Chapter 9 - Times of sittings and routine of business

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57    Routine of business

  1. The routine of business shall be:

    1. On Monday:

      1. Government business only

      2. At 2 pm, questions

      3. Motions to take note of answers

      4. Petitions

      5. Notices of motion

      6. Postponement and rearrangement of business

      7. Formal motions – discovery of formal business

      8. Any proposal to debate a matter of public importance or urgency

      9. Government business

      10. At 9.50 pm, adjournment proposed

      11. At 10.30 pm, adjournment.

    2. On Tuesday:

      1. Government business only

      2. At 2 pm, questions

      3. Motions to take note of answers

      4. Petitions

      5. Notices of motion

      6. Postponement and rearrangement of business

      7. Formal motions – discovery of formal business

      8. Any proposal to debate a matter of public importance or urgency

      9. Government business

      10. At 6.50 pm, consideration of government documents for up to 30 minutes under standing order 61

      11. At 7.20 pm, adjournment proposed

      12. Adjournment.

    3. On Wednesday:

      1. Government business only

      2. At 12.45 pm, matters of public interest

      3. At 2 pm, questions

      4. Motions to take note of answers

      5. Petitions

      6. Notices of motion

      7. Postponement and rearrangement of business

      8. Formal motions – discovery of formal business

      9. Any proposal to debate a matter of public importance or urgency

      10. Consideration of committee reports under standing order 62(4)

      11. Government business

      12. At 6.50 pm, consideration of government documents for up to 30 minutes under standing order 61

      13. At 7.20 pm, adjournment proposed

      14. At 8 pm, adjournment.

    4. On Thursday:

      1. Petitions

      2. Notices of motion

      3. Postponement and rearrangement of business

      4. Formal motions – discovery of formal business

      5. Consideration of committee reports under standing order 62(4)

      6. Government business

      7. At 2 pm, questions

      8. Motions to take note of answers

      9. Any proposal to debate a matter of public importance or urgency

      10. Not later than 4.30 pm, general business

      11. Not later than 6 pm, consideration of government documents under general business

      12. Not later than 7 pm, consideration of committee reports and government responses under standing order 62(1)

      13. At 8 pm, adjournment proposed

      14. At 8.40 pm, adjournment.

  2. On Wednesday, at 12.45 pm till 2 pm matters of public interest may be discussed by senators without any question before the chair, provided that a senator shall not speak for more than 15 minutes, and if a division is called for, the division shall be taken at a later hour of the day, not being earlier than 2 pm.

  3. If a division is called for on Thursday after 4.30 pm, the matter before the Senate shall be adjourned until the next day of sitting at a time fixed by the Senate.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SO 66 but renumbered as SO 62 for the first printed edition

Amended:

  • [2 February 1994, J.1170–72, 1174–78 (adoption of sessional order, on a trial basis, providing for earlier, and definite, adjournment times on most days and a new routine of business; re-adopted on multiple occasions in 1996 – see SO 24A for a list of those occasions)]
  • 13 February 1997, J.1447 (to take effect 24 February 1997) (incorporation of 1994 reforms to the routine of business, as modified by subsequent sessional orders)
  • 7 December 1998, J.287 (consequential amendment from adoption of open-ended adjournment debate on Mondays)
  • 28 August 2002, J.685–86 (open-ended adjournment debate moved to Tuesdays)
  • 14 May 2003, J.1797–99 (starting time on Tuesdays brought forward to 12.30 pm and additional time designated for government business only)
  • [11 May 2004, J.3379 (adoption of a temporary order preventing divisions after 4.30 pm on Thursdays)]
  • 10 March 2009, J.1658 (divisions not to take place after 4.30 pm on Thursdays – formerly 6 pm)

1989 revision: Old SO 66 renumbered as SO 57 and revised to incorporate sessional orders first adopted on 28 February 1984, with subsequent variations

Commentary

  Senate routine of business
 

The routine of business

In its original form, SO 57 was a model of simplicity:

The Senate shall, unless otherwise ordered, proceed each day with its ordinary business, in the following routine:– 1. Presentation of Petitions. 2. Giving Notices and Questions without Notice. 3. Questions on Notice. 4. Formal Motions. 5. Postponement of Business. 6. Motions and Orders of the Day, or vice versa, as set down on the Notice Paper.

It gave wide scope for the Senate to change its routine, by sessional or other order, to suit changing circumstances or requirements. From 1981, such variations became more common with the addition of new types of business, initially for Thursdays and then for other days of the week as well.[1] As was the case with the times of meeting (see SO 55), the broad pattern for the next ten years was set by sessional order on 28 February 1984 with the adoption of the eight day fortnight and the two week sitting pattern that set different times and routines for each week.[2] With some variations, it was this form of the routine of business that was incorporated into the revised standing orders in 1989. Further sessional variations followed, including for the standardisation of Questions at 2 pm to coincide with the commencement of televised proceedings by the ABC.[3] Other new items of business, such as the consideration of committee reports under SO 62, were tried at different places in the routine of business.[4]

The major impact on the routine of business came from the Procedure Committee’s Second Report of 1993 (PP No. 212/1993) on the times of sitting and order of business. Its recommendations were adopted as sessional orders on 2 February 1994. For details see SO 55. By the time these sessional orders were incorporated into the standing orders in February 1997, following a change of government in 1996, there had already been some important developments including the quarantining of time exclusively for government business, on Mondays from 12.30 till 2 pm and on Wednesday mornings. Any business of the Senate items for those days would not take precedence over government business until business resumed in the afternoons. Along with the various procedural rights granted exclusively to ministers,[5] the designation of certain times for government business only, conceded by a Senate with a non-government majority, remains a significant advantage for the government of the day and a counterweight to allegations of Senate obstructionism. Further government business-only time was added to the routine in 2003 when the time for meeting on Tuesdays was brought forward from 2 pm to 12.30 pm.

Standing order 57 also identifies two times during which divisions must be deferred. The first is on Wednesdays from 12.45 till 2 pm when matters of public interest may be discussed without any question before the chair. In the event that a procedural question arose that required a division – such as a motion to require dissent from a ruling of the President to be determined immediately (see SO 198), or a motion for the suspension of a senator (see SO 203) – paragraph (2) requires the division to be deferred at least until after 2 pm.

Similarly, on Thursday afternoons, divisions may not take place after 4.30 pm.[6] If a division is required, the matter is automatically adjourned under paragraph (3) and a minister moves a motion to fix a time for the next day of sitting. Odgers notes that it is the practice for the chair to put the question again on a deferred division on the basis that senators who originally called for the division may change their minds and allow the question to be determined on the voices. [7]

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