Rearrangement of business
As has been indicated, it is common for the Senate to rearrange the order of its business, so that business is dealt with in an order different from that specified by the standing orders.
There are two ways in which this can be done under the standing orders.
A minister may at any time without notice move a motion connected with the conduct of the business of the Senate. Standing order 56 empowers ministers to move motions at any time when there is no other business before the chair to rearrange any of the business before the Senate. The standing order thus confers upon ministers a special right which is not possessed by other senators.
The standing order is now regarded as permitting any motion to specify the order in which the Senate will deal with business which is before it, to postpone any business at any time, to adjourn debate on any business before the Senate, or to have the question before the Senate put.
The standing order does not allow a motion to bring on for consideration some matter of business not in some sense before the Senate. Nor does it allow a motion to dispense entirely with a category of business which the Senate has ordered (including by standing order) to be dealt with at a particular time. For example, it does not allow a motion to dispense with questions, with the reporting of a proposal for an urgency motion or a matter of public importance or with general business, but it would allow a motion to postpone any of those matters to a particular time later in a day. Once a category of business has been commenced, a minister may, under standing order 56, move a motion (but not so as to interrupt the consideration of a particular item of business without first adjourning the debate) that that business not be further proceeded with; for example, when general business is under consideration a minister may move that general business not be further proceeded with. The rationale of this is that it is analogous to adjourning a debate, and those senators who have an interest in general business would then be in attendance.
In earlier times the provision in the standing order was regarded as allowing a minister to move virtually any motion to have the Senate consider any business and in any order regardless of the standing orders. In more recent times questions of interpretation have arisen because of the provisions now in the standing orders which fix the order of business in much greater detail than formerly, in particular, provisions which require that particular business be taken at particular times or stages in the routine of business. Because the power conferred by standing order 56 is not a power to suspend standing orders without notice and without an absolute majority, and because the rights of senators could be severely infringed by, for example, a motion to dispense with the consideration of government documents, some refinement of the interpretation of the standing order has occurred.
The other method by which business may be rearranged under the standing orders is by the postponement of business by a senator who has charge of it. Before the time provided in the routine of business a senator may lodge with the Clerk a notice that any notice of motion standing in the senator’s name, or order of the day of which the Senator is in charge on the Notice Paper for that day, be a notice of motion or order of the day for a subsequent day. At the time provided the Clerk reads a list of the postponement notices, and the items of business are postponed accordingly, but at the request of any senator the question is put on any item, and such a question is determined without amendment or debate. Before an amendment of the standing order in 1999, the senator in charge of any particular item of business had to move a motion for a postponement. In the absence of the senator in charge of any business, a postponement may, at the request of such senator, be made by any other senator. Normally the Senate accepts a postponement by a senator under this standing order.
If a senator moves a motion by leave to postpone business at other times, it is regarded as a motion to rearrange business (see below) and therefore subject to debate.
In addition to exercising these rights under the standing orders, senators may seek to rearrange business by leave of the Senate or by the suspension of standing orders.