The role of members is diverse, covering a range of responsibilities.
In addition to the busy jobs done by members, there are a number of special roles within the parliament to help it function. Some of these roles are done by members. Some are done by parliamentary officers, who are appointed rather than elected.
This fact sheet looks at the responsibilities of members and some of the key special parliamentary roles.
All members have parliamentary, electorate, and party responsibilities (if they belong to a political party). The work a member performs is influenced by many factors including whether they:
- are part of the government, opposition or crossbench;
- have elected parliamentary roles, such as Speaker or Deputy Speaker;
- have ministerial responsibilities;
- have a role as a portfolio spokesperson or ‘shadow minister’; and
- are the chair or member of an Assembly standing or select committee.
Members contribute to debates, make speeches and ask or answer questions in the chamber. They may introduce bills, guiding them through the legislative process and debating the details and implications of such legislation with other members, the press and the public.
Members of the Assembly do not have separate electorate offices. Their offices in the Assembly building are used for both parliamentary and electorate business. Members interact with citizens (constituents) about issues affecting the community in a range of ways: personal meetings, by phone, and via correspondence. Social media is also becoming an important way for members to communicate with their constituents. Members often:
- become patrons for local organisations or clubs;
- speak at functions on local issues and explain policies;
- meet with the media to discuss issues and events; and
- participate in the activities of community groups.
There are a number of ways in which members can represent their constituents on issues of concern, including:
- seeking information from the government;
- making speeches in the Assembly;
- participating in the work of Assembly committees; and
- making public announcements and statements to the news and social media.
MLAs are usually members of a political party. An MLA who is not a member of a political party is called an independent. While the Assembly has had a number of independent members since its establishment, there are no independent members in the current (9th) Assembly. As members of political parties, MLAs are often required to participate in meetings of the party organisation. It is not uncommon for members to participate in the national and state conferences of their party and to have other non-parliamentary roles within parties’ organisational structures.
MLAs are also involved in meetings of the parliamentary membership of their party to discuss tactics, policies, responsibilities and other plans.
Special parliamentary roles
The Speaker is the Presiding Officer of a parliament, who sits at the front of the chamber and is responsible for maintaining order, interpreting and applying the standing orders, and generally ensuring the smooth operation of proceedings.
The Speaker is elected by a ballot of members at the first sitting after an election.
Although the Speaker is typically be a member of a political party, it is important that they are able to perform the role in an impartial way, and seen to be fair by all members.
Since the Assembly was first established, members from the government, opposition and crossbench have all, at various times, been elected Speaker.
The Speaker also has a number of other roles outside of the Assembly chamber, including:
- Chair of the Standing Committee on Administration and Procedure (the Assembly’s main governance committee);
- looking after the Assembly precincts;
- appointing Officers of the Legislative Assembly (the Auditor-General, Ombudsman, and members of the Electoral Commission); and
- appointing the Clerk of the Assembly.
Deputy Speaker and Assistant Speakers
Members also elect a Deputy Speaker, who performs these duties if the Speaker is away. The Deputy Speaker is usually from a different political party to the Speaker.
Assistant Speakers step in to perform the role of Speaker in the chamber, only.
Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister
The Chief Minister is elected by a ballot of members on the first sitting day of a new Assembly, or when a vacancy occurs in the office of the Chief Minister.
The Chief Minister is the leader of the Government, appoints ministers, and together they make up the executive, which is supported by the ACT Public Service. The executive is responsible for administering the laws of the ACT, making administrative decisions, managing the budget and providing services to ACT residents.
Leader of the Opposition
The leader of the largest non-government party in the Assembly is known as the Leader of the Opposition. The position does not have a constitutional basis, but has been recognised in the standing orders since the Assembly first sat on 11 May 1989.
The opposition plays an important role in our parliamentary democracy. Its role is to question what the government does, and scrutinise government policies and administrative decisions.
The term ‘whip’ was first used in the UK parliament and is derived from an English fox-hunting term ‘whipper-in’. This was the title given to the person who kept the hounds from straying from the pack.
In parliaments, all parties have a whip who, along with their party leaders, work to maintain party discipline. Their most important role is to ensure that members of the party are present in the chamber to support their party when a vote is taken. They are responsible for arranging ‘pairs’, a system that allows a member to be absent from the chamber at the same time as a member from the opposite side, to ensure the results of votes are balanced. Whips also ensure members know what is happening in the chamber each day and liaise with parliamentary staff to determine the order of business for the Assembly.
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