Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 12 - Legislation

Right click over the text to activate a context menu for Odgers. (Note: on iPad Safari this function is activated by a finger press and holding down for several seconds.)


Deadline for receipt of bills from House

A bill introduced by a minister or received from the House of Representatives is deferred to the next period of sittings unless it was first introduced in a previous period of sittings and is received by the Senate in the first two-thirds of the current period.23 The term "period of sittings" refers to the Autumn, Winter and Spring sittings, and is defined as a period during which the Senate adjourns for not more than 20 days.

At the beginning of a new Parliament, all bills are new bills. Such bills may be proceeded with in the first period of sittings provided that they are received by the Senate in the first two-thirds of the sittings and the second reading debate is not resumed until 14 days after their introduction.24

The deadline does not apply to bills received again in the circumstances described in the first paragraph of section 57 of the Constitution.

If the Senate changes its sitting pattern with prospective effect, before a deadline has operated, this changes the deadline,25 but a change made in the course of, or after, a period of sittings when a deadline has already operated does not change the deadline.26

If the Senate adds to its sittings so that the period for which it is actually adjourned is shortened and one period of sittings is effectively amalgamated with the previous period, this does not mean that bills which would have met the deadline are then caught by it because they are regarded as having been introduced in the same period of sittings. In practical terms, this situation would usually come about by the Senate being "recalled" under standing order 55 in an adjournment which was scheduled to last for more than 20 days but is reduced to 20 days or less by the "recall". The definition in standing order 111(8), in referring to the Senate adjourning, refers to the original decision of the Senate to adjourn rather than to the actual period of the adjournment as altered by a subsequent decision. The alternative interpretation would involve bills introduced by the government with the intention of complying with the deadline being caught by an unexpected change in the Senate's sitting pattern.

Over many years the Senate was concerned with the end-of-sittings rush of legislation, the concentration of government bills which occurs in the last weeks of a period of sittings and which results in legislation being passed with greater haste than during the earlier part of the sittings, and with inadequate time for proper consideration.

The causes of this phenomenon are not clear; a view frequently expressed was that ministers or departments deliberately delayed the introduction of legislation until late in a period of sittings in the hope that it would be passed without proper scrutiny. This suspicion was reinforced by ministers regularly claiming that all government bills accumulated at the end of sittings were urgent. There were often grounds for scepticism about these claims, particularly the failure to proclaim legislation stated to be urgent at the time of its passage.27

Whatever the causes, there was no doubt that the problem existed, and had become worse. The following table shows the concentration of bills in the last weeks of periods of sittings over several years:

Sittings

Bills passed

Length of sittings in weeks

Bills passed during last 4 sitting weeks

(% of bills passed)

Bills passed during last 2 sitting weeks

(% of bills passed)

Autumn 1972

59

10

41 (69.5)

22 (37.3)

Budget 1972*

81

10

50 (61.7)

33 (40.7)

Autumn 1977

84

11

54 (64.3)

46 (54.8)

Budget 1977

77

12

54 (70.1)

38 (49.4)

Autumn 1982

71

10

42 (59.2)

35 (49.3)

Budget 1982

93

14

41 (44.1)

28 (30.1)

Autumn 1987

91

9

70 (76.9)

60 (65.9)

Budget 1987

96

10

73 (76.0)

66 (68.8)

Autumn 1992

104

11

75 (72.1)

58 (55.8)

Budget 1992

155

12

115 (74.2)

84 (54.2)

* For the period covered by this table, the Budget was presented in August, the Budget sittings therefore describing the period from August to November/December. The Autumn sittings ran from February to June, there being only two periods of sitting each year rather than the current three.

In 1986 an attempt was made to solve this problem by the adoption of a deadline for legislation to be received from the House of Representatives. On 14 April 1986 and in each subsequent period of sittings, with the exception of the budget sittings of 1992, a resolution was passed whereby any legislation received after the specified deadline was automatically adjourned till the next period of sittings. This resolution became known as the "Macklin motion", after its instigator, Senator Macklin (AD, Qld). It was intended to alleviate the end-of-sittings rush by ensuring that no new bills were received from the House of Representatives in the last two or three weeks of sittings.

Subsequently, however, the procedure was criticised as aggravating the evil which it was intended to remedy. Its effect was that legislation was pushed through the House of Representatives before the deadline, the House was then adjourned for some weeks while the Senate dealt with a large volume of legislation received just before the deadline, and the House then returned at the end of the period of sittings to consider, in great haste, Senate amendments. There was still a concentration of bills in the Senate at the end of sitting periods, and the consideration of legislation in the House was even more attenuated than before the procedure was adopted. This criticism of the procedure seems to have been the reason for the cut-off date not being set for the budget sittings of 1992.

