The House: The people’s house

August 25, 2017


Q: What belongs to more than 24 million Australians which most of us don’t know much about?

A: Canberra’s Parliament House


Journalist and lover of all things quirky, Annabel Crabb is on a quest to change that in her new ABC TV series The House.

Knowing that Parliament House is something of a mystery to most of us who are not federal politicians or public servants, Crabb is our tour guide as the 45th Federal Parliament opens, with a new cast of characters recently elected to the House of Representatives or the Senate.

The opening episode has the atmosphere of excitement of the first day at school, where the new kids are shown around by the all-knowing prefects.

It’s rather endearing to see how our new politicians are embracing the experience, and feeling genuinely thrilled to be our elected representatives. Quite a contrast with the bear pit atmosphere of Parliament when it’s in session.

But there’s a lot more to Parliament House than the pollies, and Annabel is keen to tell us about many little-known facets of our national house.

For instance, the proud Australian flag that hangs above Parliament House has to be rotated every 12 weeks, due to the force of the Canberra gales. Each flag is taken down, repaired, then takes its place back on the flagpole until the winds do their next lot of damage. And we can’t even blame the hot air that gets produced inside for this kind of rough treatment from the elements.

As Australian politics runs on the Westminster system, many of the rituals have been imported from Britain. The Queen’s representative, the Governor-General, may not enter the House of Representatives, due to an event that happened hundreds of years ago, when King Charles stormed into the chamber to insist that his royal commands be obeyed.

Instead, the GG requests the House of Representatives members to join him in the Senate. We also see the newly elected Speaker of the House being dragged to their chair, due to a history where speakers ran a huge risk of being beheaded.

However, Australia has moved with the times, and today an indigenous Welcome to Country ceremony is an important part of launching a new parliamentary session.

Annabel takes us on a tour, where we see what happens in the basement of Parliament House, and we visit the large open space known as The Cathedral. Then it’s off to a night of conviviality—where politicians from all sides are actually nice to each other—at the Press Gallery Mid Winter Ball.

The House is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the way Parliament House operates, and future episodes promise us a bit of conflict and drama, so watch
this space…


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