A Living History

A Living History at Parliament House

Iconic, historic and timeless

The Parliament of New South Wales is Australia’s first and oldest Parliament, and its complex of buildings includes the oldest building surviving in the Sydney Central Business District (CBD). This working Parliament continues to serve the people of New South Wales to this day. Public tours are conducted on Mondays and Fridays at 1:30pm, and are subject to availability. For any enquiries about the Public Tours please contact the Tours Officer on 9230 3444 email us.

Jubilee Room, Parliament House 1905. Image credit NSW Parliament Archives

The iconic New South Wales Parliament was originally built as Governor Macquarie’s General Hospital in 1811. This was Australia’s first hospital, better known as the Rum Hospital. As the British government did not allocate any funding for building, Governor Macquarie allowed the building contractors to import and sell 60,000 gallons of rum. The sale of rum helped create Australia’s first hospital. Governor Lachlan Macquarie (1810–1821) was an instrumental force in shaping the course of development for today’s modern Sydney.

In 1829, the building split into what is now known as the NSW Parliament, The Mint and Sydney Hospital. New South Wales Parliament is one of the state’s most important historic buildings. It represents both heritage and cultural significance as it continues to serve as the home of NSW state’s legislature. Over the last 40 years, modifications and restorative work have created a collection of beautiful spaces that are truly unique to Sydney.

One People, One Destiny

On 2nd March 1891, delegates from each of the colonial parliaments met in Sydney to celebrate the creation of the Nation.

The National Convention produced a draft constitution for the Commonwealth of Australia.

Under the draft constitution, the colonies would unite as separate states within the Commonwealth, with power shared between a federal Parliament and state parliaments. This would give Australia a federal system of government.

On 5th July 1900, the British Parliament passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act which was later signed by Queen Victoria on 9th July 1900.

During the Convention, Edmund Barton, who was to become Australia’s first Prime Minister, made famous the catchcry ‘a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation’.

Sir Henry Parkes, the Premier of New South Wales and President of the National Australasian Convention was credited as the driving force behind creating the Federation of Australia.

Governance of Australia

The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act was established in 1901.

  • Australia has three levels of law-making:
  • Federal (or national) Parliament in Canberra
  • State or territory parliaments
  • Local councils (also called shires or municipalities) across the nation

Australia has one federal Parliament, six state and two territory parliaments, and over 560 local councils. The Federal or Commonwealth Government is responsible for the conduct of national affairs including defence, immigration, foreign affairs, trade, postal services and taxation.

State governments have their own constitution and retain the power to make their own laws over matters not controlled by the Commonwealth. These responsibilities include hospitals, schools, police and housing services. Local Councils oversee local matters such as building regulations, local roads and footpaths, parks, libraries and local community services.

Representatives known as Members of Parliament or local councillors are elected to federal, state or territory parliaments or local councils, via a democratic voting system. This allows the citizens of Australian to have someone represent them at each level of government.

View the NSW Electorates

New South Wales Coat of Arms

The latin verse on the NSW Coat of Arms ‘Orta recens, quam pura nites’, means ‘Newly risen, how brightly you shine’ The New South Wales Coat of Arms was granted in 1906 by King Edward VII of England and is located above the Speaker’s Chair in the Legislative Assembly chambers.

The lion on the left and the kangaroo on the right, represents the relationship between England and Australia. The shield contains the red cross of Saint George, the former badge of British colony and the stars of the Southern Cross. The icons on the shield reflect the two main types of agricultural trade in NSW at the time, sheep and wheat. The rising sun featured on top of the arms symbolises the rising of a new state.

The meaning of Parliament

The word “parliament” comes from the French word parler, which means to talk. The first recorded legislature in the world, which still exist today, is the Althing, the national Parliament of Iceland. Found in 930 at Thingvellir (the assembly of fields) it is 45km from Iceland’s capital, Reykajavik.

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