Procedures to speed the passage of bills
There is no set period of time for the length of debate on any stage of a bill during its passage through the House. The length of time for debate on each stage of a bill’s passage may be influenced by such factors as:
- its subject matter—whether the bill is of a controversial nature, whether it has the general agreement of the House, or whether it is of a ‘machinery’ kind;
- the nature of the Government’s legislative program;
- the urgency connected with the passage of the bill;
- agreement reached between Government and Opposition; and
- the number of Members from each side who wish to speak on the bill.
When time for government business is under pressure, negotiations behind the scenes between the Leader of the House and Manager of Opposition Business or party whips and other Members may result in agreements regarding the number of speakers on particular bills or the length of Members’ speeches. Such arrangements are not uncommon, although they are officially unknown to the Chair and cannot be enforced.
Cognate debate of related bills can be considered to be routine, and the granting of leave to avoid the usual delay between stages is very common. The other ways of speeding the passage of legislation outlined below involve the Government using its majority to limit debate or to impose a timetable.
Cognate second reading debate
When there are related bills before the House, it frequently suits the convenience of the House, by means of the cognate debate procedure, to have a general second reading debate on the bills as a group rather than a series of separate debates on the individual bills. A proposal for a cognate debate is usually put to the House by the Chair when the first bill of the group is called on. If there is no objection the debate on the second reading of the first bill is then permitted to cover the other related bills, and no debate (usually) occurs when the questions on the second reading of the subsequent bills are put. Apart from this, normal procedures apply—the bills are taken in turn with separate questions put as required at each stage of each bill. If a Member wishes to move a second reading amendment to a bill encompassed by a cognate debate, other than to the first bill, the amendment may only be moved when the relevant order of the day for the later bill is called on. Cognate debate is confined to the second reading stage. A separate detail stage, if required, occurs for each bill.
The House has allowed the subject matter of 16 bills to be debated on the motion for the second reading of one of those bills. A group of bills relating to different subjects, but all Budget measures, has been debated cognately. In 2004 and subsequent years the main appropriation bills were debated cognately in the Budget debate with additional appropriation bills (Nos 5 and 6) of the previous financial year. Between 1994 and 1996 standing orders provided formal procedures for the cognate debate of related bills. The traditional informal arrangements were resumed after the new provisions were found to be unduly prescriptive.
The normal cognate debate procedure operates, in effect, by leave. However, from time to time the House has ordered a cognate debate to occur. In the case of bills this has been done in recent years by means of ‘programming motions’ following suspension of standing orders, as outlined at page 392. The Selection Committee has provided for cognate debate of private Members’ bills.
Bills considered together
On occasion, to meet the convenience of the House, standing orders are suspended to enable closely related bills to be considered together. A motion for the suspension of the standing orders may, depending on the particular circumstances, provide as follows:
- a number of bills to be presented and read a first time together;
- one motion being moved without delay and one question being put in regard to, respectively, the second readings, the detail stage, and the third readings, of all the bills together; and (if appropriate)
- messages from the Governor-General recommending appropriations for some of the bills to be announced together.
- This procedure facilitates consideration by the House of, for example, related taxation bills such as the Wool Tax (Nos 1 to 5) Amendment Bills, where, because of the constitutional requirement that laws imposing taxation shall deal with one subject of taxation only, a number of separate but related bills are presented. Such a motion to suspend standing orders used to be moved each session in relation to sales tax bills.
- For the calling on together of several orders of the day for the resumption of debate on the motion for the second reading of a number of bills, with provision that they may be taken through their remaining stages together.
- For the calling on together of several orders of the day for resumption of debate on the motion for the second reading of a number of bills, with provision for:
a motion being moved ‘That the bills be now passed’; and messages from the Governor-General recommending appropriations in respect of some of the bills being then announced together.
- In such a case as the group of 32 bills dealing with decimal currency and in other cases where the passing of a number of related bills is a formal matter, this form of procedure is of great advantage in saving the time of the House.
A suspension of standing orders to enable related bills to be guillotined in the one motion has also included provisions to allow groups of the bills to be taken together.
In 2011 the motion to suspend standing orders to provide for a package of 19 Clean Energy bills to be taken together also set time limits for the completion of the second reading and consideration in detail stages. While the 19 bills were to be debated concurrently, the motion provided for a single question to be put at each stage in relation to 18 of the bills together, and questions on the remaining bill to be put separately. On another occasion in respect of a package of 11 Minerals Resource Rent Tax bills, the motion to suspend standing orders allowed the resumption of debate on the second readings of the bills to be called on together and the second readings to be debated together—providing in effect a cognate debate after which separate questions were put on the second readings (and later stages) of each bill.
