The 35th anniversary of the opening of Australia’s Parliament House occurred on Tuesday 9 May 2023. That date is significant because it is also the date of the very first sitting of Australia’s Parliament, at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne (9 May 1901), and that of the opening of the provisional (‘Old’) Parliament House (9 May 1927).
An event to mark the occasion was held on Monday 8 May 2023. Ngambri and Ngunnawal Custodian Paul Girrawah House, Ngambri and Ngunnawal Elder, Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and the Ngambri Family cultural group led the Presiding Officers, the President of the Senate, Senator Hon. Sue Lines and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Milton Dick, MP, into the Great Hall to commence proceedings. Paul Girrawah House then gave a Welcome to Country, during which he observed that “our story is a shared story. We must remember that, under the concrete and the steel of this place, there is a rich, powerful, compelling First Nation history, which is now a shared history that belongs to all of us.”
Master of Ceremonies for the event, the Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services, Mr Rob Stefanik, then invited remarks from the Presiding Officers. The President of the Senate reminded the audience that Parliament House sits on important Aboriginal land, land that was “[a] meeting place”. She described Parliament House as the “pillar…and heart of our democracy” and observed that the building is both “a place of stories: stories of friendship, work, careers… and a place of discussion, debate and decision” – an echo of the sentiments expressed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who said at the Opening Ceremony for the building in 1988: ‘This new Parliament House will become the workplace for the men and women into whose hands Australians choose to place legislative and executive responsibility. The chambers will become the centres for debate on all the pressing issues of government, and future generations of Australians will look to those who work here for national security, wise legislation and fair administration.’
In his remarks, the Speaker of the House of Representatives acknowledged the broader workforce of Parliament House, saying “this is your celebration as well. You’ve kept our building operating and working for thirty-five years.” The Speaker observed that there are 1,000 workers in Parliament House in a non-sitting week, a number that would swell to 10,000 during the (Budget) sitting week, one of the busiest of the parliamentary year.
In a further echo of proceedings at the official Opening in 1988, a multi-faith blessing of the building took place, given by leaders of the Anglican, Catholic, Uniting, Greek Orthodox churches and the Muslim and Jewish faiths. The occasion also featured a performance from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Primary Concert Choir: ‘Our Song’ by Yorta Yorta composer Deborah Cheetham, AO. The ceremony concluded with the cutting of a Parliament House shaped birthday cake – featuring the iconic Australian lamington – by the President, together children from the choir, and staff of the parliamentary departments who had supported the Parliament with 35 years of service.
The day also featured the launch of the Turning the Key: Opening Australia’s Parliament House exhibition, about the construction of the building, which runs until November 2023.