Chapter 7 - Meetings of the Senate

Suspension of sittings

During any sitting there are usually suspensions of the sitting, which means that the sitting is temporarily interrupted and resumes at the point in the routine of business at which the Senate left off (a suspension of a sitting is often followed by business taken at a fixed time, such as question time at 2 pm). A suspension of a sitting is therefore to be distinguished from an adjournment, which ends a sitting, so that when the Senate sits again the routine of business is commenced anew. Standing order 55 provides for suspensions of sittings at particular times.

A sitting may also be suspended by a motion moved and carried when there is no other business before the chair. A minister may move such a motion without notice under standing order 56, but a senator who is not a minister may not move such a motion except by leave of the Senate or pursuant to a successful motion for the suspension of standing orders (these matters are explained in Chapter 8 under Leave of the Senate and Suspension of standing orders).

Occasionally a sitting is suspended over one or more days so that the Senate can resume on another day at the point in its business where it left off without beginning the routine of business anew. For example, the sitting of the Senate which began at 10 am on Thursday, 12 November 1992 continued until 6.11 am on Friday, 13 November, because of protracted consideration of the appropriation bills in committee of the whole. A motion was then carried to suspend the sitting of the Senate until 2 pm on Monday, 16 November. When the Senate assembled on Monday the sitting continued, which meant that the consideration of business was resumed at the place in the routine of business where it was left off, and consideration of the appropriation bills proceeded. The sitting continued until 12.41 am on Tuesday, 17 November. A motion to suspend the sitting until 9.30 am that morning was then carried. When the sitting resumed consideration of the appropriation bills continued until concluded that afternoon. Similarly, the sitting which began on Thursday, 16 December 1993 continued on 17, 18, 20 and 21 December, with protracted proceedings on the Native Title Bill 1993, and the sitting of 9 July 1998 continued on 10 and 11 July 1998, mainly because of telecommunications legislation. In some instances the Senate has provided by order in advance for the suspension of its sittings (12/8/2004, J.3904).

The advantage of suspending a sitting instead of adjourning is that the Senate can continue with government business without interruption by other items in the routine of business, such as question time (on 17 November 1992, however, a special order was made to allow for question time on that day). If used excessively by a determined majority, the procedure could be severely restrictive of the rights of individual senators. The suspensions have been rationalised by the need to pass the appropriation bills and other urgent legislation, and the fact that the Senate was not originally scheduled to sit on the extra days, so that no scheduled sitting days were lost so far as other business was concerned.

The extension of one sitting over three days raises the question of the effect of statutory provisions for the tabling of delegated legislation. Those provisions require delegated legislation to be tabled in the Senate within a specified number of sitting days, usually 6 sitting days, and legislation which is not tabled within the specified time ceases to have effect. It has not been determined whether a sitting extending over more than one day is one sitting day for the purposes of those statutory provisions. Departments responsible for forwarding delegated legislation for tabling have been advised that to avoid any doubts they should assume that the days to which sittings are suspended are separate sitting days for the purposes of statutory tabling requirements. (see also Chapter 15, Delegated Legislation)

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