All stages without delay
On occasions, the House may consider it expedient to pass a bill through all its stages without delay, either by granting leave to continue consideration at each stage when consideration would normally be adjourned until the next sitting day, or by suspension of the standing orders to enable its immediate passage.
When it is felt necessary or desirable to proceed immediately with a bill which would normally require introduction on notice, a Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) may ask leave of the House to present it. If there is no dissentient voice, the Minister presents the bill. If copies of the bill are available, the second reading may then be moved. If copies of the bill are not available, the Minister must obtain the leave of the House to move the second reading immediately. The second reading debate may then ensue, by leave. At the conclusion of the debate and any proceedings immediately following the second reading, the House may grant leave for the third reading to be moved immediately. Alternatively, after the detail stage has been completed, the remaining stages may proceed immediately, with the leave of the House.
Following suspension of standing orders
When it is wished to proceed with a bill as a matter of urgency, but it is not considered desirable or expedient to seek leave at the appropriate stages, or leave has been sought and refused, the standing orders may be suspended with the concurrence of an absolute majority if the suspension is moved without notice, or a simple majority if moved on notice, to enable the introduction and passage of a bill through all its stages without delay, or for a bill already before the House to proceed through its remaining stages without delay. Once the standing orders have been suspended, leave is not necessary to proceed to the various stages of the bill.
It is usual for a set of contingent notices for the suspension of standing orders to be on the Notice Paper, to avoid the need for an absolute majority in the circumstances above.
Four contingent notices for the purpose of facilitating the progress of legislation are normally given in the first week of each session. In the 43rd Parliament these were:
Contingent on the motion for the second reading of any bill being moved: Minister to move—That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the resumption of debate on the motion that the bill be read a second time being made an order of the day for a later hour.
This contingent notice enables a motion to be moved to bypass the standing order requirement that, at the conclusion of the Minister’s second reading speech, debate on the question for the second reading must be adjourned to a future sitting.
Contingent on any report relating to a bill being received from the Federation Chamber: Minister to move—That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the remaining stages being passed without delay.
This contingent notice covers the situation where a bill is reported from the Federation Chamber with amendments or unresolved questions and copies of the amendments or unresolved questions are not available for circulation to Members. In such circumstances the standing orders provide that a future time shall be appointed to take the report into consideration.
Contingent on any bill being agreed to at the conclusion of the consideration in detail stage: Minister to move—That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the motion for the third reading being moved without delay.
This contingent notice is intended to overcome the situation where leave is not granted to move a motion for the third reading to be moved immediately (the usual practice, even though the standing orders provide for a future day).
Contingent on any message being received from the Senate transmitting any bill for concurrence: Minister to move—That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the bill being passed through all its stages without delay.
This contingent notice facilitates the speedy passage of a Senate bill without any of the normal delays between stages provided by the standing orders.
Any Minister or Parliamentary Secretary and the Chief Government Whip may move a motion pursuant to one of these contingent notices; it is not necessary for the motion to be moved by the Minister who lodged the notice.
Programming motions following suspension of standing orders
Standing orders have been suspended to enable the introduction and passage of a bill through all stages without delay by a specified time, or to limit the duration of particular stages. A motion to suspend standing orders for this purpose is, in effect, a kind of guillotine.
In recent Parliaments the Leader of the House has tended to use such motions (on notice) in preference to the less flexible formal guillotine procedure outlined below, which requires two or three separate motions to achieve the same end—that is, suspension of standing orders (if more than one bill), declaration of urgency and allotment of time.
As well as limiting time, ‘programming’ motions of this nature have imposed other procedural variations in order to streamline proceedings—for example, to provide for bills to be debated cognately, or to be taken together (see page 390). Another variation has been to provide for bills to be taken cognately and, at the conclusion of the second reading debate on the first bill, for questions on the remaining stages (of each bill) to be put without delay and without amendment or debate. Such motions commonly include a provision that any variations to the arrangements outlined are to be made only by a motion moved by a Minister.
Bills declared urgent (guillotine)
In some cases the Government may wish to curtail or limit one or more stages of debate on a bill and finds it necessary to move the closure motion (the ‘gag’), which has the effect of curtailing debate on the question immediately before the House. On other occasions the Government may resort to the use of the procedure for the limitation of debate (commonly described as the ‘guillotine’), prescribed in detail by standing orders 82–85. A guillotine is usually put in place prior to the commencement of the debate it proposes to limit. However, if applied to one bill only, it may be applied during consideration of the bill.
The guillotine procedure was introduced to the House in 1918. Statistics for the number of bills declared urgent each year since 1918 are given at Appendix 17. It can be seen that this figure increased considerably, to a record of 132 bills in 1992. The increase was attributed by Governments to the imposition from 1986 of Senate deadlines for the receipt of legislation from the House.
