Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 10 - Debate

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Quotation of documents

A senator may quote documents during a speech, and for that purpose may read from documents.

A statement by a senator that a document is confidential does not prevent another senator quoting it.[24]

In quoting a document, a senator is not permitted to utter words which would not be permitted under the rules of debate if uttered in the normal course of speaking. For example, if a document uses offensive words in relation to another senator which would not be permitted under standing order 193(3) if uttered in debate, the senator may not read those words from the document.

This principle was the subject of debate in 1979 when it was applied by a ruling by the chair. The Privileges Committee and the Standing Orders Committee were each required to report upon the principle, and both supported it as a sound principle.[25] This principle ensures that senators cannot circumvent the rules of debate simply by quoting documents.

The principle applies even to Senate committee reports. A committee should not allow disorderly expressions to appear in a report, but if this occurs it is not in order to quote the expressions in debate.[26]

The right of a senator to quote a document is subject to the right of the Senate to require the production of the document, and a special procedure is provided to enforce the latter right.

When a senator quotes a document, another senator, at the conclusion of the speech, may move a motion without notice that the document be produced. A minister who has quoted a document may state that the document is of a confidential nature, in which case the motion for its production cannot be moved.[27] Because a minister may prevent a motion for the tabling of a quoted document by claiming confidentiality, in practice senators do not move motions in relation to documents quoted by ministers but ask ministers to table quoted documents. A senator who is not a minister, however, does not have this exemption, and if a motion for the tabling of a document quoted by a senator is agreed to the senator is required to table the document.


The interpretation of these provisions was twice considered by the Standing Orders Committee. In a report in 1983 the committee considered the question whether the passage of a motion requires the tabling of a document not actually in the possession of the senator who has quoted it. There were conflicting precedents. The committee observed in relation to these precedents:

Each of the two interpretations of the procedure under the Standing Order involves difficulties. If the procedure requires the tabling only of documents actually in the immediate possession of a Senator, the intention of the Standing Order, that a Senator may be required by the Senate to produce a document which he purports to quote, so that the accuracy and context of the quotation may be ascertained, may be frustrated by a Senator simply leaving outside the Chamber any document which he wishes to quote. On the other hand, if the procedure requires the tabling of the original document regardless of whether the Senator has it in his immediate possession, a Senator is prevented from quoting anything unless he can bring it to the Chamber with him and be able and willing to table it, however voluminous, difficult to produce or confidential it may be.

The committee concluded:

On balance, it would seem that the better interpretation, in spite of the precedents referred to, is that the procedure requires the tabling only of the document actually in the Senator's immediate possession, which means that if the quotation is contained in speech notes or a copy of the original document, it is those notes or that copy which should be tabled, and that if the Senator is quoting by memory, he is clearly unable to comply with the order of the Senate that the document be tabled. If other Senators consider that a Senator may be making unfair or improper use of quotations from a document which he is not willing to produce, or misrepresenting the contents of a document without giving the Senate an opportunity to check the quotation, these are matters which may be raised in debate.

The committee recommends that the Standing Order be so interpreted in future.[28]

The committee's recommendation has been followed in interpreting the standing order.

In a subsequent report the committee examined the standing order in relation to the tabling of documents quoted by ministers and rulings under the standing order, and concluded:

Those rulings and the terms of the Standing Order clearly indicate that it is intended to apply only to a document relating to public affairs which is actually quoted by a Minister in the course of the Minister's remarks, and has no application to speech notes used by a Minister. The Committee has advised Mr President to rule accordingly.[29]

This advice also has been followed, although ministers asked to table documents from which they have quoted often table briefing notes or speech notes.

A motion for the tabling of a quoted document may be debated, but the rule of relevance (see below) applies, so that the debate is confined to the question of whether the document should be tabled.

An order to table a document refers to the whole of the document in the possession of the senator.[30]

The chair has no responsibility to judge the accuracy or correctness of a document tabled.[31]

Motions for the tabling of quoted documents may be moved in committee of the whole, under the rule that procedure in committee of the whole is the same as in the Senate.[32]

24. Ruling of Acting Deputy President Giles, 17/6/1992, J.2473.
25. Committee of Privileges, 4th report, Quotation of Unparliamentary Language in Debate, PP 214/1979; Standing Orders Committee, 5th Report of 59th Session, PP 50/1980; statement by President Reid, SD, 10/8/1999, p.7112; see also statement by President Calvert, SD, 17/10/2006, p. 36.
26. Statements by President Calvert, SD, 11/11/2002, p. 5878; 3/8/2004, pp. 25361-2.
27. SO 168(1).
28. 2nd Report, 61st Session, PP 111/1983.
29. 1st Report, 62nd Session, PP 504/1985.
30. Ruling of President Laucke, SD, 7/9/1977, pp. 635-42.
31. Ruling of President Laucke, SD, 19/5/1976, p. 1728.
32. SO 144(7).