The State Opening of Congress is an event which formally marks the beginning of a session of the Cygnian Congress. It includes the Speech from the Throne. The State Opening is an elaborate ceremony showcasing Cygnian culture and contemporary politics to large crowds and television viewers.
The State Opening of Congress takes place in the Senate chamber on the first day of every session in front of both Houses of Congress. The monarch delivers a speech detailing the Government's legislative agenda for the coming session. Since 1977 it has become increasingly common for Congress to sit continually without prorogation from its election to its dissolution. As a result, the State Opening has — erroneously — become a tradition associated with the beginning of a new congressional term.
Sequence of events
The State Opening is a lavish ceremony of several parts:
Welcome to Country
Assembly of Senators and Representatives
Representatives and Senators assemble in their respective chambers at the appointed time in the summons proclamation issued by the Queen, usually sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 am. The Senators are joined in their chamber by members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of the judiciary. The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate administer oaths or affirmations of office to incoming or re-elected members. If the presiding office in either House is vacant, as may be the case following a general election or the resignation of a presiding officer, the Queen will appoint Deputies beforehand (usually the Chief Justice or a Justice of the Supreme Court) to swear in new members and thereafter to facilitate the election of a new presiding officer.
Arrival of imperial regalia
Before the arrival of the sovereign, the Imperial State Crown is carried to Federation Hall in a State Coach, guarded by four members of the Armed Forces, each one representing its four branches. From the main entrance, the Crown is passed by the most senior guard to the Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain's office. It is then carried, along with the Great Sword of State and the Cap of Maintenance, to be displayed in the Imperial Gallery.
Arrival of the Sovereign
The sovereign arrives from Mandurah Palace at Federation Hall in her official state car, entering through the main entrance. She is accompanied by the royal consort and sometimes by other members of the Royal Family, such as the Duke and Duchess of Sydney. Traditionally, members of the Queen's Guard line the procession route from Mandurah Palace to Federation Hall. In more recent times, agents of the National Security Intelligence Agency and the Cygnian Federal Police for security purposes also patrol the route. The Imperial Standard is hoisted to replace the Cygnian flag upon the Sovereign's entrance and remains flying while she is in attendance. The monarch immediately proceeds to the main entrance of the Senate chamber, while other members of the Royal Family are escorted to the official gallery.
Before the monarch enters the Senate chamber, the Usher of the Black Rod announces the arrival of the Sovereign:
|“||Honourable Senators, and all Citizens of the Union: Rise, for Her Imperial Majesty the Queen is among us!||”|
The sovereign then enters, and is immediately preceded by the Earl Marshal, by the Government's Senate Leader carrying the Cap of Maintenance on a white rod, and the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee carrying the Great Sword of State. The Queen herself enters the chamber wearing the Imperial State Crown. Upon reaching the President's chair, the President vacates it and the Queen takes her seat upon it. The President sits on a chair placed at the Queen's right. The sovereign then instructs the Senate by saying, "Honourable Senators, Loyal Citizens, pray be seated."
Royal summons of the House to the Senate chamber
Motioned by the monarch, the Lord Great Chamberlain raises his wand of office to signal to the Usher of the Black Rod, who is charged with summoning the House of Representatives and has been waiting in the Central Lobby. Black Rod turns and, under the escort of the Door-keeper of the Senate and a police officer, proceeds to the Members' Lobby of the House of Representatives, and enters the House chamber. The Sergeant-at-Arms introduces Black Rod. At the bar, Black Rod bows to the Speaker before proceeding to the table, bowing again, and announcing the command of the monarch for the attendance of the House, in the following words:
|“||Mr [or Madam] Speaker, The Queen commands this honourable House [pauses to bow to both sides of the House] to attend Her Imperial Majesty immediately in the Senate.||”|
The House then rises to make their way to the Senate chamber.
Procession of the Representatives
The Speaker proceeds to attend the summons at once. The Sergeant-at-Arms picks up the ceremonial mace and, with the Speaker and Black Rod, leads the Members of the House of Representatives as they walk, in pairs, towards the Senate. By custom, the members saunter, with much discussion and joking, rather than formally process. The Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition, followed by the Vice Chancellor and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition usually walk side by side, leading the two lines of MCs. The Representatives then arrive at the Bar of the Senate. The only people required to bow are the Speaker, Clerk of the House, Black Rod and the Sergeant-at-Arms. No person who is not a Senator may pass the Bar unbidden when it is in session; a similar rule applies to the House. They remain standing at the Bar during the speech.
Delivery of the speech
The monarch delivers a speech, known as the "Speech from the Throne", outlining the Government's agenda for the session. The speech is usually written by the Cabinet, and reflects the legislative agenda for which the Government seeks the agreement of both Houses of Congress.
The whole speech is addressed to "Honourable Senators and Representatives", with one significant exception that the monarch says specifically, "Members of the House of Representatives, estimates for the public services will be laid before you", since the budget is constitutionally reserved to the House.
The Queen delivers the entire speech in a neutral and formal tone, implying neither approval nor disapproval of the proposals of Her Imperial Majesty's Government: the monarch makes constant reference to "My Government" during the speech. After listing the main bills to be introduced during the session, the sovereign states: "other measures will be laid before you", thus leaving the Government scope to introduce bills not mentioned in the speech. The monarch mentions any State Visits that she intends to make and also any planned State Visits of foreign leaders to Cygnia during the Congressional session. The monarch concludes the speech in saying:
|“||Honourable Members, Honourable Senators, I pray that you will heed these words, and serve to the best of your ability, this Union, her Constitution, and her People.||”|
Traditionally, the members of both Houses of Congress listen to the Speech from the Throne respectfully, neither applauding nor showing dissent towards the speech's contents before it is debated in each House.
Departure of the Sovereign
Following the speech, the Queen and her retinue rise and bow to both sides of the Senate before leaving the chamber. The Members of the House of Representatives then also bow and return to their Chamber.
Debate on the speech
After the Queen's departure, each Chamber proceeds to the consideration of an "Address in Reply to Her Imperial Majesty's Gracious Speech." For the address in reply, a chosen member moves "That a humble Address be presented to Her Imperial Majesty, as follows". The following is the form used in the Senate and is identical to that used in the House of Representatives:
|“|| Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Imperial Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators in Congress assembled, beg leave to thank Your Imperial Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Imperial Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Congress.
The first speech of the debate in the House of Representatives is, by tradition, a humorous one given by a member selected in advance. The consideration of the address in reply to the Speech from the Throne is the occasion for a debate on the Government's agenda. The debate on the Address in Reply is spread over several days. On each day, a different topic, such as foreign affairs or finance, is considered. The debate provides an indication of the views of Congress regarding the government's agenda.
The State Opening of Congress is a ceremony loaded with symbolic significance for the governance of Cygnia. In one place are assembled the members of all three branches of government: the Congress constitutes the legislature; the sovereign and Her Imperial Majesty's Cabinet (who are members of one or other House) constitute the executive; the Supreme Court are summoned to represent the judiciary. Therefore, the State Opening demonstrates not only the governance of Cygnia but also the separation of powers. The importance of international relations is also represented through the presence in the Chamber of the Diplomatic Corps.