Chapter 22 - Instructions to Committees

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150  Instructions on bills

  1. An instruction may be given to a committee to divide a bill into 2 or more bills, or to consolidate several bills into one.

  2. An instruction may be given to a committee on a bill to amend an existing Act to consider amendments which are not relevant to the subject matter of the bill but are relevant to the subject matter of the Act it is proposed to amend.

Amendment history

Adopted:

  • 19 August 1903 as SO 322 ( paragraph (1)) but renumbered as SO 318 for the first printed edition
  • 20 December 1905 as SO 319A, J.254 (paragraph (2))

Amended: 2 December 1965, J.427 (to take effect 1 January 1966) (increase in special majority formerly required to support an instruction)

1989 revision: Old SOs 330 and 332 combined into one, structured as two paragraphs and renumbered as SO 150; requirement for special majority to carry an instruction removed

Commentary

Paragraph (1) is one of the few original standing orders explicitly based on House of Commons practice and not filtered through the standing orders of the colonial assemblies from which it was absent.[1] It was included, however, in Blackmore’s drafts and may reflect his expanding knowledge of House of Commons procedures as a result of regular correspondence with its Clerks in the lead up to, and after, Federation.[2]

Under the standing orders relating to consideration of bills in committee of the whole, a committee does not have power to divide or consolidate bills, hence the need for an instruction. See Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 12th edition, pp.245–47 and Australian Senate Practice, 6th edition, pp.460–70 for precedents for the division of bills and for other instructions to committees.

In 1905, the Standing Orders Committee recommended the adoption of two new standing orders on instructions to committees (SOs 150(2) and 151), prompted by an incident in which a senator was prevented from moving an amendment to an Electoral Amendment Bill because although it was relevant to the subject matter of the Act, the amendment “had no particular direct reference to any of the subject–matters of the Bill”. The ruling was not challenged but senators thought that an amendment of this kind should be provided for in the standing orders and a reference was made to the Standing Orders Committee.[3] Although there was some opposition to the new standing orders, they were adopted after a lengthy debate, including two attempts to adjourn it, on 20 December 1905. The new provision for an instruction included a requirement for 15 affirmative votes to support it. This was regarded as a safeguard against business being taken out of the hands of ministers but there was no explanation given for this number and why a different special majority than that applying to the closure had been chosen.[4] The number was adjusted to 23 when the other special majorities were amended in 1965 but was removed altogether in the 1989 revision.[5]

This new standing order was a significant expansion of powers at a time when the statute book was much smaller and amending bills more narrowly drawn. It was a useful statement of the scope of the Senate’s legislative interests and powers. It has very little application nowadays when amending bills are common and often cover a wide variety of subjects. It would be unusual for any proposed amendment to be unable to be linked to the subject matter of the bill in some way.

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2000 was divided into two bills pursuant to an instruction to the committee of the whole

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2000 was divided into two bills pursuant to an instruction to the committee of the whole

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