The Parliamentary Counsel's Office (PCO), originally occupied by a few Parliamentary Draftsmen, has been instrumental to forming legislation for over 140 years. Below is an overview of how the office has transformed over time. To read more about our history, please see the PCO 120th Anniversary Booklet (PDF 94.9KB) written by Michael Flynn, a former staff member.
In 2001, Don Colagiuri became the Parliamentary Counsel. Then, the Parliamentary Counsel's Office was merged with The Cabinet Office but retained its status as a separate Office managed by the Parliamentary Counsel. During this time, the NSW legislation website became the primary way for the public to access information. In April 2007, the Parliamentary Counsel's Office became a separate office within the Department of Premier and Cabinet following the merger of the Premier's Department and The Cabinet Office. In February 2014, the Parliamentary Counsel's Office then became a Public Service executive agency related to the Department of Premier and Cabinet. In 2018 to present day, Annette O’Callaghan became the Parliamentary Counsel after having served as the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel.
Dennis Robert Murphy became Parliamentary Counsel in 1982. During his time as PC, the expansion of technology and the closure of the Government Printing Office created the need to introduce computers to the office and take on an expanded publishing role. Under Murphy, the staff increased dramatically to around 50 people. The print design of NSW legislation was modernised and streamlined, and an online database was implemented to improve access to legislation. In 1998, an information technology plan was implemented to make the office a more effective information provider.
Edwin Sidney Bishop headed the office after Cahalan's passing in 1953. During his term, the office faced increasing demands for its services. In 1946, the office had 7 permanent staff until the 1960s, when the volume of legislation increased enormously. Between 1965 and 1977, Parliament passed around 18,000 pages of legislation, 4 times more than the previous decade. In 1970, toward the end of his term, the office took on a new name: The Parliamentary Counsel’s Office. Bishop retired in 1971 after a stroke and died shortly afterward. Henry Edwin Rossiter became Parliamentary Counsel in 1971. Under Rossiter, Departments were required to submit their instructions in narrative prose form, a change from presenting it in Bill form. By 1978, staff increased to 25 members. This is also when they implemented a plain language policy.
Edward Bernard Cahalan headed the office after Uther, beginning in 1935. His appointment marked advancement for non-Anglo-Protestants in NSW. Cahalan held his post for 18 years, until forced by illness to retire shortly before his death in 1953. At his passing, the Australian Law Journal commented on his time as Parliamentary Counsel, saying “his ability and experience in this difficult and exacting office will be missed, as will the courteous assistance he so readily gave to all those who sought his advice”.
After Watkins's retirement, 1919 to 1922 saw 2 Parliamentary Draftsmen head the office in succession: George Washington Waddell and Cecil Edward Weigall. Only holding the position for a number of months, Weigall soon left to become Solicitor-General and was replaced by Allan Hammill Uther. Uther headed the office for 13 years, and presided over the expansion in volume and complexity of company laws, conveyancing laws and the Lang Labour Government’s social legislation.
John Leo Watkins assumed the position of Parliamentary Draftsman after Oliver's resignation. Under Watkins, the office grew from 3 to 4 members to compensate for the amount of legislation produced. In addition, the government determined that the office should be responsible for “the proper preparation of a digest of the Statutes year by year, together with the consolidation of Acts of Parliament, and revision of the Statute Book with a view to the repeal of obsolete laws”. Watkins also edited a number of legal publications and assisted in drafting early versions of the Federal Constitution. He retired in 1919.
From 1856 to 1878, the position of Parliamentary Draftsman was held by lawyers on a part-time, fee-for-service basis. After passing the NSW Act of 1823 (UK), the Government formed the Legislative Council and appointed the Attorney General to draft legislation. Upon self-government in 1856, the Attorney General's role changed. With increasing pressure of drafting work in the 1870s, the Government sought to appoint a Parliamentary Draftsman. Among the applicants for the position was former Prime Minister Edmund Barton. Alexander Oliver ultimately was hired for the position, becoming the first Parliamentary Draftsman. Oliver, “undeterred” by a shooting accident as a child that left him with one arm, was one of the first graduates of Sydney University. Described as being “well connected, something of a bon vivant, seriously intellectual, and very amusing company”, Oliver established the foundations of the office. When he resigned, he left to become the President of Land Appeal Court.
(1878–1892) Legal text editor, anonymous political columnist, intellectual and bon vivant. Also served as Examiner of Land Titles, Registrar of Friendly Societies and Trade Unions and President of Land Appeal Court.
(1892–1919) Also edited legal texts and assisted with the drafting of early versions of the Federal Constitution.
(1919–1921) A university law lecturer and distinguished army officer.
(1922–1935) Oversaw the expansion and complexity of companies, conveyancing and social legislation under the Lang Government. Formerly employed in the Crown Solicitor's Office and as Examiner of Titles.
(1935–1953) Regarded very highly in the public service and Parliament for his ability and courteousness to all. Admired as a great character and for his oratorical performances.
(1953–1971) Maintained the high standards and traditions of the office. Conscientious, diligent, down to earth and possessed a generous amount of the common touch.
(1971–1982) The office expanded to meet increased needs, began to experiment with new legislative style and prepared for the electronic age. Larger than life, Harry was firm with Ministers and firmer still with instructors.
(1982–2001) Championed the integrated drafting and publishing role of the Office, and its independence. He consolidated the early use of plain language and the effective application of information technology.
(2001–2018) Maintained the high standards and reputation of the Office. Led the adoption of new drafting and publishing technology and improvements in public acccess to legislation via the official NSW legislation website.