Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 10 - Debate

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Right to speak

When a motion is moved by a senator and accepted by the chair the mover of the motion may speak to it, thus initiating the debate. Other senators wishing to speak in the debate seek the call of the chair to speak by rising in their places and addressing the President.[6] The President determines which senator speaks next in the debate by granting the call to speak to a senator who has risen. Standing order 186(2) provides:

Subject to the practices of the Senate relating to the call to speak, when 2 or more Senators rise together to speak, the President shall call upon the Senator who, in the President's opinion, first rose in the Senator's place.

The practices of the Senate referred to in the standing order were set out in the 2nd Report of 1991 of the Procedure Committee.[7]

Presidential rulings of the past have explicitly identified the following practices:

  1. (a) Senators are usually called from each side of the chamber alternately.
  2. (b) The call is given to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate before other senators.
  3. (c) A minister in charge of a bill or other matter before the Senate is usually given the call before other senators.

The following practices have also been applied:

  1. (d) An Opposition senator leading for the Opposition in relation to a bill or other matter before the Senate is usually given the call before other senators.
  2. (e) Leaders of other non-government parties are usually given the call before other senators, subject to the foregoing practices.
  3. (f) Senators who have a right to the call under these practices are discouraged from exercising it if that would have the effect of closing the debate when other senators wish to speak.

The Procedure Committee explained that these practices should be regarded as being applied in the order indicated, so that each practice is subject to those that precede it in the list. If interpreted in this way, the various practices are consistent with each other.

In many debates an agreed speakers' list is compiled by the party whips and provided to the chair, and senators normally seek and receive the call in accordance with the list. The Standing Orders Committee in 1974, having considered the status of this list, reported that the list is "unofficial and no curb on the President, whose duty and privilege it [is] to say which senator .... [has] a prior right to speak", and that the list could be used "on the understanding that it is unofficial and must not be referred to in debate". The Senate adopted the committee's report.[8] The list should also be regarded as subject to each of the practices outlined above. For example, the principle of balance between parties takes precedence over the list.[9]

In debate in the Senate, each senator may speak once on a motion, subject to the right of reply and the right of a senator to speak to any amendment.[10]

The mover of a substantive motion may speak in reply at the end of a debate, and this reply closes the debate.[11] There is, of course, no right of reply on a non-debatable motion, nor on a procedural motion such as a motion to suspend standing orders.

The right to speak to any amendment is exercised as follows:

  • when an amendment is moved to a motion, a senator who has spoken in the debate may speak again to the amendment
  • a senator who has spoken after an amendment has been moved is taken to have spoken to the motion and the amendment and to have exhausted the right to speak, unless a further amendment is moved after the first amendment is resolved, in which case senators who have already spoken may speak to the further amendment
  • a senator first speaking to a motion after an amendment has been moved, however, may speak only to the amendment and reserve the right to speak to the motion and move a further amendment after the first amendment is determined
  • a senator who has spoken to a motion may not move an amendment, but if there is an amendment before the chair when the senator speaks the senator may foreshadow a further amendment and move it when the original amendment is determined.
  • The principles relating to the right of a senator to speak to an amendment which are summarised here were set out in a ruling of President Baker.[12]
  • One of those principles was that the mover of a motion should not speak in reply, thereby closing the debate, until any amendments had been determined.[13] The rationale of this rule was to avoid senators losing the opportunity to move further amendments by the closing of the debate. The usual current practice, however, is for senators to foreshadow any further amendments during the debate, for the reply to be made before an amendment is put, and foreshadowed further amendments to be formally moved and put after the original amendment is resolved.

In committee of the whole, each senator may speak more than once to any question before the chair.[14]


6. SO 186(1).
7. PP 466/1991.
8. 3rd Report, 56th Session, PP 277/1974; 11/2/1975, J.498.
9. Statement by President Calvert, SD, 15/11/2002, p. 6475.
10. SO 188(1).
11. SO 192.
12. Report of the President to the Standing Orders Committee, 17 August 1905, PP S1/1905.
13. See under Reply, below.
14. SO 188(2).

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