Division and consolidation of bills
As noted above, the standing orders make provision for the division of a bill into two or more bills and the consolidation of two or more bills into one bill.
Dividing a bill or consolidating two or more bills is a form of amendment. The Senate could not, therefore, undertake those actions in respect of bills it could not amend, but could request the House of Representatives to do so.
The first occasion on which the Senate divided a bill occurred on 9 June 1995, when the Human Services and Health Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1995 was divided into two bills pursuant to an instruction to the committee of the whole moved on notice. Amendments of an act which arguably should not have been included in the bill were extracted and turned into a separate bill by the addition of enacting words, titles and commencement provisions, and the resulting two bills were then passed (J.3424-5). In response to this action the government introduced two new bills into the House of Representatives containing the provisions of the divided bill. It was not explained why this course was followed rather than the simpler course of agreeing to the division of the bill in the same way as other types of amendment are agreed to. It appeared from this and subsequent cases that, although the government was willing to accept indirectly and tacitly the division of bills by the Senate, it had also accepted claims by its advisers that division of bills was a particularly undesirable step which should be resisted. No rational basis for such claims was advanced.
The Health Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 4) 1999 was divided into two bills, one of which was then held over by means of an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the report of the committee of the whole. (30/10/2000, J.3429-30; 31/10/2000, J.3440-3) The government then introduced a new bill, which was passed in June 2000, including some Senate amendments.
The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2000, a bill initiated in the Senate, was divided into two bills on 1 March 2001 (J.3997-1), and consideration of one of the resulting bills deferred by means of an amendment to the motion for the adoption of the report of the committee of the whole. In the case of a bill initiated in the Senate, the government has only the options of accepting or rejecting the bill or bills sent to the House, or seeking by way of amendment of that bill or bills to reverse the Senate’s action. In this case the government accepted the Senate’s action.
The Innovation and Education Legislation Amendment Bill 2001 was divided into three bills on 28 June 2001 (J.4538-40). In this instance the government signalled its rejection of the Senate’s action by moving to report progress from the committee of the whole, and the bill was not proceeded with.
The Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Australians Working Together and other 2001 Budget Measures) Bill 2002 was divided into two bills on 15 November 2002. The government refused to consider the division of the bill in the House of Representatives following a statement by the Speaker that the division of the bill was undesirable, apparently reflecting the government’s advisers’ view referred to above, but again without any explanation of the basis of this claim. The Senate then passed a resolution to the effect that division of a bill was not different in principle from any other form of amendment, and should be considered as such. The Senate did not insist on its division of the bill, but proceeded with it undivided, and made and insisted on further amendments to it (15/11/2002, J.1092-9; 12/12/2002, J.1363-81, 1413-33).
An attempt to divide non-amendable bills by request was made in 1993: 20/10/1993, J.646-8. As a request can be made at any stage, a request to divide a bill does not require an instruction to the committee of the whole. Requests to divide non-amendable bills, the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2001 and the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2001 were circulated in April 2001, but were not proceeded with when the government agreed to amend the bills.
There had been no prior precedents for instructions to divide or consolidate bills, although motions for instructions to divide bills had been moved (8/9/1981, J.474; 23/9/1981, J.530; 28/10/1981, J.606; 27/10/1982, J.1174; 4/12/1991, J.1835-7; 9/12/1994, J.2787; 18/10/1996, J.756-7; for a discussion of the power of the Senate to divide certain tax bills, see ASP, 6th ed., pp 461-7).
The division of bills has been relatively common in state Legislative Councils.
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