The use of the guillotine declined significantly after the provision of increased debating time with the establishment of the Main Committee (later Federation Chamber). Another contributing factor to the decline in the 37th Parliament was that, with the introduction of three sitting periods each year instead of two, the Government could introduce bills during one period with the expectation that they would not pass until the next. In more recent Parliaments the formal guillotine procedure provided by standing orders 82–85 of declaring bills urgent and allotting time seems to have become superseded by programming motions following suspension of standing orders, which in effect impose a guillotine by other means (see page 392).
The preparation of the documentation necessary for use in the Chamber for the process of declaring bills urgent and allotting time and their subsequent passage requires great care and can be very time-consuming. Also, because of the desirability of giving Members reasonable notice of government intentions in such matters, it is imperative that detailed advice of such intentions be given well in advance.
The guillotine may not be moved in the Federation Chamber, but, having been agreed to in the House, may be applied to bills considered in the Federation Chamber. However, because of the delay involved in moving business to and from the Federation Chamber, it is likely that in normal circumstances bills needing urgent consideration would be taken in the House.
Declaration of urgency
The first step is for a Minister to declare that the bill is an urgent bill and this declaration may be made at any time.
Standing orders must be suspended if it is desired to include more than one bill in the declaration of urgency and to move one motion for the allotment of time in respect of the bills; as many as 67 bills have been dealt with together in this way. If the time for consideration of a bill is to continue beyond the time fixed by the standing or sessional orders for the adjournment of the House, it is necessary to include in the motion for suspension of standing orders a provision to suspend standing order 31 (automatic adjournment) for the sitting in order to avoid an interruption at that time. Also, if two or more bills are to be included in the declaration of urgency, and the allotment of time will provide for one or more of them to be called on and considered after the normal time of adjournment, a provision to suspend the new business rule for the sitting must be included in the motion to suspend standing orders. The motion to suspend standing orders has also included other provisions—for example, permitting bills to be taken together and setting reduced speech time limits.
The question ‘That the bill be considered an urgent bill’ is put immediately, no debate or amendment being permitted. A declaration of urgency has been withdrawn, by leave, when the House was proceeding to a division on the question.
When a bill has been declared urgent, the declaration is taken to apply to all stages of the bill including Senate amendments and requests, and a motion for allotment of time may be moved in respect of these without a further declaration of urgency.
Allotment of time
On the declaration of urgency being agreed to, a Minister may move a motion specifying the times for any stage of the bill. It is not necessary to cover every stage. Examples are:
- For the initial stages of the bill (up to, but not inclusive of, the second reading of the bill), until…(rarely used).
- For the second reading and the reporting of a message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation, until… .
- In relation to the detail stage:
- For the detail stage (or the remainder of the detail stage, if consideration in detail has commenced), until…, or
- For the detail stage:
- to the end of clause…, until…(and so on, clauses or parts separately or in groups)…
- remainder of the detail stage, until… , or
- For the detail stage (Appropriation Bill (No. 1)):
- Remainder of bill until…
- For the remaining stages, until… .
- For all stages, until… .
- In respect of Senate amendments (or requests):
- For the consideration of the Senate’s amendments and for the remaining stages until… , or
- For No. 1 etc., until…
- For Group 1—Amendments 1 . . . For Group 2—Further Amendments . . . .
The examples above are of terminating the stages of a bill at a fixed time but there are instances where it is more practicable to express the allotment of time in hours. This is the case when a bill is to be debated over a number of days and it is desirable that other business should intervene during that period. While this method has generally fallen into disuse in respect of an ordinary bill, it has been seen as useful in respect of Appropriation Bills (Nos 1 and 2). On an occasion when the estimates were declared urgent and times had been fixed for their consideration, and a point of order was raised that the estimates had priority of other business until disposed of, it was ruled that the times fixed were terminating times, and that, although the estimates had been declared urgent, the House should not be prevented from conducting other business. Terminating times expressed in hours for a group of bills have been changed to fixed times.
The allotment of time for a group of bills may provide for their consideration over more than one sitting day. In this case the ordinary order of business may be followed at the commencement of proceedings on the second sitting day before consideration of the outstanding bills is resumed.
It has been the more recent practice for the Minister to move an allotment of time in respect of ‘all stages of the bills’ when several bills are under guillotine together and the second reading debate on the first of the bills has not been resumed. Where standing orders have been suspended to enable one motion for the allotment of time to be moved for several bills, the details may vary depending on whether amendments are to be moved—where there are no amendments provision may be made for ‘the remaining stages’, but where there are amendments the allotment would allow for a consideration in detail stage. The reporting of a message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation is not necessarily included in the motion for allotment of time.
