Today marks 90 years since the Australian Parliament met here in the national capital, Canberra, for the first time, at provisional Parliament House, or (Old Parliament House as we know it) on 9 May 1927.
To mark the occasion of that historic first Canberra meeting, the House of Representatives was presented with the two ornately decorated despatch boxes, which rest here on the Table of the House, as a personal gift from His Majesty King George V. They were presented to Speaker Sir Littleton Groom by the then Duke of York (later King George VI), at Parliament House in Melbourne on 26 April 1927 as the Parliament was finalising arrangements for its relocation to Canberra.
Now as then, the despatch boxes contain religious texts for use by Members when making their oath of allegiance following their election to the House.
What is perhaps not so widely known is that the despatch boxes on the Table today are exact replicas of those which lay on the Table of the United Kingdom House of Commons for many years prior to their loss when the Commons Chamber was destroyed in an air raid during the Second World War, on 10 May 1941.
For that Chamber’s reopening in 1950, the Commons received replacement despatch boxes as gifts from New Zealand with a design based on the boxes here on the Table – completing a circle of parliamentary tradition.
Twenty-two Prime Ministers and twenty-seven Leaders of the Opposition are among those who have addressed the House from these despatch boxes.
In these 90 years, the despatch boxes have become an enduring symbol of our Australian system of parliamentary democracy. They also serve as a reminder of our parliamentary inheritance and of a continuing, strong link between our House of Representatives and the House of Commons at Westminster.
I thank the House.