Detailed consideration, Main Committee and third reading
Following the second reading, or agreement to the bill in principle, each house considers the bill in detail, although this stage is often dispensed with, by agreement, in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, this stage is called committee of the whole. Proceedings are conducted by the Chair of Committees rather than by the President of the Senate who presides over the plenary or parent house. The Chair takes the seat immediately below that of the presiding officer. Decisions of the committee are subject to ratification by the plenary body but, in practice, the two bodies comprise the same members. When the committee of the whole has worked through the bill, considering and deciding on any amendments that are moved, the Chair reports the committee’s actions to the President and the plenary body then determines whether to adopt the committee’s report and any amendments it has made.
Ratification by the plenary body provides an opportunity prior to the final passage of the bill to initiate any further action that is necessary to conclude proceedings or that arises from consideration of the bill. For example, it may be necessary to reconsider parts of the bill or certain amendments and the bill is therefore recommitted; that is, referred back to the committee for further consideration. Alternatively, it may be desirable to refer part of the bill or amendments or an issue arising from the bill to a standing or select committee for examination. This action can be initiated at this stage of proceedings. It is also possible to debate a motion to adopt the committee’s report.
Under new procedures adopted by the House of Representatives in February 1994, the House replaced consideration in committee of the whole with consideration in detail by the plenary itself. During consideration in detail, members may speak any number of times for up to five minutes each, as senators may speak during committee of the whole for up to 15 minutes on any number of occasions. This enables a dialogue to develop between the minister responsible for the bill and other senators or members who may have questions about the bill or suggestions for changing it.
It is during committee of the whole or consideration in detail that amendments to the bill may be moved. Amendments are proposals to alter the bill and may be moved by any senator or member in their respective houses. Amendments not moved by the government have a much greater chance of success in the Senate where the government does not usually enjoy a party majority as a result of the system of proportional representation introduced for Senate elections from 1949. Any amendments made by the Senate must, however, be agreed to by the House of Representatives. Likewise any amendments made by the House to a bill first introduced in the Senate must be agreed to by the Senate. The aim is for both houses to agree to the bill in identical terms so that it can then become a law.
As part of the new procedures adopted in 1994 the House of Representatives established a second, parallel chamber, called the Federation Chamber, to consider legislation and certain other types of business. The second reading debate and consideration in detail of non-controversial bills or bills over which there is agreement may occur in the Federation Chamber, presided over by the Deputy Speaker. Bills may be amended in the Federation Chamber provided there is full agreement. Formal votes or divisions may not be taken in the Federation Chamber; any disagreement must be reported to the House for resolution. Likewise, reports from the Federation Chamber indicating that bills have been considered and amended are subject to adoption by the House in plenary.
On the adoption of the report from the committee of the whole in the Senate, or from the Federation Chamber, or at the conclusion of the consideration in detail stage by the House of Representatives, the bill is read a third time, signifying final agreement to it by that house. The process is then repeated, with appropriate variations, in the other house.