President of the Senate’s suite
This suite of rooms was occupied by the President and his staff throughout the life span of the building. The President is the Presiding Officer in the Senate and is elected in a secret ballot by fellow Senators. The President of the Senate has administrative responsibilities for the Department of the Senate and is responsible for managing proceedings, maintaining order in the Senate, upholding the Standing Orders and taking a prominent role in the ceremonial openings of parliament. These duties include receiving foreign Heads of State and delegations visiting Australia from other nations, and other distinguished visitors to the Senate. Hospitality for these events is one aspect of the responsibilities of the President’s office. The Suite includes rooms and furniture to support these duties.
Almost from the time the Provisional Parliament House first opened in 1927, government Ministers found it convenient to perform some of their executive functions in the building, in addition to their ordinary parliamentary duties. In the early years, as the tendency for Ministers to use the building to discharge these executive functions increased, they gradually employed more and more staff in the building to help them with the work. This trend towards greater staff numbers soon gave rise to accommodation problems in the building.
In August 1967, the President of the Senate, Sir Alistair McMullin approached Prime Minister Harold Holt in regard to the accommodation difficulties on the Senate side of the Provisional Parliament House and the additional space he needed to overcome them. With similar representations coming from the Speaker of the House, the matter was referred to the Department of Works and to the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC). In March 1968, the NCDC presented a report outlining seven options for adding further office accommodation to the Provisional Parliament House. After a delay of nearly two years, a selection was made of one of the options and in the latter half of 1970, tenders were called for the construction of the additions.
The choice of option was to a large, but not overwhelming, extent based on a desire to reinstate a symmetrical plan for the building; considerations of cost and of securing as much extra space as possible for the money to be outlaid were other important considerations. The chosen option provided for the construction of small extensions to the front east and west corners of the building, new offices on the roof and a wing on the Senate side to match the wing erected on the Representatives side in 1965. Construction of the Senate (or southwest) wing commenced in May 1972 and was to take place first so that the Prime Minister, his staff and the Cabinet Room could be temporarily located in this wing while modifications were carried out to the existing Prime Ministerial suite and Cabinet Room in the front eastern section of the building. The contract for the work, amounting to $2.2 million, was awarded to Citra Australia. During these extensions Decro Pty. Ltd. was engaged to manufacture new furniture for both the President of the Senate’s and the Prime Minister’s suites. This furniture remains in the rooms today and this, along with the renovated architecture, is significant as evidence of the growth of Parliament.
A further reason for the expansion of this suite was because the President needed extra space to entertain the increasing number of heads of State and other dignitaries that were able to visit Australia easily by air. These rooms were also made available to important visitors such as Queen Elizabeth II and the Governor-General to use when they visited the Provisional Parliament House to open Parliament. As a whole the suite demonstrates the importance of the President’s position as well as the responsibilities of this role, such as chairing meetings and committees and hosting important guests and dignitaries.