About Us

About Us

The Parliamentary Counsel's Office (PCO) is a Public Service executive agency in the Premier and Cabinet cluster, and is responsible to the Premier.

The PCO provides legislative drafting services for the State of New South Wales. It drafts all Bills required for introduction into Parliament and drafts a wide range of subordinate legislation, including regulations, rules, proclamations, orders and environmental planning instruments.

The PCO also provides an integrated range of services for publishing legislation, including the NSW legislation website, and providing advice and information about legislation.

Please note that the Office does NOT provide legal advice or assistance with legal research projects. If you are seeking legal advice or research assistance, click here.

To provide the Government with a comprehensive and integrated range of high quality services for the drafting and development of legislation, the publication of legislation, and the giving of advice and information about legislation.

Drafting legislation

  • drafting new legislation (including Acts, Regulations and environmental planning instruments)
  • drafting amendments to Bills during the Parliamentary process
  • drafting explanatory notes to new laws
  • providing advice and assistance to government concerning new legislation and legislative policy
  • providing a legislative drafting service for non-Government Members of Parliament (under arrangements approved by the Government). See Manual for the Drafting of Non-Government Legislation

Publishing legislation

  • providing a complete legislation publishing service to Parliament (including Bills for introduction into and passage through Parliament and for presentation to the Governor)
  • providing online access to legislation on the NSW legislation website (www.legislation.nsw.gov.au)
  • providing the official online notification of the making of new statutory instruments and of Government Gazettes
  • providing information publications about legislation
  • providing source data for legislation.

Providing advice and information

  • providing legal advice and administrative assistance on legislative drafting and procedure
  • producing an extensive range of legislation information publications
  • researching legislative drafting and related matters
  • compiling, maintaining and developing a comprehensive database of NSW legislation.

Further information about the PCO and its role in the legislative process is contained in the Ministerial Handbook published by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

All draft priority legislation required by the Government will be provided strictly in accordance with the legislative program.

All requests for drafting services, advice or information will be met directly, either through the resources of the PCO or by referring the customer to a more appropriate organisation.

A PCO contact name will be provided in all correspondence and telephone inquiries.

The nature and scope of special projects will be established by first agreeing to clear terms of reference, standards of service and time-frames.

Services and information will be accurate, well researched and up-to-date.

All drafting assignments are subject to stringent review and will conform to PCO policies of quality drafting and plain language.

The PCO Code of Conduct stresses the importance of confidentiality and professionalism, and all sensitive material is managed with proper consideration of the impact on individuals and other agencies.

The PCO will continue to ensure that its staff are trained and encouraged to provide professional and competent service.

Service standards will be monitored regularly via customer focus groups, client feedback and other research tools.

The PCO employs legislative drafters, editorial, IT and other support staff. Entry level positions in the legislative drafting and editorial fields are generally advertised once a year. Further information may be obtained by contacting the PCO.

Vacancies at PCO that are open to members of the public are advertised online at I Work For NSW.

Suitably qualified applicants who have a disability are encouraged to apply and should contact the PCO if they have any special requirements. See the Contact Us page.

Vacancies currently available:

  • Legislative Publications Officer, Clerk 3/4. Closing date is 30 January 2019. Use this link for further information and to apply for the role.

Applicants for positions in the PCO should study the information package which consists of the following documents:

and refer to the background information in About PCO.

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The modern Parliamentary Counsel's Office derives directly from the institution set up by Alexander Oliver during the years 1878 to 1892. The 120th anniversary of Oliver's effective appointment as the first permanent Parliamentary Draftsman fell on 1 June 1998. The occasion was commemorated by a booklet and by an exhibition and function held at the Mitchell Library on 29 June 1998 addressed by the Governor and the Premier. The following history of the Office was originally prepared by Michael Flynn, a member of staff.

The Parliamentary Draftsman's Office

After the formation of the first NSW Legislative Council in 1824 an Attorney General appointed by the Governor took on the role of drafting legislation, assisted by the Solicitor-General and Colonial Secretary. With the advent of full self-government in 1856 the Attorney General's role changed from that of an appointed official to an elected Minister. Provision was made for legislative drafting functions to be taken over by two barristers working part-time and paid on a fee-for-service basis. The Sydney Morning Herald recounted "the boast of a lawyer that he could drive a coach and six through any Act of Parliament" and called for the appointment of professional drafters to ensure that legislation was effective and to avoid "an ingenious attorney [tearing] it to ribbons".

