House of Representatives Committees

Standing Committee on Procedure

Conduct of divisions

Tabling statement

From Hansard, 18 November 1996, page 6917

Mr ANDREW (Wakefield) (12.32 p.m.)—On behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Procedure, I present the committee's report, incorporating a dissenting report, entitled Report on the conduct of divisions, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr ANDREW—This Procedure Committee report deals with the mechanisms the House uses to record members' votes on the questions put before it—an issue about which many members have quite strong opinions.

I intend to speak for only four of the 10 minutes allotted by the Selection Committee for discussion of this report today, although the issues it covers really need more time than that. I will be brief because the chairman, the honourable member for Moncrieff (Mrs Sullivan), wishes to extend to the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Martin) the courtesy of the opportunity to speak on behalf of the minority report signatories focusing on the question of electronic voting.

Secondly, one of the report's unanimous recommendations has implications for the House's Independent members in particular. Therefore, the chairman believed that at least one of them should also have the opportunity to comment today. The committee supports that course of action. The honourable member for Cunningham has indicated that he, too, will limit his speaking time to four minutes for this latter reason.

Both the average number of divisions per day and the time required to conduct and tally each division have been much greater this year than at any time since 1975, the average for 1996 being approximately 40 minutes per day in divisions. The committee's recommendations aim to streamline division procedures, but without diminishing any member's right to both call for a vote and place his or her vote on the public record.

It is a matter for regret that the issue of electronic voting has resulted in a minority report. I emphasise that the majority view is not one of rejection of electronic voting. However, the reality is that present budgetary constraints make it unlikely that funding for its installation—estimated in 1993 as $2 million over three years—would be available. In any event, selection and commissioning of an electronic voting system would take considerable time, which would not assist the House and those of its members who believe that quick action should be taken now to reform the present somewhat cumbersome procedures.

The committee has recommended two main changes to our division procedures. Both proposals already operate effectively in other Australian parliaments. Their implementation by sessional order would allow the House to trial them.

Under the first proposal, members' votes would be recorded while division bells are still ringing, the tellers having been appointed immediately a division is called. The tellers for the ayes and the noes would stand on opposite sides of the Members' Hall entrance to the chamber. After registering their vote with the appropriate tellers, members would sit on the side of the House which corresponds to their vote. Most members' votes could be recorded before the doors are locked.

The committee has also recommended that the bells be rung for five minutes instead of four as at present. Under the above procedure, that is unlikely to add to the total division time. For consecutive divisions—that is, those for which the bells are rung for one minute—only those members who either did not vote in the immediately preceding division or wish to vote differently in the new division would need to report to the tellers.

Our second proposal expands the provisions for recording dissent by allowing a division to be cancelled after the bells have been rung if there are eight or fewer members in the minority. The number and names of members in the minority would be automatically recorded but not the details of the members in the majority. The right of any two members to call a division and to have their vote on the public record would not be diminished. However, this procedure would save at least some of the excessive time presently required to conduct the count in those divisions in which nearly all members wish to vote on one side.

The Procedure Committee is confident that these recommendations, if adopted, will improve the efficiency of the division process. I hope that before the House adjourns for the summer recess more time will be available for members to properly debate this report, which I present on behalf of the chairman, Mr

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