Parliament is not only men and women delegated by the voters to act as their representatives but also a large number of people who work in the library, as security guards, employees of the parliamentary parties, cleaning staff etc.
The chief tasks of the Members of Parliament – of the National and Federal Councils – are in the fields of legislation and control.
Adoption of Laws
The National and Federal Councils deliberate on bills transmitted to them by the government. However, their members can also take the initiative and prepare bills of their own. Before a law is passed, it is discussed in great detail and all the arguments for and against it are carefully weighed. While most decisions require only a simple majority some laws can only be passed by a majority of two-thirds of the members.
Parliamentary committees are, so to speak, the workshops of Parliament. It is here that the bulk of parliamentary work is done. Bills are discussed in detail and amendments proposed to be discussed by the plenary. If need be, experts are called in to give their advice, and much room is given in the committees to general discussions with the competent government member.
Parliamentary Control over the Government
Exercising control over the government requires a lot of expertise, and considerable time and effort. Parliament can fulfil this task in many ways – members of the National Council can, for instance, put questions in writing and ask Urgent Questions, instruct the Court of Audit to examine the records of certain administrative departments, and set up investigating committees.
Contact with the Citizens
Members of Parliament are also active at the level of their constituency and for the interest groups they represent in Parliament. They will also try to safeguard the interests of their region and to see to it that it is provided with the necessary schools, public services or traffic connections.
The tasks of Members of Parliament also include the duty to cultivate international contacts and participate in international conferences.
The President of the National Council
The responsibilities of the President of the National Council are manifold:
- S/he heads the work of the National Council and convenes sittings.
- S/he is in charge of the Parliament Building, decides on building activities and events to be held in the building, and is the employer of all parliamentary staff.
- S/he sees to it that the Rules of Procedure are complied with. In this task s/he is assisted by the Second and Third Presidents.
- S/he represents the National Council vis-à-vis the Federal Government, the Federal Provinces and at international level.
As far as the Federal Council is concerned, the first and the last two points listed above also hold for the President of the Federal Council and his/her Vice-Presidents.
The President’s Conferences of the National and Federal Councils
Both in the National Council and the Federal Council the respective Presidents and the heads of the parliamentary groups representing the political parties collectively form the President’s Conference, which discusses, amongst other things, the agendas and timetables for plenary and committee sittings and other important matters affecting Parliament, and also coordinates international parliamentary relations.
Parliamentary Group Chairpersons are Elected
The work of the Parliamentary Groups is guided by party-policy principles and interests. The Parliamentary Groups are headed by Members of Parliament elected to serve as chairpersons by the Members belonging to their political party. Group sittings and meetings are held to discuss and harmonise the respective party’s position on current bills.
The Work of Parliamentary Groups
The parliamentary group’s staff advise and support the Members of the National and Federal Council representing their party. They prepare documents, take care to comply with the Rules of Procedure, produce papers for discussion and handle public relations. All this is coordinated by the group chairpersons. As a rule, group chairpersons also have one or two personal secretaries who devote themselves to research, handle the chairperson’s mail, and coordinate dates and appointments in the members’ voting districts.
An important principle that must be respected by the 400 or so members of the staff of the Parliamentary Administration is that they must be impartial. Like referees, they have the Rules of Procedure at their fingertips and can provide information and suggest solutions in case of disputes. They not only guarantee the smooth running of parliamentary business but also lend assistance to Austrian Members of the European Parliament. The Parliamentary Administration and its staff are directly answerable to the President of the National Council.
The tasks of the Parliamentary Administration comprise the following: It accompanies parliamentary activities through all phases, provides information on all matters of concern to Parliament, and performs various tasks for the benefit of the parliamentary staff and the building.
1) Provision of Services in the Interest of Parliamentary Business
Preparation, Assistance and Documentation
Preparation, assistance and documentation for the committee and plenary sittings of the National and Federal Councils: A separate service sees to it that parliamentary business is transacted smoothly. Every word spoken in plenary sittings is put on record. In addition, there is a library as well as an archive.
Scientific support on legal and historical issues.
Support in maintaining international contacts
The Parliamentary Administration supports the Presidents and the Members in maintaining international contacts and assists Parliament when it exercises its right to participate in EU legislation.
2) Informing the Public
Informing the public about parliamentary activities
The right to be informed on processes and events important for the country is one of the basic values of democracy. In line with this principle the parliamentary press service publishes information on all matters that have to do with Parliament. The extensive coverage of these matters on Parliament’s website affords users a hands-on experience of the legislative process and offers a wealth of information on democracy, parliamentarianism and the EU.
Information, Guided Tours, Young People
Parliament attaches special importance to being open for Austria’s citizens and to provide for the political education of young people: This is evident from the broad range of guided tours of the Parliament Building and Palais Epstein with its Democracy Workshop, which cater for different interests and age groups.
Youth Parliament, Workshops
The Youth Parliament, which meets twice a year, and the programme of the Democracy Workshop for children between the ages of eight and fourteen arouse as much interest as the “Open Day“ on October 26, the Austrian National Holiday.
Infoteam for Citizens
In addition, the Parliamentary Administration’s Infoteam for Citizen, its library, a variety of publications and other services offer a wealth of political information to all those interested in what is going on in Parliament.
3) Technical Staff and the Parliament Building
Cleaning, Utilities Management, Safety and Security
It is essential that the Parliament Building be kept clean, safe and in good working order. Its technical staff takes care of such matters as keeping technical systems running, renovating, construction measures, cleaning, and safety and security.
The personnel department takes care of all matters affecting the roughly 400 members of the Parlamentary Administration’s staff.