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Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

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Appendix 10

A Chronology of the Senate: 1901 - 2012



1 January 1901

Australian Constitution came into force, vesting legislative power in a federal Parliament consisting of the Queen, a Senate, and a House of Representatives

February–March 1901

Writs issued for the election of 36 senators

29-30 March 1901

Senators elected at elections throughout Australia

9 May 1901

Opening of Parliament at the Melbourne Exhibition Building and swearing in of senators

First meetings of the Senate held in the chamber of the Legislative Council of Victoria

Election of the first President of the Senate, Senator Richard Baker

5 June 1901

Appointment of the first Senate committee: the Standing Orders Committee

June 1901

Senate had first supply bill amended to show items of expenditure

Senate changed second supply bill to reflect Australian rather than British constitutional arrangements

26 July 1901

First Senate select committee appointed: steamship communication with Tasmania

August 1901

First senior officials called to give evidence before a Senate committee, including the Clerk of the Senate and the Secretary of Defence

Private citizens also called to give evidence


Senate first insisted on requests for amendments to a bill it could not amend


Commonwealth Electoral Act passed, including the right of women to vote and stand for election

1 September 1903

Adoption of Senate Standing Orders

16 March 1904

Senate amended Acts Interpretation Bill to insert provision for disallowance of regulations

April 1904

First case of privilege investigated by a Senate committee

October 1904

First bill referred to a Senate standing committee

11 October 1906

Senate rejected Customs Tariff (British Preference) Amendment Bill 1906 and disagreed to Governor-General’s amendment to Customs Tariff (British Preference) Bill 1906


Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications inquired into election of Senator Vardon


Senators’ terms ceased on 30 June, rather than 31 December as previously, under constitutional amendment of 1907

13 December 1909

Private senator’s bill, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Bill 1908, extending employees’ protection against dismissal, passed into law

30 July 1914

For the first time, the Senate and the House of Representatives dissolved simultaneously under section 57 of the Constitution

February–March 1917

Senate forced government to abandon proposal to extend the life of the House of Representatives by an act of the British Parliament

12–13 November 1918

Senator Gardiner presented a 12 hour address in the Senate on the Commonwealth Electoral Bill


Preferential voting introduced for the Senate

15 August 1919

Time limits imposed on speeches in the Senate

December 1921

First (informal) conference held between the Senate and the House of Representatives

31 July 1924

Private senator’s bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Bill, to provide compulsory voting, passed into law

9 May 1927

Senate met in Canberra for the first time

December 1929

Senate established a select committee to consider a system of standing committees

10 July 1930

First reference of a bill, the Central Reserve Bank Bill, to a select committee

August 1930

First formal conference held between the Senate and the House of Representatives

6 May 1931

Chairman of Commonwealth Bank called before the Senate to give evidence on economic crisis

11 March 1932

Regulations and Ordinances Committee established to scrutinise delegated legislation

1 July 1941

Voting between two candidates for Presidency of the Senate tied, and decided by lot

21 August 1943

Senator Dorothy Tangney first woman elected to the Senate

10 July 1946

Parliamentary proceedings first broadcast on ABC Radio


Introduction of proportional representation for Senate elections


From 30 June, the states represented by 10 senators each

19 March 1951

Second simultaneous dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution

9 May 1953

For the first time, a Senate election was held separately from that of the House of Representatives

27 September 1961

Senate adopted procedures to examine estimates before appropriation bills had passed the House of Representatives


Compact of 1965 between the Senate and the government, on the content of appropriation bills


Senator Annabelle Rankin first woman to administer a government department

5 April 1967

Select committees on container cargo and metric system appointed

19 May 1967

Senate first adopted procedures for recall of Senate at request of majority of senators

October 1967

Senate forced government to disclose documents relating to Air Force VIP squadron


Senator Ivy Wedgwood first woman senator to chair a committee

11 June 1970

Standing committee system established

Estimates committees established

13 May 1971

Senate first found persons guilty of contempt, for unauthorised release of draft committee report

11 June 1971

First Aboriginal Senator, Neville Bonner, sworn in

9 December 1971

Senate declared that statutory authorities are accountable for all expenditures of public funds

14 March 1973

Senate required government to respond to Senate committee reports within three months

11 April 1974

Third simultaneous dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution

6 and 7 August 1974

Joint sitting convened to resolve a deadlock following simultaneous dissolution election

16 July 1975

Senior officials called before the Senate to investigate overseas loans affair; government claimed crown privilege

October–November 1975

Senate declined to pass appropriation bills, resulting in fourth simultaneous dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution


Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory elected senators for the first time


