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Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 12 - Legislation

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Committee of the whole: amendments

When a bill has been read a second time, unless the bill is at that stage referred to a standing or select committee, the Senate proceeds immediately to consider the bill in committee of the whole, regardless of whether the bill is considered under the traditional deliberate procedure or the expeditious procedure.

A bill is not considered in committee of the whole, however, unless a senator circulates amendments to the bill or requires that it be considered in committee.97

A minister, under standing order 56, may move to defer consideration of a bill in committee of the whole, but other senators may not do so except by a suspension of standing orders.98 Any senator may, however, move that the committee of the whole report progress (that is, postpone its consideration of a bill), and then move that the committee have leave to sit again at some future time.99

In committee of the whole a bill is considered in detail, and amendments may be moved to any part of the text of the bill. The rationale of considering a bill in committee of the whole is that the procedures of a committee are designed to facilitate detailed examination and amendment of bills.100

The standing orders provide that a bill is to be considered clause by clause.101 In relation to each clause the Chair of Committees puts the question that the clause stand as printed. With that question before the committee, senators may move any amendment to the text of the clause, and if amendments are agreed to the question is then put that the clause as amended be agreed to. The committee may negative the question that the clause stand as printed, and the clause is then left out of the bill as an amendment. This means that each clause of a bill must be supported by a majority of the Senate to be passed, because the question on a clause is negatived if the ayes and noes are equal.102 Where bills contain long clauses or schedules consisting of numerous provisions or items, it is the practice to put those provisions or items separately as if they were separate clauses, so that senators who wish to omit any of them may vote against them. For any other kind of amendment to be agreed to, however, there must be a majority in favour of the amendment. When a clause is amended, a question is put that the clause as amended be agreed to, and there is then a further opportunity to reject the clause.103

Amendments may also insert new clauses into a bill.

When an amendment has been moved, a senator may move an amendment to the amendment, as with amendments to motions.104

A complicated amendment may be divided, as with a complicated question.105

The preamble and title of a bill are considered after the clauses and any schedules. The reason for this is that amendments made to the clauses of a bill may require consequential amendments to the preamble or title.106 An amendment of the title, however, need not necessarily arise from another amendment.107 An amendment of the title is specially reported.108

The enacting words of a bill are not put to the committee,109 but there are precedents for amendment of enacting words on an instruction.110

In the course of consideration of a bill, any clause may be postponed whether or not it has been amended.111 A motion to postpone a clause may be debated. Clauses may be postponed for a particular purpose or until a particular occurrence, for example, until a minister provides information or documents.112

In practice this prescribed order for considering a bill is often varied by leave, that is, by unanimous consent of senators present. Often a bill is taken as a whole, which means that the whole of the bill is considered and amendments may be moved to any part of it. This is now done with virtually all bills.

It is also established practice to allow senators to move amendments together in groups, by leave, particularly where there are closely related amendments.

When a bill is taken as a whole by leave, however, opposition to a clause or item is not put in the form of an amendment. This would raise the possibility of a clause or item being carried without a majority, because if that question is negatived with the votes equally divided, the amendment is negatived and the clause or item remains notwithstanding that it does not have majority support. The question is therefore put separately on any clause or item which is opposed, this procedure being a form of division of the question.113 This procedure ensures that where a senator opposes a clause or item the question on the clause or item is put in the proper form and the risk of a clause or item being carried without a majority is avoided.

In proceedings on complex bills all amendments may be debated in turn and then put separately and in order at the end of that debate in accordance with an agreed schedule This procedure is particularly useful in dealing with amendments which are circulated in the course of the debate.114