Increasing pressure of drafting work during the 1870s, combined with the need for a more co-ordinated approach, led to the decision by the Government to appoint a permanent salaried Parliamentary Draftsman. In an atmosphere of heated political conflict and change, responsibility for the drafting role was passed between the Attorney General and the Minister of Justice. Among the unsuccessful applicants for the position was future Prime Minister Edmund Barton, then an ambitious young lawyer. Alexander Oliver (1829-1904) was appointed as the first permanent salaried Parliamentary Draftsman in a notice gazetted on 16 July 1878 with effect from 1 June 1878.

The position, which would be responsible to the Attorney General until 1991, required Oliver to draft Bills as instructed by Ministers, report on Government and Private Members' Bills during their passage through the legislature, prepare and report on by-laws, rules and regulations, and reporting on changes in Imperial law relevant to the colony.

Alexander Oliver was born in Sydney in 1829. Undeterred by the loss of an arm in a youthful shooting accident, he became one of the first graduates of Sydney University. He went on to study at Oxford University before returning to practise at the Sydney Bar, also acting as part-time Parliamentary Draftsman (1865-1874) and Examiner of Land Titles (1874-1878).

From 1880-1885 Oliver and his staff occupied two rooms in the newly constructed Crown Law Offices at 237 Macquarie Street (demolished about 1970 to make way for the present Supreme Court Building). From 1885-1894 the Office occupied rooms in a series of Macquarie Street terraces (Nos 127, 135 and 217). Assisted by a clerk and a messenger boy, Oliver drafted most Government legislation produced up to 1892, when he resigned to take up the Presidency of the Land Appeal Court.

In 1892 Oliver was succeeded by John Leo Watkins (1849-1932). Born in Tasmania, Watkins had followed a similar educational path to Oliver: Sydney Grammar, Sydney University, Cambridge and the London Bar. The Public Service Inquiry Commission had recommended in 1891 that the staff of the Parliamentary Draftsman's Office should be increased from three to four (three draftsmen and one messenger) and that its statute law revision and consolidation functions be extended.

Assistant Parliamentary Draftsmen employed during the years 1892-1919 included Arthur James Kelynack, G C Addison, George M Long Innes and Norman de Horne Rowland. The most remarkable of them was Sydney-born Oxford graduate Hubert Murray (Sir John Hubert Plunkett Murray, 1861-1940), appointed as an assistant to Watkins in 1892. A tall, powerfully built man, Murray had played rugby for the Harlequins and won the English amateur heavyweight boxing title. Murray, who described his four-year term in the Office as "living death in Macquarie Street", departed in 1896 to lead a more adventurous life, commanding a mounted infantry brigade as a Lieutenant-Colonel with the Australian Forces in the Boer War and having a formative influence on the legal and administrative structures of Papua as its Lieutenant-Governor during the years 1908-1940.

In 1894 Watkins moved the Parliamentary Draftsman's Office to No 5 Richmond Terrace, a house facing the Domain. Around 1897 the Office moved back to the Crown Law Offices at 237 Macquarie Street (where it remained for more than seventy years until the move into the Goodsell Building in 1970). Watkins edited a number of legal publications and assisted in the drafting of early versions of the Federal Constitution. He retired after 27 years' service in 1919.

The 20th century and beyond

The years 1919-1922 saw two men head the Office in quick succession: George Washington Waddell, a Sydney University Law Lecturer, and Cecil Edward Weigall (1870-1955), an Assistant Draftsman propelled into the job by Waddell's resignation. In 1922 Weigall left to become Solicitor General and was replaced by Allan Hammill Uther (1870-1956, educated at Sydney Grammar, Launceston Grammar School and St Paul's College, Sydney University).

In 1935 Uther was succeeded by Edward Bernard (Ned) Cahalan (1891-1953), Assistant Draftsman since 1921. As the product of a Liverpool convent school and a Sydney Marist Brothers high school, his appointment was a sign of enhanced opportunities for non-Anglo-Protestants in New South Wales. Cahalan held the post for 18 years until forced by illness to retire shortly before his death, aged 61, in 1953.

