Formal conferences have occurred twice since Federation and an informal conference has also been held. Conferences have also been requested or mooted on other occasions but have not proceeded. Although these standing orders have been rarely used, the occasion may arise where the procedures provide an appropriate mechanism for resolving an issue between the Houses and they remain part of the standing orders of both Houses.
President Baker took a dim view of their utility (see SO 162) but there is no doubt that these standing orders would have been regarded as an essential part of the standard requirement for a range of communication methods between the Houses in a bicameral system.
In practice, the possible subjects on which the Houses might confer are limited. It is unlikely that a conference would ever again be held on a bill because of the common practice for senators to negotiate directly with ministers on bills and, if necessary, for those negotiations to be reflected in the terms of the resolutions of each House. In these circumstances, conferences are unnecessary.
For commentary on the use and interpretation of the conference provisions, see Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 12th edition, pp.541 –44.