Chapter 20 - Bills

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113  Expedited proceedings on bills

  1. A senator may present a bill or 2 or more bills after the Senate has agreed to a motion upon notice, setting out the title of the bill or bills, that the bill or bills be introduced.

  2. After the presentation of a bill or bills, or after the receipt of a message or messages from the House of Representatives forwarding a bill or bills for concurrence, a motion may be moved without notice containing any of the following provisions:

    1. that the bill or bills may proceed without formalities (this shall have the effect of suspending any requirements for stages of the passage of the bill or bills to take place on different days, for notice of motions for such stages, and for the printing and certification of the bill or bills during passage);

    2. in respect of 2 or more bills, that the bills may be taken together (this shall have the effect of allowing the questions for the several stages of the passage of the bills (or any of them) to be put in one motion at each stage, the consideration of the bills (or any of them) together in committee of the whole, and the reading of the short titles only on every order for the reading of the bills, the words in parentheses being applicable where there are more than 2 bills);

    3. that the bill, or, where the provision referred to in subparagraph (2)(b) is agreed to, the bills, be now read a first time.

  3. Where a motion is moved containing 2 or more of the provisions set out in paragraph (2), at the request of any senator the motion shall be divided and the provisions put as separate motions.

Amendment history

Adopted: 21 November 1989, J.2219, as part of the revised standing orders (to take effect on the first sitting day of 1990) (formerly a sessional order agreed to 13 May 1987, J.1849–50; re-adopted 15 September 1987, J.36–43)

Commentary

Other standing orders provide for the consideration of bills over several days. If these were strictly followed, a bill received from the House of Representatives would require a minimum of three days for passage, while a bill introduced in the Senate would require an additional day for notice of a motion to be given for leave to bring in the bill. This is because the three readings of the bill are required to take place on separate days. If the bill is amended, an extra day is required between completion of committee of the whole proceedings and adoption of the report.

For many decades, till the mid–1970s, it was customary for proceedings on bills to be accelerated by motions to suspend those standing orders requiring these built-in delays.[1] One of the primary functions of the Senate was therefore performed not in accordance with the normal rules but by deliberately putting them aside.

In August 1971, the Standing Orders Committee reported on the “invariable practice of moving in connection with the passage of Bills –– That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Bill being passed through all its stages without delay’”.[2] The committee was of the view that consideration should be given to changes to facilitate the passage of legislation, while recognising the purpose of the standing orders in preventing surprise and haste. The committee reported again in November 1974 that the practice of regularly suspending standing orders in connection with the passage of bills was undesirable and that the procedure for expediting the passage of bills should be regulated by standing orders.[3] A new standing order was recommended:

231A. With respect to Bills received from the House of Representatives, a Motion, that the Bill may be taken through all or its remaining stages without delay, may be moved by a Minister of the Crown at any time without Notice. Such a resolution shall suspend any requirements for the three readings of a Bill to take place on separate sitting days and Standing Orders 210 and 215 shall not apply.

Senator Gareth Evans (ALP, Vic) who praised the expedited procedures for their lack of 'mumbo jumbo' (Source: Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook)

Senator Gareth Evans (ALP, Vic) who praised the expedited procedures for their lack of 'mumbo jumbo' (Source: Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook)

For Senate bills, the committee recommended continuation of the current practice of suspending standing orders, or of seeking leave. No rationale was advanced for not treating all bills in the same way.

The new standing order was adopted on 20 August 1975, having previously been tried as a sessional order.[4] Contingent notices for the suspension of standing orders in respect of Senate bills were given to provide for expedited proceedings on those bills.[5] With different procedures applying depending on the origin of a bill, there were also difficulties in dealing with several bills simultaneously, based on an earlier ruling of President Baker that a motion for the suspension of standing orders cannot cover two bills.[6]

Against this background, a new sessional order was proposed in 1987 that was designed to provide expedition and flexibility but with built-in safeguards. Features of the procedure include the following:

  • a senator may present a bill, or two or more bills together, after a motion on notice that the bill or bills be introduced;

  • when a bill or bills have been presented, or a message has been reported indicating that a bill or bills have been received from the House for concurrence, a motion may be moved without notice containing any of the following elements:

    • that the bill or bills may proceed without formalities,

    • that the bills may be taken together,

    • that the bill or bills be now read a first time;

the first two elements may be debated and, at the request of any senator, the chair is required to put the provisions separately.

Agreement to the first element means that the requirement for different stages of a bill to be dealt with on separate days is suspended. Agreement to the second element means that multiple bills may be dealt with by means of a single motion at each stage, and that they may be considered together in committee of the whole. When bills are taken together, only the short title is read by the Clerk.

There is no doubt that the expedited proceedings provide a simple, rational and flexible means of considering bills. In one of the first uses of the proceedings after its adoption as a sessional order in May 1987, Senator Gareth Evans (ALP, Vic) drew the Senate’s attention to “our new expedited procedures which are designed to get rid of mumbo-jumbo. I commend the process we have just gone through to the Senate and hope that it is continued in the next session and subsequent sessions”.[7]

The sessional order was renewed in the following Parliament,[8] and was incorporated into the revised standing orders as SO 113, superseding old SO 231 A which was deleted.

See Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 12th edition, pp.230–32 for further details on the application of the expedited proceedings. Only very rarely have elements of the motion been negatived, requiring bills to proceed singly or by the deliberate method.[9]

All bills invariably use the expedited proceedings but the standing orders continue to provide for the traditional method as well, should circumstances ever warrant the imposition of delays in particular cases.

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