Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 9 - Motions and amendments

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Avoidance of question

There are several procedures by which the proceedings on a motion may not be concluded, so that the motion remains unresolved, at least at that stage. Some of these are procedures whereby the Senate may deliberately avoid making a determination on a motion.

The Senate may avoid making a decision in relation to a motion by the following means listed in SO 89:

  • the adjournment of the debate on the motion
  • the adjournment of the Senate
  • a motion for the orders of the day to be called on
  • the moving of the previous question.

In the course of debate on a motion, a senator who has not spoken in the debate or previously moved the adjournment, or a minister who has spoken or previously so moved, may move that the debate be adjourned. That question must be put and determined without debate or amendment. When debate is adjourned the resumption of the debate is an order of the day for the next day of sitting, unless some other time is fixed for the resumption.[36] Debate on a motion may be adjourned as a means of avoiding the determination of the motion.

The adjournment of the Senate leaves unresolved any motion not then determined. The adjournment of the Senate may be moved only by a minister and cannot be moved so as to interrupt a senator speaking, so that debate on a motion must be adjourned before the adjournment of the Senate can be moved.[37] The motion for the adjournment of the Senate is therefore not a procedure which can be readily used deliberately to avoid the determination of a motion.

During debate on a motion, a senator may move that the orders of the day be called on, and that question is put without amendment or debate. This motion, which is now not used in the Senate, may be moved only during the consideration of motions which have been first moved on the day concerned. It cannot be moved when the Senate is considering a motion which has been called on as an order of the day, because the Senate is already considering orders of the day and a motion that the orders of the day be called on would be meaningless. This motion therefore has limited use as a means of avoiding the determination of a motion.

The previous question is provided for in standing orders 94 and 95. During debate on a motion a senator may move, but not so as to interrupt a senator speaking, that this question be not now put. The previous question cannot be moved to an amendment. It is debatable. If it is passed, this disposes of the motion before the Senate, and the Senate proceeds to the next business. If it is not passed, the Senate, in effect, has resolved that the question should be put immediately, and the motion and any amendment are then put and determined without further debate. The previous question can be used to avoid coming to a determination on a motion, but if it is not agreed to it has the effect of requiring that the motion be determined without further debate. Thus a senator wishing to avoid a vote on a question should not move the previous question unless certain of the Senate’s agreement, because the motion may have the opposite of the intended effect. The previous question is seldom used in the Senate. As it is debatable, it is less effective than the motion for the adjournment of the debate.

A motion which has been superseded by these procedures or withdrawn may be moved again.[38]

In committee of the whole a question may be avoided by the motion that the Chair of Committees report progress.[39]

If debate on a motion is subject to a total time limit, a decision can be avoided by continuing the debate until the allotted time expires. This is referred to as “talking out” a motion. It may occur, for example, during the limited time available for general business.


36. SO 201.
37. See Chapter 7.
38. SO 83(4), but subject to the anticipation and same question rules, see below.
39. See Chapter 14, Committee of the Whole Proceedings.

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