Printing and distribution
Once a government bill has been drafted and approved for presentation to Parliament the Office of Parliamentary Counsel orders the printing of copies of the bill which are forwarded to the appropriate parliamentary staff. A bill is kept under embargo until it is introduced, when the custody of copies and the authority to print passes to the Clerk of the House while the bill is before the House and to the Clerk of the Senate while the bill is before the Senate.
The role of staff of the House in the distribution of bills was recognised early in the history of the House. In 1901 Speaker Holder drew the attention of Members to the fact that copies of a circulated bill had not passed through the hands of officers of the House, and expressed the view that it would be well in the future if the distribution of bills took place through the recognised channel. Prime Minister Barton stated that he would take particular care that in future all necessary distribution was done through the officers of the House. A few days later the Speaker repeated that the distribution of bills was a matter for the officers of the House, and one for which they accepted full responsibility.
A Minister or Parliamentary Secretary on presenting a bill hands a signed copy to the Clerk at the Table. The title of the responsible Minister’s portfolio is shown on the first page of the bill. If there are any typographical errors in this copy, the errors are corrected by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and initialled in the margin of the bill by the Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary). Similarly, private Members sign and present a copy of bills they introduce and initial any necessary corrections. All future prints of the bill are based on this introduction copy. Copies of a bill are circulated in the Chamber immediately after presentation.
Third reading print
If a bill has been amended at the detail stage, a ‘third reading print’, incorporating the amendment(s), is produced. The copies of the third reading print also have printed on the top left hand corner the Clerk’s certificate recording the agreement of the House to the bill and certifying that it is ready for transmission to the Senate. It is the responsibility of staff of the House to arrange for a bill’s reprinting. This may take some days in the case of a sizeable bill which has been heavily amended. The third reading print is checked carefully to ensure that the copy of the bill transmitted to the Senate accurately reflects all changes made to the bill by the House. This unavoidable delay is a factor of some importance in the programming of business in the closing stages of a period of sittings or on other occasions when it is the desire of the Government for a bill to be passed by both Houses expeditiously.
Deputy Speaker’s amendments
Clerical or typographical errors in a bill may be corrected by the Clerk acting with the authority of the Deputy Speaker. In practice only bills introduced in the House are so amended. The Office of Parliamentary Counsel often asks for such correction, but where the matter has not been initiated by that office, its advice is first obtained as to whether or not any such amendment should be made. This type of correction is normally made prior to the transmission of the bill to the Senate but has also been made after the bill has been returned from the Senate.
Clerk’s certificate and transmission to the Senate
When the House passes a House bill, a certificate signed by the Clerk of the House is attached to an introduced copy of the bill. The certificate is in the following form:
This Bill originated in the House of Representatives; and, having this day passed, is now ready for presentation to the Senate for its concurrence.
Clerk of the House of Representatives
A copy of the bill bearing the Clerk’s certificate, together with a second copy for the Senate’s records, is placed inside a folder known as a message to the Senate. When a bill has been amended in its passage through the House, a copy of the third reading print, which has the Clerk’s certificate printed on it rather than affixed, is placed in the message for transmission to the Senate, instead of a copy of the unamended bill. The message takes the following form:
The House of Representatives transmits to the Senate a Bill for an Act [remainder of long title]; in which it desires the concurrence of the Senate.
The message to the Senate is signed by the Speaker or, if the Speaker is unavailable, by the Deputy Speaker. Because of the unavailability of the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, a Deputy Chairman (the former equivalent of a member of the Speaker’s panel) as Deputy Speaker has signed messages to the Senate transmitting bills for concurrence.
In cases where standing orders are suspended to enable related bills to be considered together, the bills are transmitted to the Senate by means of one message. For example, in 1965, 32 bills relating to decimal currency, which were together read a third time in the House, were transmitted to the Senate within the one message. Similarly, on other occasions, nine Sales Tax Assessment Amendment Bills have been transmitted to the Senate in the one message.
It is the responsibility of the Serjeant-at-Arms to obtain the Clerk’s signature on the certified copy of the bill and the Speaker’s signature on the message and, if the Senate is sitting, to deliver the message to the Bar of the Senate, where a Clerk at the Table accepts delivery. If the Senate is not sitting, the Serjeant-at-Arms delivers the message to the Clerk of the Senate. Senate practice is that the bill is reported by the President when the Senate Minister representing the Minister responsible for the bill in the House indicates that the Government is ready to proceed with the bill.
Error in certificate
An error occurred in June 2009 when the Clerk’s certificate was attached to an earlier version of a bill than the version introduced to and considered by the House, and the Clerk of the Senate’s certification of the Senate’s agreement was then affixed to the incorrect version. Apart from the certified copy, the correct version of the bill had been transmitted to the Senate, and only the correct version had been published on the Parliament’s website.
The error was not discovered until the checking processes for assent purposes were commenced, after both Houses had adjourned. The Clerk of the Senate reported the circumstances to the President, the Deputy President, parliamentary leaders and independent Senators. He advised that he considered that it would be constitutionally and procedurally proper for him to certify the Senate’s agreement to the correct version of the bill (the incorrect version never having been seen by Senators). The Clerk of the House provided a certified copy of the correct version, which was then certified by the Clerk of the Senate. The matter was drawn to the attention of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General when the bill was sent for assent and to the Government.