The motion for the second reading of a bill, which is usually moved immediately after the introduction and passage of the motion for the first reading, is the most significant stage in the passage of a bill. It is on this motion that the Senate considers the principle of the bill and decides whether to accept or reject it in principle. If a bill is rejected by the Senate, it is normally rejected on the motion for the second reading.
Normally debate on the motion for the second reading is adjourned to a subsequent day after the second reading speech of the minister or senator in charge of the bill, which speech sets out its purpose. Senators then have time to consider the bill.
Passage by the Senate of the motion for the second reading indicates that the Senate has accepted the bill in principle, or at least has allowed the bill to proceed to a consideration of its details, and the bill then proceeds to that detailed consideration and a consideration of any amendments which senators wish to propose.
The motion for the second reading is that this bill be now read a second time. The rejection of that motion is an indication that the Senate does not wish the bill to proceed at that particular time. Procedurally, therefore, the rejection of that motion is not an absolute rejection of the bill and does not prevent the Senate being asked subsequently to grant the bill a second reading. A senator in charge of a bill, after the motion for the second reading has been negatived, may therefore give notice of motion for the second reading of the bill for a subsequent day.39
In practice, the Senate often indicates its disagreement with a bill by rejecting the motion for the second reading, and that action is taken to be an absolute rejection of the bill. Rejection of that motion is also regarded as a rejection of the bill for the purposes of section 57 of the Constitution.40
It was ruled in 1916 that a group of bills proposing amendments of the Constitution which had been passed by the Senate but not submitted to the electors could not be presented to the Senate again.41 Clearly, however, there is nothing to prevent the Senate being asked to consider again a bill which it has dealt with;42 such a rule would prevent the proper operation of section 57 of the Constitution.43 The same question rule is therefore not regarded as applying to questions for the passage of bills. 44
Amendments may be moved to the motion for the second reading.
Special provision is made for an amendment which has the effect of rejecting the bill with an indication of finality. To the motion that the bill be now read a second time, an amendment may be moved to leave out "now" and insert "this day six months", and if this amendment is carried the bill is "finally disposed of" by the Senate.45
Other amendments may be moved to the motion for the second reading provided that they are relevant to the bill.46 In relation to relevance, as with relevance in debate, this requirement is interpreted liberally, and an amendment is accepted if it relates in any way to the subject matter of the bill. 47 The Senate thereby gives itself maximum freedom to determine its course of action and express its view in relation to a proposed law.
Normally, an amendment to the motion for the second reading expresses the view of the Senate about some aspect of a bill. This type of amendment takes the form of adding at the end of the motion for the second reading words which express the Senate's opinion.
Some second reading amendments, however, have the effect of negativing the motion for the second reading. They are used where the Senate wishes to reject that motion and give its reasons or express its views in doing so. This type of amendment takes the form of leaving out all words after "that" in the motion for the second reading, and substituting other words, such as "the Senate rejects this bill because ..." or "this bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide ...". As with the rejection of the motion for the second reading, the passage of such an amendment does not prevent the second reading being moved again.48
A second reading amendment may also be used to defer consideration of a bill.49
When bills are taken together different second reading amendments may be moved to different bills by the same senator. In that circumstance the questions for the amendments and the second readings of the bills are put separately.50