People in Parliament: The Usher of the Black Rod
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People in Parliament: The Usher of the Black Rod

November 21, 2019

My name is Brien Hallett, and I’m the Usher of the Black Rod. #Music# The Black Rod is actually a stick. It was first created in 1927, when what is now the “old” parliament house was opened. It sits in a glass case in my office when we’re not sitting, and then on sitting days I take it out of its glass case, I give it a polish, and I carry it with my in my right hand as I bring the president in. It then sits in a bracket at my seat in the chamber and stays there for the rest of the day until the Senate adjourns – or when the Senate finishes for the night. If I’m doing anything in my official capacity as “Usher of the Black Rod”, for example – taking a message to the House of Representatives – I take the stick with me because the stick is a symbol of my authority. “The Deputy of Her Excellency, the Governor General, requires your presence in the Senate chamber.” But it’s a role with two sides, if you like. There’s the side working here in the chamber with the President and with Senators, and there’s the behind the scenes role. Well when the Senate is sitting, there’s a particular order to the day, if you like. I go into the President’s office with the black rod, which is my “stick of office” if you like, and I bring the President into the chamber and I announce the President. “Honorable Senators, the President.” We then say prayers, and we acknowledge country, and then the Senate gets down to business. And then I might perform one of two roles. I either might continue in my Black Rod role, where I have a responsibility for keeping order in the chamber, or I might work as a clerk at the table. And working as a clerk at the table basically means that we are keeping the minutes of the meeting and helping Senators with advice as to the order of business. I also have another role looking after all the corporate affairs – the management of the Department of the Senate. So I make sure that every Senator has an office, that in that office they have computers that work, the lights work, and all those sorts of things. I also make sure that senators get paid, and I also have responsibilities for making sure that the department of the Senate which supports Senators in their work, can operate as well. So that staff in the department can get paid, that staff have workplaces, that our budgets are balanced, and that we meet all our reporting requirements. The usher doesn’t wear a uniform currently. I just wear a simple suit, as I’m wearing today. In the past some chamber staff including the usher of the black rod have worn a uniform. There were buckled shoes, there were britches, there were stockings, there were black gloves. If you were a military person you wore your medals. And there was this wonderful lace ruff, or tie. But that was dispensed with in the 1990s. And I suppose it shows that Parliament and the Senate in particular can adapt and keep changing. There are many challenges in this job. Obviously serving 76 senators you have to be equitable and you have to treat all senators equally irrespective of whether they are in government or opposition or whatever party they come from. And you have to make sure that you are being as fair and even handed as possible. A lot of things have to be done to very tight timeframes. If a senator needs a piece of advice or there’s an issue with something in their office, it needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed right now. But having said that, while that’s a challenge, there’s also a great sense of achievement when you do get these things completed to the satisfaction of senators and within the required timeframes. #Music#

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