Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 7 - Meetings of the Senate

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Summoning of the Senate when not sitting

Apart from the power of the President to alter the specified time of the next meeting, the standing orders require the President to summon the Senate to meet during an adjournment at the request of an absolute majority of senators, represented, in the case of senators who are members of a party, by their party leaders or deputy leaders.[31]

This provision began its life as a special order first agreed to in 1967, was regularly incorporated in resolutions specifying the time of the next meeting, was incorporated into sessional orders in 1985, and finally included in the new standing orders adopted in 1989.[32]

Meetings of the Senate under this provision were held on 20 June 1967 to consider the disallowance of postal and telephone charges regulations, and 9 July 1975 to consider the government’s overseas loans activities. A meeting on 21 January 1991 was called to consider the Gulf war at the request of the government when it was apprehended that party leaders representing an absolute majority of senators would ask the President to summon the Senate. A meeting of the Senate was called on 7 November 2003, within a period of sittings, under this provision, to deal with urgent legislation.[33] A similar meeting was called on 3 November 2005 (a day on which estimates hearings were also held) to consider legislation relating to terrorism.[34]

On 1 March 2011, the procedure was used to facilitate a meeting several hours in advance of the scheduled time to enable simultaneous observances on both sides of the Tasman Sea of the passage of a week since the Christchurch earthquake. Although the President has an independent discretion to alter the Senate’s meeting time and has done so on the advice of the executive government, the discretion has only been used to delay meetings for reasons relating to the orderly conduct of the Senate’s business. As there was no such imperative on this occasion, it was considered more appropriate to rely on these provisions.[35]

31. SO 55(2)-(5).
32. For further details, see the Annotated Standing Orders of the Australian Senate under SO 55.
33. 7/11/2003, J.2672.
34. 3/11/2005, J.1300.
35. See Procedure Committee, Second report of 2011, PP 158/2011.