wing with the remaining 42 panels on the roof of the Gardeners' Compound.[16] The panels cover an approximate area of 470 square metres.[17] At the time of construction, the system was one of the largest installed for solar power in Australia.

Solar power project

The Parliament House Art Collection of over 6,000 works includes commissioned (and purchased) portraits of every prime minister, governor general, president of the senate and speaker of the house, as well as other works of art significant to Australia.[14][15]

Art collection

The gallery arrangement is almost identical to that of the House of Representatives. Unlike the House of Representatives, only the leader of the government or opposition in the Senate approaches the lectern; other frontbench senators and all backbench senators have a desk microphone. As can be seen from the illustrations, unlike the House of Representatives, there is no distinction between the front and back benches in the Senate chamber; Senate ministers and their opposition counterparts have the same two-seat benches as all other senators. The press gallery is located above the Senate chamber. The presiding officer of the Australian Senate is the President of the Senate, who occupies a position in the Senate chamber similar to that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Behind the seat of the President of the Senate are two large seats which are modern versions of thrones. The larger is used by the Governor-General or the monarch (when visiting) when they open Parliament at the start of a new parliamentary session. The vice-regal consort or the royal consort (when visiting) sits in the smaller throne.

The Senate building matches the colour scheme of the House of Lords, decorated in red, but muted to tints of ochre, suggesting the earth and the colours of the outback.

The Senate chamber


As is the custom with Westminster parliaments, members of the governing party sit to the Speaker's right, and the Opposition sits to the Speaker's left. Independents and minor parties sit on the cross-benches. The long benches (the front benches) closest to the despatch boxes are reserved for the Cabinet on the government's side and the "Shadow Cabinet" on the Opposition's side.

Also on the table is a copy of Hansard and where the clerk and deputy clerk sit. The clerk needs to know all the rules of Parliament and is responsible for ringing the bells during a division (voting). In front of the clerk are the hour glasses. The outer glasses measure four minutes and the middle glass measures two. These glasses are turned when there is a division; one of the four-minute glasses is turned and the bells will ring and the clocks will flash green for the House of Representatives or red for the Senate for four minutes. After the hour glass stops, the house's attendants will lock the doors and the whips will count the votes. Members vote by either moving to the government side of the house for a vote for a bill or the opposition side for a vote against a bill. If there is a division soon after another division, the middle hour glass will be turned and the bells will ring for two minutes.

Frontbench (Cabinet) members approach the table with the ornate box (pictured), known as the despatch box, to speak. Backbenchers have a microphone on their desk, and merely stand to speak (unless they cannot stand), in accordance with standing order 60.

A part of the front bench, and the dispatch boxes

From the perspective of the image, the press gallery is ahead, with public galleries containing 388 seats[13] to the left and right. Soundproofed galleries for school groups are directly above these, as no talking is permitted when the House members are present.

In commemoration of the colour scheme of the British House of Commons, the House of Representatives is decorated in green. However, the colour is muted to suggest the colour of eucalyptus leaves, or the Australian bush.

The House of Representatives

House of Representatives

Below the tapestry of the Great Hall is a removable division which opens on to the Members' Hall, which has a water feature at its centre. This is an area restricted to security-classified occupants of the building and special visitors. Directly ahead of the Members' Hall is the Ministerial Wing, housing the office suites of the Prime Minister and government Ministers. The Members' Hall has access to the House of Representatives and the Senate buildings to the left and right of the main entrance to the halls respectively. Public access to the visitors' galleries and the Main Committee Room is via an upper level reached by impressive marble staircases ascending from the entrance foyer. There are also 19 committee rooms which are open to the public and a highly secure Cabinet Room on the ground floor.[11]

The public entrance to Parliament House opens into a main foyer leading into the Great Hall, which features a tapestry based on a painting by Arthur Boyd, the original of which is also displayed in the building. Functions that have parliamentary and federal relevance often take place here, but the Great Hall is also open to functions for the general public, such as weddings, and the nearby University of Canberra hosts graduation ceremonies here.

The Great Hall in Parliament House. The tapestry at the rear of the room is an enlarged version of an Arthur Boyd painting, and at 20 by 9 meters (66 ft × 30 ft) is one of the largest tapestries in the world.[12]


The front architecture built into Capital Hill, including the forecourt and main entrance, and illustrating a ground level view of the boomerang-shaped design

The original idea was for Parliament House to be open freely to the public, and the sweeping lawns leading up to the entrances were intended to symbolise this. The building is a major visitor attraction in Canberra with about 1 million visits each year.[11] With the increased risk of terrorist attacks in recent years, the security of Parliament House has been increased greatly. One result has been the construction of crash barriers blocking vehicular access to the lawns.

It was proposed originally to demolish Old Parliament House so that there would be an uninterrupted vista from the New Parliament House to Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian War Memorial, but there were successful representations for preservation of the historic building, which now houses a parliamentary museum.

The site covers 80 acres (32 hectares).[3] The building was designed to "sit above" Old Parliament House when seen from a distance. The building is four metres (13 feet) higher than the original height of the hill.[3] About one million cubic metres (35,000,000 cubic feet) of rock had to be excavated from the site. It was used to fill low-lying areas in the city.[3] Most of the granite used was sourced from Australia. Twice the amount needed was quarried as a very high standard of granite was required particularly for the curved walls.[3]

The flag flown from the 81 metres (266 feet) flagpole is 12.8 by 6.4 m (42 by 21 ft), about the size of half a tennis court.[10] The flagpole weighs 250 tonnes and is made of polished stainless steel from Wollongong. It was designed to be the pinnacle of Parliament House and is an easily recognisable symbol of national government. It is visible by day from outside and inside Parliament House and floodlit at night. The flag itself weighs approximately 15 kg (33 lb).


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