Chapter 31 - Conduct of Senators and rules of debate

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204  Suspension of senator

  1. The suspension of a senator on the first occasion shall be for the remainder of that day’s sitting, on the second occasion for 7 sitting days, and on the third or any subsequent occasion for 14 sitting days, where such suspensions occur within the same calendar year.

  2. A senator who has been suspended shall not enter the chamber during the period of the suspension. If a senator enters the chamber during the senator’s suspension, the President shall order the Usher of the Black Rod to remove the senator from the chamber.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 431 and 432 (corresponding to paragraphs (1) and (2)) but renumbered as SOs 426 and 427 for the first printed edition

Amended: 28 April 1981, J.213 (expression of periods of time standardised; “session” replaced with “calendar year”)

1989 revision: Old SOs 441 and 442 combined, structured as two paragraphs and renumbered as SO 204; periods of suspension expressed as “sitting days” rather than as “consecutive days”; language modernised, including by replacement of gender-specific pronouns

Commentary

When debating these standing orders in 1903, senators were concerned at the severity of the proposed penalty of one month’s suspension for a third or subsequent offence and eventually agreed to reduce it to 14 days, and to confine it to a third or subsequent offence within the same session. Senators also expressed particular concern about the impact on the representation of a State should one of its senators be suspended for such an extensive period. On this occasion, senators failed to succumb to President Baker’s appeal for concord with the standing orders of the House of Representatives and the Senate went its own way rather than agreeing to uniform penalty provisions.[1] The penalty for a third offence, however, has never been applied.[2]

After a spate of suspensions in the 1970s, a referral was made to the Standing Orders Committee for a review of the standing order. In its report, the committee noted that when the standing order was agreed to in 1903, a session of Parliament seldom lasted for longer than a year. It was now common for sessions to last for the life of a Parliament. The committee recommended amendments to prevent the unfair operation of the penalties and to clarify the periods of suspension by expressing them in uniform terms as a certain number of “consecutive days”.[3]

The committee’s recommendations were adopted on 28 April 1981 after a somewhat confused debate.[4] The major change was that references to offences “occurring within the same session” were replaced by references to offences “occurring within the same calendar year”.

As part of the 1989 revision, the penalties were converted to sitting days. Under the old formulation, a longer suspension could be completely ineffectual if it occurred at the end of a period of sittings. It was suggested therefore that suspensions run for sitting days rather than calendar days.[5]

Senator James Keeffe (ALP, Qld), the most suspended senator, suspended six times (Source: National Library of Australia)
Senator James Keeffe (ALP, Qld), the most suspended senator, suspended six times (Source: National Library of Australia)

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