History and tradition
During medieval times, the Royal Serjeants-at-Arms had the power to arrest without a warrant. Their maces—originally ordinary weapons of war similar to a club—became their emblems of authority. In an age in which few people could read or write, Serjeants would make an arrest by showing their mace stamped with the Royal Arms, instead of producing a written warrant.
Since the 17th century, the mace has been recognised as an icon of the parliament and a symbol of the Speaker’s authority.
As maces have evolved from weapons of war to symbols of parliament, their shape has also changed. The flanged heads have become smaller. The butt end, which carries the Royal Arms, has expanded to accommodate larger and more ornate Royal Arms, along with an arched crown surmounted by an orb and cross. As a result, maces began to be carried up the other way, with the butt end (Royal Arms and cross) at the top.
In the United Kingdom, proceedings in the House of Commons are not able to take place without the mace. A number of famous incidents in the history of the UK have highlighted this tradition. Sittings have also been unable to start when the cupboard in which the mace was kept could not be unlocked. There have also been numerous attempts to disrupt proceedings by removing, or trying to remove, the mace from the chamber.
- In 1978, Ron Brown, then Labour MP for Leith, picked up the mace during a debate on the poll tax, and threw it to the floor. The mace was damaged and Brown was ordered to pay £ 1,500 to repair it. When he later deviated from the pre-agreed apology to the Speaker, he was suspended from the Commons and the Labour Party.
- During one of the several Brexit debates in 2018, Labour Cooperative MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle picked up the mace during the debate and tried to leave the chamber with it in an attempt to delay a vote on a bill to leave the European Union.
- In the Parliament of Victoria, the mace went missing from its locked case on October 8, 1891 and was never recovered.
The Assembly's mace
The mace of the Legislative Assembly was a gift from the Australian Region of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It was officially presented to the then Speaker, Mr Wayne Berry MLA, at a meeting of presiding officers in Melbourne on 9 July 2004. Prior to this, the Assembly did not have a mace.
Our mace was designed and manufactured by a local design company. It is 95cm long and weighs approximately 8.5kgs. The design is divided into three sections, representing the “Y plan” that was adopted by the National Capital Development Commission in 1967, to guide the urban development in Canberra. The spine of our mace is made of stainless steel and locally sourced Yellow Box timber. This is not a traditional cabinet making timber, but was chosen to complement the furniture in the Assembly chamber. The mace’s detailed carvings, by local craftsman Myles Gostelow, are of the Royal Bluebell, the floral emblem of the ACT.
- The Serjeant-at-Arms is the custodian of the mace.
- When the mace is not in use, it is secured in a cabinet outside the Chamber.
- At the beginning of each sitting day, the Serjeant-at-Arms, carrying the mace on the right shoulder, precedes the Speaker into the Chamber. All members stand at their desks while the Serjeant-at-Arms places the mace in front of the Clerks’ table on its brackets, with the larger end pointing towards the government. The mace remains in this position throughout the sitting.
- At the conclusion of the sitting, the Serjeant-at-Arms once again with the mace on the right shoulder, precedes the Speaker out of the chamber.
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