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The Legislative Assembly mace

26 April 2019 - Legislative Assembly

The Origin of Parliamentary Maces

The majority of first chambers (lower houses) in the Westminster system have followed the practice of the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ in England by featuring a ceremonial mace in proceedings—with a number of these commonwealth maces closely resembling or replicating the mace of the House of Commons.

The House of Commons first acquired a mace in 1415 when Nichols Maudit, one of the King’s Sergeants-at-Arms, or royal mounted bodyguards, was appointed by King Henry V to ‘attend upon all his Parliaments’. For almost a century, the distinguishing emblem of office of the Royal Sergeants-at-Arms had been the mace, derived from the medieval battle mace that they carried in their role as bodyguards.

While the sergeants’ mace was an actual weapon, it also had a symbolic status representing the royal delegated power to arrest without a warrant. The butt of royal sergeants’ maces were stamped with the royal coat of arms which established the sergeant’s bona fides (credentials) at a time when many of the population could not read. Over the centuries the role of the mace in House of Commons proceedings evolved. It was not until the end of the seventeenth century that the presence of the mace on the table of the house was required for the House of Commons to formally meet.

Maces in Australian Parliaments

The first chambers of all Australian jurisdictions feature a mace in proceedings, but only the House of Representatives and the Victorian Legislative Assembly possessed a mace from the time they commenced. The Legislative Assemblies of New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia were presented with maces to celebrate either their centenary or 150th anniversaries, and Queensland’s Legislative Assembly did not acquire a mace until 1978. The last Australian jurisdiction to obtain a mace was the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly in 2004.

Western Australia’s Mace

Western Australia’s Legislative Assembly mace is the oldest in Australia. It was commissioned by the Western Australian Government; designed by the Western Australian State Works Department in 1887; manufactured in Adelaide; and first borne before the Speaker of the then Legislative Council, Sir James Lee-Steere, in 1888. When Western Australia was granted self-government in 1890, the mace was transferred, along with the Sergeant-at-Arms, to the house of government—the Legislative Assembly.

Although the Assembly’s mace was acquired when Western Australia was a crown colony, and incorporates some royal insignia—in particular, the cypher (monogram) of Queen Victoria, whose golden Jubilee as monarch was celebrated in the year the mace was crafted—the mace has always been regarded as representing the authority of the Speaker, and, through the Speaker, of the Legislative Assembly. The mace is not present on the table of the house until a Speaker is elected. When the Speaker is in the chair, the mace rests on the table of the house; and, unlike practice in other Australian Parliaments and in the House of Commons, when the Speaker suspends a sitting of the Legislative Assembly and departs from the chamber, the mace accompanies the Speaker out of the house.