We asked Simon Johnston, Clerk-Assistant, House and Procedure and Serjeant-at-Arms of the Legislative Assembly and Todd Buttsworth, Director House and Procedure and Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms about their roles at the Parliament of NSW. Here’s what they told us:
Describe a day in the life of the Serjeant-at-Arms and the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms.
Todd: On a sitting day you’ll see one of us leading a procession into the Legislative Assembly chamber with the mace to start the sitting day.
The procession includes the Speaker, the Hon Greg Piper MP, Member for Lake Macquarie, and the Clerk, Ms Helen Minnican. I’ll announce the Speaker to the House and any visitors in the public galleries by saying – loudly! – “Honourable Members – the Speaker!”. Then I put the mace at the end of the table, in its special brackets. The mace stays in the chamber until the sitting day is adjourned – then it goes in a lockable display case for safekeeping – it’s worth quite a bit!
Simon: You’ll also see one of us sitting in the chair at the back of the chamber during Question Time. It’s so we’re ready to escort any Member who has been ‘directed to be removed’ from the chamber by the Speaker, if their behaviour has been disorderly. It does happen from time to time!
That’s the visible element of our roles – but we do a lot of other things too. On a sitting day we sit at ‘the Table’ as ‘Clerks-at-the-Table’ and provide advice to the Speaker and Members about what’s happening in the chamber, to assist them. We liaise with our colleagues in the Parliament to provide security for the Parliamentary Precinct and the chambers. And we work with the ‘front line’ of the Parliament, the LA’s chamber Support and Tours team, as they make visitors welcome and deliver tours to school groups and other interested people – you should come in!
Tell us about your background and how you became the Serjeant-at-Arms and Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms?
Simon: The Serjeant-at-Arms position is actually a commission from the Governor of New South Wales. So, I was commissioned at Government House on 22 May 2020 – here’s a picture of me and my son Elliot, because my family were able to join me for the ceremony. But I’ve been working at the NSW Parliament since 2004, and have had plenty of opportunities to learn about the role!
Todd: The Deputy role isn’t commissioned, but like Simon I’ve worked for this Parliament and the Parliament of Tasmania for many years. There’s no specific training to become a Serjeant-at-Arms – if there was, I imagine it would be something like Hogwarts – but you learn ‘on the job’ and there are lots of practice notes and manuals to help out.
What is the History of this role in Westminster parliaments?
Todd: It’s a long history which you can read about yourselves, there are some links below – we won’t be able to do it justice in a paragraph!
Simon: What I find interesting about it is the way it has changed over time. When the House of Commons got its first Serjeant-at-Arms, it was something
they’d been asking for from the King for quite a while. Largely as a means to protect it and its members and to enforce its decisions… That’s not really the case now, although we continue to have an important responsibility for managing access and security.
What do you each love about working at Parliament House?
Todd: I get a kick out of walking into this grand building every morning – it’s a beautiful historic building. I love the energy of a sitting day, the theatre and tactics on display. I also really enjoy sharing our Parliament with visitors, whether they be tourists, school kids, or foreign dignitaries such as Presidents or Monarchs of foreign countries.
Simon: I like the connection to the past and the future. The physical precinct is terrific, we’re in the heart of Sydney. I like the members coming from all over NSW, bringing different perspectives – I find the work they do fascinating and have tremendous respect for the challenges of their roles. I also like the way in which this institution is changing to reflect society as it changes. But ultimately what keeps me coming is my colleagues – they’re professional, smart, often funny, and they make working here a pleasure.
Check out these links with more information about the History of this role: