Chapter 5 - Standing and Select Committees

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General committee provisions

29    Quorum

  1. In each committee and sub-committee, unless otherwise provided, a quorum shall be:

    1. a majority of the members of the committee or sub-committee; or

    2. 2 members, where one member present was appointed to the committee on the nomination of the Leader of the Government in the Senate and one member present was appointed to the committee on the nomination of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.

  2. If a senator draws attention to the lack of a quorum at a meeting of a committee, the proceedings shall be suspended until a quorum is present, or, if a quorum is not present after 15 minutes, the committee shall then be adjourned.

  3. If within 15 minutes after the time appointed for the meeting of a committee there is not a quorum, the senators present may retire, after entering their names in the minutes; and the secretary attending the committee shall convene a meeting for another time.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 287 and 288 (corresponding to paragraphs (1), (2) and (3)) but renumbered as SOs 283 and 284 for the first printed edition

Amended:

  • 24 August 1994, J.2053 (to take effect 10 October 1994) (changes consequential on the restructuring of the committee system to provide an alternative quorum of one government and one opposition member when a majority of members is not present)

  • 19 November 2002, J.1145 (removal of requirement for chair to suspend a meeting in the absence of a quorum and replacement with provision for proceedings to be suspended only if a senator draws attention to the lack of a quorum)

1989 revision: Old SOs 37, 295 and 296 combined into one, restructured as three paragraphs and renumbered as SO 29; repositioned from old chapter XXII on select committees; some updating and clarification of expression, and numerical terms replaced with generic terms to incorporate the principle that, unless otherwise provided, the quorum of a committee is a majority of its members

Commentary

In 1903, the number of members of a select committee was specified as seven[1] and the quorum of such a committee, set by the predecessor to SO 29, was four. These arrangements were used for the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, established in 1932, but by the application of a provision in the resolution of appointment of that committee. Thereafter, it was common for resolutions appointing committees to specify both the size of the committee and its quorum arrangements. While the old standing order had little practical application, the principle it enunciated was a sound one and in the 1989 revision, that principle was retained in generic terms. Although there was no general standing order specifying the size of a select committee, whatever its size, the quorum of a committee was a majority of its members.

The 1994 restructuring of the committee system introduced a new device to facilitate the involvement of both government and opposition members in committee decisions but, at the same time, to provide as much flexibility as possible for committee operations. An alternative quorum provision was designed to provide that if a majority of the committee was not present, a member appointed on the nomination of the Leader of the Government in the Senate and a member appointed on the nomination of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate could form a quorum. Designed to have general application, the alternative quorum arrangements resulted in committee-specific quorum provisions being deleted from most of the committees in Chapter 5. These arrangements also apply to select committees.

Greater flexibility was the goal again in 2002 when the Procedure Committee recommended that participating members of legislative and general purpose standing committees be able to be counted towards a quorum when a majority of committee members was not present. In an associated change, the quorum arrangements for committees were to be amended to place them on the same footing as the Senate. Rather than the chairman having no discretion but to suspend a committee meeting when a quorum was not present, the new arrangements allowed meetings to continue until and unless a senator drew attention to the lack of a quorum. These changes were recommended by the Procedure Committee in its Second Report of 2002 and adopted on 19 November 2002.[2]

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