In the budget sittings of 1993 the Senate agreed to a "double deadline", whereby bills, to avoid the automatic deferral to the next sittings, had to be introduced into the House of Representatives by an earlier deadline and received by the Senate by a later deadline.28 Although strongly resisted by the government this procedure seemed to alleviate the problem.

When the "double deadline" was agreed to, the government gave an undertaking to have legislation introduced in one period of sittings for passage in the next period, subject to certain specified exceptions relating to budget and urgent legislation. The number of bills listed by the government for passage in the Spring 1994 sittings which were introduced after the commencement of the period of sittings led to suggestions that the government had not kept its undertaking, and there were moves to remedy the situation. Senator Chamarette (Greens, WA), who had initiated the "double deadline", moved a motion which would give precedence to bills introduced in the last period of sittings over those introduced in that period of sittings, but an amendment successfully moved by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Hill, had the effect of making a permanent order of the Senate to the effect that a bill introduced in any period of sittings will be automatically adjourned to the following period of sittings unless the Senate makes a deliberate decision to exempt the bill.29 The order was further amended on 23 March 1995 to provide that a bill introduced into the House in a period of sittings may be considered by the Senate in the following period of sittings provided that it is received in the first two-thirds of the second period of sittings.30 This amendment, also moved by Senator Chamarette in response to a government attempt to modify the order, amounts to a variation of the "double deadline". The order was incorporated into the standing orders in February 1997.

The following figures suggest that the Senate's deadline may have alleviated the situation, having regard to the change from two to three sitting periods per year:

Sittings

Bills passed

Length of sittings in weeks

Bills passed during

last 4 sitting weeks

(% of bills passed)

Bills passed during last 2 sitting weeks

(% of bills passed)

Autumn 1997

60

6

51 (85)

21 (53.3)

Winter 1997

63

6

49 (77.7)

37 (58.7)

Spring 1997

105

10

43 (40.9)

31 (29.5)

Autumn 1998

42

5

36 (85.7)

25 (59.5)

Winter 1998

68

5

48 (70.6)

22 (32.3)

Spring 1998

29

4

29 (100)

23 (79.3)

Autumn 1999*

47

8

23 (48.9)

9 (19.1)

Spring 1999*

55

7

38 (69)

23 (41.8)

*These figures do not include bills considered during the shortened winter and summer sittings in 1999.

The following figures, however, suggest that the problem has tended to creep back, probably due to the readiness with which the Senate exempts bills from the operation of the standing order at the request of the government:

Sittings

Bills passed

Length of sittings in weeks

Bills passed during

last 4 sitting weeks

(% of bills passed)

Bills passed during last 2 sitting weeks

(% of bills passed)

Jan—June 2000

114

9

56 (49.1)

37 (32)

July—Dec 2000

70

9

49 (70)

30 (38)

Jan—June 2001

93

8

64 (68.8)

41 (64.1)

July—Dec 2001

76

5

69 (90.8)

41 (54)

Jan—June 2002

70

6

57 (81.4)

37 (52.8)

July—Dec 2002

86

10

47 (54.6)

25 (29.1)

Jan—June 2003

80

7

63 (78.7)

38 (47.5)

July—Dec 2003

74

10

38 (51.3)

34 (45.9)

Jan—June 2004

117

8

84 (71.8)

51 (43.6)

July—Dec 2004

39

6

32 (82)

27 (69.2)

Jan—June 2005

104

6

69 (66.3)

47 (45.2)

July—Dec 2005

62

9

41 (66.1)

20 (32.2)

Jan—June 2006

91

6

68 (74.7)

39 (42.8)

July—Dec 2006

81

9

49 (60.5)

23 (28.4)

Jan—June 2007

123

7

75 (60.9)

49 (39.8)

July—Dec 2007

61

4

61 (100)

44 (72.1)

Jan—June 2008

84

6

69 (82.1)

56 (66.6)

July—Dec 2008

66

8

55 (83.3)

32 (48.5)

Jan—June 2009

73

7

52 (71.2)

34 (46.6)

July—Dec 2009

67

7

47 (70.1)

18 (26.9)

Jan—June 2010

116

7

92 (79.3)

60 (51.7)

July—Dec 2010

40

4

40 (100)

24 (60)

Jan—June 2011

79

6

73 (92.4)

42 (53.2)

July—Dec 2011

109

9

67 (61.5)

58 (53.2)

The deadline has been recognised as an important aid to the scheduling and scrutiny of legislation. 31


Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print
Back to top