Scrutiny of legislation
A bill must be passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate in identical terms before it can become law. Most bills are initiated by the government and implement government policy. The Senate scrutinises all bills to ensure that they further the public interest. Ultimately, the Senate may pass a bill without amendment, pass it with amendments (or, in the case of money bills, request amendments before passing it) or reject it.
Bills are ‘read’ (i.e. approved) three times during their passage through the Senate. The broad policy of the bill is debated at the second reading stage. The Senate then resolves itself into a committee of the whole, during which senators are able to examine the detail of bills, engage in debate with ministers (or senators representing House of Representatives ministers in the Senate) and move amendments (see Senate Brief No. 8). This procedure provides the opportunity to ensure that all aspects of a bill are examined thoroughly before the Senate votes to pass, reject or amend a bill.
The Senate committee system substantially increases the ability of the Senate to review bills in the Senate chamber (see Senate Briefs Nos. 4 and 8). Bills considered to require more detailed examination are referred to the relevant legislative and general purpose standing committees for inquiry. The inquiry process is described below. It concludes with the presentation of a report to the Senate. A report may recommend amendments to a bill, or recommend that the bill be passed without amendment. The report is then considered by the Senate when examining the bill in the chamber.
In addition, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee informs the Senate of any bills that unduly trespass on individual rights and liberties or fail to observe proper legislative safeguards, for example, rights of appeal.