Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 12 - Legislation

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Relevance of amendments

An amendment must be relevant to the subject matter of the bill.115 As with relevance in debate and in relation to amendments to the motion for the second reading, the requirement of relevance is interpreted liberally, so that senators have maximum freedom to move amendments. 116 In determining relevance, the question is: "What is the subject matter of the bill, and does this amendment deal with that subject matter?". The long title of a bill can be taken as an indication of its subject matter, but does not conclusively determine the question. Thus, if a bill has the long title "A Bill for the Act to amend the Social Security Act 1991", any amendment relating to social security or to any matter dealt with by the Social Security Act is probably a relevant amendment. If, however, a bill has the long title "A Bill for an Act to amend the Social Security Act 1991 in relation to age pensions", this is an indication that the subject matter of the bill is age pensions and amendments to deal with other matters covered by the Social Security Act would probably not be relevant to the bill. It must be emphasised, however, that the long title is indicative but not determinative of a bill's subject matter. There is no requirement, as there is in some Houses which follow British precedents, for amendments to be consistent with the scope and principle of the bill.117


The ability of the Senate to amend the title of a bill does not affect the rule of relevance. An irrelevant amendment cannot be made relevant by amending the title.

Amendments not relevant to a bill may be made if the Senate has so authorised by a suspension of standing orders.118

The only other substantive restriction on amendments moved in committee of the whole is that an amendment cannot be moved if it is the same as one already negatived or is inconsistent with one that has been agreed to by the committee, unless the bill has been recommitted, that is, referred again to the committee by the Senate for further consideration.119 An amendment moved in a different context, for example, as part of a different "package" of proposals, is not the same amendment even if identical in terms to one already moved.120

Rulings have been made to the effect that amendments are not in order if they are unintelligible, internally inconsistent, inconsistent with the bill, or a direct negation of the object and subject matter of the bill.121 There has been no occasion for these rules to be invoked in recent times.122

When a bill contains the text of an agreement which has been concluded, for example, an agreement between Commonwealth and state governments, it is clearly not possible for the Senate to amend the terms of the agreement, but the bill may be amended to bring about that purpose. If the bill contains a provision to approve the agreement, that provision may be amended so as to approve the agreement subject to specified amendments.123

For the difficulty presented by national uniform legislation, see Chapter 15, Delegated legislation, under that heading.

It is usually during the committee of the whole stage of a bill that notice is taken of any comments on the bill by the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, and amendments may be moved as a result of the committee's comments.124

When a bill is before a committee of the whole, or a standing or select committee, no reference may be made in the Senate to the committee's proceedings until the committee has reported to the Senate.125 This rule ensures that a committee is allowed to complete its work before the bill is again discussed in the Senate.