Section 15 of the Constitution, governing casual vacancies in the Senate, amended by referendum


Select Committee on Parliament’s Appropriations and Staffing recommended separation of parliamentary and government appropriations

19 November 1981

Establishment of the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills

25 March 1982

Establishment of the Appropriations and Staffing Committee

4 February 1983

Fifth simultaneous dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution

22 October 1984

Senate first authorised publication of tabled documents out of sittings

Senate asserted its right to meet after dissolution of House of Representatives


Senate conducted first inquiry under section 72 of the Constitution into allegations concerning a judge

1 December 1984

Senators increased to 12 for each state


Group ticket (above the line) voting introduced for Senate elections


Senate amended loan bills to ensure annual approval of government authority to borrow


Senator Janine Haines the first woman to lead a parliamentary party

14 April 1986

Deadline for the receipt of government bills first adopted


Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987 initiated in the Senate by the President and passed into law, to codify parliamentary immunities

5 June 1987

Sixth simultaneous dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution

October 1987

Senate forced abandonment of Australia Card Bill, which was the subject of the simultaneous dissolution

25 February 1988

Privilege resolutions passed by the Senate, codified the rights of witnesses at committee hearings and granted right of reply to persons referred to in debate

28 September 1988

30 day rule for questions on notice adopted

8 November 1988

Senate declared principles under which it would consider retrospective tax legislation

29 November 1988

Senate required government to explain any delay in proclaiming bills passed by Parliament

December 1988

Select Committee on Legislation Procedures recommends new procedures for referring bills to committees

21 November 1989

New Standing Orders adopted

5 December 1989

Selection of Bills Committee established to refer bills to committees

14 December 1989

Annual reports of departments and agencies referred to standing committees

31 May 1990

Televising Senate question time authorised

23 August 1990

Senate committees authorised to televise their proceedings

September 1992

Time limits on questions without notice and answers first adopted


Senate committees reported on constitutional and other problems with government’s major tax legislation, resulting in its restructuring

17 March 1994

Senators’ Interests Committee established

24 August 1994

Standing committee system restructured to reflect composition of the Senate and share chairs

Estimates and standing committees amalgamated

Performance of government departments and agencies referred to standing committees

9 June 1995

Senate first divided a bill into two bills

30 May 1996

Senate required government departments to publish indexed lists of their files

20 August 1996

First territory and woman President of the Senate, Senator Margaret Reid, elected

2 December 1998

Reference of New Tax System bills simultaneously to a select committee and three standing committees

31 August 1999

Senate authorised publication of its proceedings live on the Internet

22 November 1999

Senate declared all questions going to operations or finances of departments and agencies relevant to estimates hearings

Procedures for urgent bills amended to ensure that non-government amendments are put

29 June 2000

Senate declared that it would not pass tariff increases to validate certain tariff proposals

20 June 2001

Senate required government departments and agencies to publish details of contracts on the Internet


Senate resolved cases of seizure of documents under search warrant, to determine immunity from seizure


Action against a senator by his party considered as a matter of privilege

19 March 2002

Senate censured a senator for an attack on a High Court justice

15 May 2003

Resolution calling for removal of Governor-General

12 August 2003

Customs and excise tariff bills deferred until documents produced

30 October 2003

Resolution declaring basis on which Senate would consider claims of commercial confidentiality

11 February 2004

Select committee established on a treaty, the free trade agreement between Australia and the United States

9 March 2005

Agreement with the government over the execution of search warrants in senators’ premises tabled

1 July 2005

Howard government’s absolute majority in the Senate comes into effect

21 October 2005

High Court judgment in Combet v Commonwealth placed responsibility of Parliament for ensuring that appropriations are properly expended

9 November 2005

Senate adopted procedures allowing any senator to take action in the Senate in relation to unanswered estimates questions on notice or orders for documents

14 August 2006

Standing committee structure changed to return to pre-1994 structure

24 June 2008

Senate made orders requiring information, in time for estimates hearings, on government grants and appointments

10 March 2009

Provision for questions to chairs of committees and private Senators abolished but practice formalised in respect of questions to the President

13 May 2009

2006 changes to standing committee structure reversed

22 June 2010

Resolution agreed to consolidating and reaffirming the Senate’s views on ordinary annual services of the government

23 June 2010

Resolution agreed to supporting an Indigenous “Welcome to Country” ceremony before openings of Parliament

26 October 2010

Standing order 50 amended to include an acknowledgement to country at the commencement of each day's proceedings

22 November 2010

Resolution affirming the power of the Senate to order the production of documents


Expanded opportunities for consideration of private senators’ bills comes into effect