Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 10 - Debate

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Time limits on debates and speeches

Time limits are imposed on debates in the Senate and on senators' speeches.

A senator may not speak for more than 20 minutes in any debate in the Senate.[15]

This time limit applies to debates generally, but special time limits are imposed on particular debates and on speeches under other provisions in the standing orders, as follows:

  1. (a) election of President under SO 6(2):
each senator: 15 minutes
  1. (b) motions on Selection of Bills Committee reports under SO 24A(7):
each senator: 5 minutes
total limit: 30 minutes
  1. (c) adjournment of the Senate under SO 54(5):
each senator: 10 minutes
total limit: 40 minutes[16]
  1. (d) matters of public interest at 12.45 pm on Wednesdays under SO 57(2):
each senator: 15 minutes
total limit: till 2 pm
  1. (e) government documents under SO 61:
on Tuesdays and Wednesdays:
each senator: 5 minutes
total limit: 30 minutes
at general business on Thursdays:
each senator: 5 minutes
total limit: 1 hour
  1. (f) committee reports and government responses under SO 62:
each senator: 10 minutes
total limit : 1 hour
  1. (g) motions to take note of answers after question time under SO 72(4):
each senator: 5 minutes
total limit for all motions: 30 minutes
  1. (h) urgency motion or matter of public importance under SO 75:
each speaker: 10 minutes
total limit: 1 hour or 90 minutes if no motions moved to take note of answers at question time
  1. (i) first reading, non-amendable bill under SO 112(2):
each senator: 15 minutes
  1. (j) motions and amendments to refer bills to committees under SO 24A(7), 115(6):
each senator: 5 minutes
total limit: 30 minutes
  1. (k) bills declared to be urgent - allotment of time under SO 142:
each senator: 10 minutes
total limit: 1 hour
  1. (l) motions by leave to take note of documents under SO 169(2):
each senator: 10 minutes
total limit: 30 minutes per motion, 60 minutes for consecutive motions
  1. (m) motions for suspension of standing orders under SO 209(4):
each senator: 5 minutes
total limit: 30 minutes

Where the general time limit of 20 minutes applies to a debate, a senator may move that the time limit be extended by not more than 10 minutes, and that motion is put without debate.[17] This procedure applies only to the time limit specified in that standing order, that is, the general time limit of 20 minutes, as the terms of the standing order clearly indicate. Such a motion may not be moved when other speaking time limits apply; in those circumstances a speaker's time may be extended only by leave (a motion to extend such a speaking time limit could be moved pursuant to a suspension of standing orders).

The 20 minute limit applies to a senator speaking in reply to a general debate, and there is no provision for that limit to be extended.[18]

In committee of the whole, a senator may not speak for more than 15 minutes on each occasion on each question, but where the speech of a senator is interrupted by this provision and no other senator rises to speak, the senator speaking may continue for a further 15 minutes.[19] This means that if only one senator seeks the call to speak on a question there is effectively a total time limit of 30 minutes. In practice, senators are, in effect, granted extensions of time by other senators rising and seeking the call for the purpose of allowing the senator speaking to continue.

Time occupied in raising and determining points of order and in forming quorums does not affect the time allowed for a senator to speak.[20]

The Senate may set special time limits for particular debates by special order.

A debate which is interrupted by the expiration of a total time limit for the debate is taken to be adjourned.[21]


15. SO 189(1).
16. No total time limit applies on Tuesdays. The 10 minute individual time limit may be extended to 20 minutes on Tuesday by leave or at the end of debate (SO 54(6), adopted 10/3/2009, J.1657-8)
17. SO 189(1).
18. SO 189(2).
19. SO 189(3).
20. SO 52(7), 197(6).
21. SO 68; see Chapter 8, Conduct of Business, under Interruption of business.

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