Cahalan was succeeded in 1953 by Edwin Sidney (Ted) Bishop (1907-1971), Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman since 1944 (educated at Fort Street Boys High School, Petersham and Sydney University). During Bishop's 17-year term the Office faced rapidly increasing demands for its services. In 1946 the Office had seven permanent staff and remained at roughly that strength until the mid-1960s, when the volume of legislation produced began to increase enormously. Bishop retired in 1971 after suffering a stroke and died shortly afterwards.

Henry Edwin (Harry) Rossiter (born 1922, educated at Canterbury High School and Sydney University) served as Parliamentary Counsel from 1971-1982 as the pace of change continued to accelerate. Dennis Murphy, who joined the Office in 1960, was Parliamentary Counsel from 1982 until 2001. He was succeeded by Parliamentary Counsel, Don Colagiuri SC, who joined the Office in 1974. Annette O’Callaghan was appointed Parliamentary Counsel in 2018, after previously working in both the NSW and Victorian drafting offices before becoming Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of Queensland Parliamentary Counsel.

The "Parliamentary Counsel's Office"

In 1970 the Parliamentary Draftsman became known as the Parliamentary Counsel and the re-designated Parliamentary Counsel's Office moved into the newly constructed Goodsell Building on Chifley Square in the same year. From the late 1930s Government policy had dictated that proposals for new legislation should be presented to the Parliamentary Draftsman in the form of a draft Bill. In 1974 it was recognised that this policy had failed and it was reversed. Departments were required to submit their instructions in narrative prose form. A Bill was then to be drafted by the Parliamentary Counsel in consultation with the Department and submitted for Cabinet approval.

By 1978 the staff had been increased to 25 (17 legal officers and 8 support staff, including clerks, clerical assistants, typists and stenographers), but the Office continued to suffer from staff shortages and work overloads. The Office had taken on new tasks of producing master sets of legislation and reprinting Regulations as well as Acts, becoming the source of all official prints and reprints of legislation. Technical forms of legislative language were modernised and early plain language policies developed (the Office formally adopted plain language policies in 1986). Computerisation accelerated the pace of change and the Office took on an expanded publishing role with the closure of the Government Printing Office in 1989. In 1991, the Parliamentary Counsel's Office ceased to be a part of the Attorney General's Department and became a separate Administrative Office reporting to the Premier through the Director-General of The Cabinet Office.

Since the early 1990s the average staff level has been 46, reflecting the higher and relatively constant workloads but also managing to accommodate additional activities and harness the benefits of new technology. The Office undertook the electronic capture of NSW legislation and was among the first jurisdictions to maintain and publish a database of up-to-date legislation. This source material was used by the Office to develop an integrated drafting and publishing system that is also the basis for its dynamic NSW legislation website [www.legislation.nsw.gov.au] that has provided public online access to NSW legislation since 2002 and has been the authorised source of legislation since October 2008. The Office also developed its range of information guides and made these available online.

While conscious of the past, the staff of the Parliamentary Counsel's Office have kept pace with current trends and are keeping an eye on future developments, combining the newer role of providing online access to legislation, with its traditional body of skills in legislative drafting based on over 125 years of experience.

Recent events

In March 2006, the Parliamentary Counsel's Office was merged with The Cabinet Office but retained its status as a separate Office managed by the Parliamentary Counsel and remained at its location in the Goodsell Building at Chifley Square.

In December 2006, the Office moved to the AMP Centre at 50 Bridge Street.

In April 2007, the Parliamentary Counsel's Office became a separate office within the Department of Premier and Cabinet following the merger of 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 August 2017, the Office moved to Level 1, 60 Elizabeth Street.

Annette O'Callaghan (2018 to present)

Don Colagiuri (2001–2018)

Dennis Robert Murphy (1982–2001)

Henry Edwin Rossiter (1971–1982)

Edwin Sidney Bishop (1953–1971)

Edward Bernard Cahalan (1935–1953)

Allan Hammill Uther (1922–1935)

Cecil Edward Weigall (1921–1922)

George Washington Waddell (1919–1921)

John Leo Watkins (1892–1919)

Alexander Oliver (1878–1892)

George Milner Stephen (1875–1877)

Charles James Manning (1870–1875)

William Hattam Wilkinson (1865–1870)

Alexander Oliver (1865–1874)

Frederick Meymott (1856–1859)

Charles Knight Murray (1856–1865)

Edward Wise (1856)

Robert MacIntosh Isaacs (1856)