The allotment of time may break up the detail stage, for example:
- groups of clauses;
- parts, groups of clauses (with exceptions), postponed and excepted clauses, new clauses, Schedule, remainder of detail stage;
- clause 1 (clause 2 to be considered postponed), groups of articles in the schedule, schedules of the schedule, postponed clause 2 and remainder of detail stage;
- to the end of a particular Part, remainder of detail stage; or
- section of a clause, remainder of clause, new clauses, groups of clauses, remainder of detail stage.
A Minister may move the allotment of time for a bill which has been declared urgent, either immediately, as is usual, or at any time, but not so as to interrupt a Member who is speaking.
Debate and amendment of allotment of time motion
Debate on the motion for the allotment of time may not exceed 20 minutes, each Member speaking being allowed five minutes. Time taken to deal with a motion of dissent from a ruling of the Chair is counted as part of the 20 minutes (a closure may be moved to such a motion). An amendment may be moved to the motion for allotment of time, and it has been found necessary, when midnight has intervened during consideration of the motion, for the word ‘tomorrow’ to be omitted from the motion and the word ‘today’ substituted. The closure motion can be moved on the motion for allotment of time.
When the time allotted for consideration of the second reading of a bill expired during the debate on the motion for allotment of time, the Chair ruled that it was in order to put the question on the allotment of time and (immediately after) the question on the second reading.
Variation of allotment of time
An allotment of time that has been agreed to may be varied by motion without notice without an additional declaration of urgency. The allotted time has been extended for the second reading, for the second reading and the detail stage, and has been extended and further extended for the detail and remaining stages. In the consideration of an Appropriation Bill (No. 1) which is subject to an allotment of time, a motion may be moved, without notice, to vary the order of consideration of proposed expenditures, and the time allotted for the consideration together of the proposed expenditures for two departments has been varied to allow the proposed expenditures to be considered separately for stated times.
Proceedings under guillotine
When the time for each stage expires in accordance with the allotment of time, the debate is interrupted and the Chair puts (1) the question immediately before the Chair and (2) any other question necessary to conclude proceedings for that stage. At the expiration of time for the detail stage, the immediate question is put by the Chair and a further question is then put on the remainder of the bill. This includes postponed clauses, and any amendments, new clauses and schedules, copies of which have been circulated by the Government at least two hours before the end of the allotted time, which are treated as if they have been moved.
If an allotment of time is in the form ‘for the remaining stages’, at the expiry of time the immediate question before the Chair is put and then any further question is put which is needed to dispose of the business before the House—for example, the question ‘That the remaining stages of the bill be agreed to’. However, if there are government amendments (which have been circulated at least two hours before the end of the allotted time) to be taken into account in such circumstances and the time for the remaining stages of the bill has expired before the detail stage has been reached, or when time has been allotted for the completion of the detail stage but it has expired, the House determines immediately the question ‘That the bill and the amendments (and/or new clauses) circulated by the Government be agreed to’. The final question is then put ‘That the bill be now read a third time’.
If the allotment of time agreed to relates to the remaining stages of the bill, and the time expires during the second reading debate, and there are circulated government amendments to be taken into account, the following sequence is followed:
- question—That the amendment be agreed to (if there is a second reading amendment);
- question—That the bill be now read a second time;
- message(s) from the Governor-General to be announced;
- question—That the bill and the amendments (new clauses and schedules) circulated by the Government be agreed to;
- question—That the bill be now read a third time.
By resolving that particular stages of certain bills should conclude at specified times, the House overrides, by deliberate decision, the requirement in the standing orders for a motion for a future day to be fixed for the third reading. It is therefore in order for the Minister to move that the bill be read a third time without the grant of leave. Even when debate concludes before the expiry of time, the practice is that leave is not required. However, leave is required where it is the wish of the House to proceed to the third reading immediately (that is, to bypass consideration in detail).
When the expiry of time has prevented opposition or other non-government Members from moving intended amendments which had been circulated, the Chair has allowed the terms of the unmoved amendments to be incorporated in Hansard so that their intentions could be recorded. If the time expires while a Member is moving a motion to suspend standing orders, that motion lapses.
A motion, during debate of a bill under guillotine, to suspend standing orders to reconsider the use of the guillotine has not been accepted.
A motion to reconsider the bill may be moved at the appropriate time during consideration of the remaining stages of a bill. The closure motion cannot be moved while any proceedings in respect of which time has been allotted are being considered. This includes a motion for reconsideration of a bill, as such a motion is considered to come within ‘the remaining stages of the bill’.