Immediately after a bill is received, the President is required to put to the Senate the question that the bill be read a first time (SO 112(1)). In practice, the President does not put the question until the senator in charge of the bill (the senator who has introduced it or the minister representing the minister responsible for a bill received from the House of Representatives) moves a motion for the first reading. This practice recognises that the Senate should not proceed to consider a bill until the senator in charge of it is ready to do so. Normally the motion for the first reading is first moved immediately after receipt of the bill.
The motion for the first reading is put and determined without amendment or debate, except in relation to a bill which, under section 53 of the Constitution, the Senate may not amend (SO 112(1)). The Senate has the opportunity to reject a bill at the first reading stage, but in practice the first reading is normally passed without opposition and is regarded as a purely formal stage. (For an account of bills rejected at the first reading, see ASP, 6th ed., pp 436-7. For a bill negatived at the first reading, see the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004, 24/6/2004, J.3752. This bill was subsequently revived: 13/8/2004, J.3927-8.)
In respect of bills which the Senate may not amend, the question for the first reading may be debated, and matters not relevant to the subject matter of the bill may be discussed (SO 112(2)). This procedure provides another opportunity for senators to refer to any matters of interest to them. Requests for amendments may also be moved at the first reading to a bill which the Senate may not amend (see Chapter 13, Financial Legislation).
When a senator wishes to speak to the first reading of a non-amendable bill under standing order 112(2), but does not wish to speak to or oppose any of the other elements of the composite motion under standing order 113(2), the senator may speak to the composite motion for the time allowed by standing order 112(2) instead of dividing the composite motion under standing order 113(3). If two or more bills are the subject of the composite motion, a senator may speak to each of the bills for the time allowed (ie., 15 minutes per bill). This procedure avoids unnecessary complexity arising from the division of the composite motion (13/11/1995, J.4087-8).
After the motion for the first reading has been passed, if a bill is proceeding by the traditional deliberate method a future sitting day must be fixed for the second reading of the bill (SO 112(4)). If the bill is being dealt with under the expeditious procedure, which is normal, the motion for the second reading may be moved immediately.
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