The standing orders of both the House and Senate provide for the holding of conferences between the two Houses. The House standing orders provide that, in certain situations of disagreement between the Houses over legislation, should a bill be returned by the Senate with amendments to which the House does not agree, the House may return the bill to the Senate (with or without further amendment), order the bill to be laid aside or ask for a conference. If the bill is again returned from the Senate with any of the requirements of the House still disagreed to, the House shall set a time for consideration of the Senate message, and, on its consideration, the House can lay the bill aside or ask for a conference.
A conference is initiated by a Member moving a motion to request a conference with the Senate to resolve a disagreement between the Houses. The motion must contain the names of the Members proposed as delegates of the House.
If the House wishes to confer with the Senate it must request a conference by message. The message must contain an outline of the purpose of the conference and propose the number of delegates to represent the House in the conference (at least five). The House may not request a conference on the subject of a bill or motion in the possession of the Senate. The Senate appoints the time and place for the conference—the House must agree and communicates its agreement by message.
At any conference it is the duty of the delegates of the House to resolve the disagreement between the two Houses with the delegates of the Senate. The delegates of the House must read and deliver in writing to the delegates of the Senate the reasons or resolutions of the House, and hear and receive in writing from the delegates of the Senate the reasons or resolutions of the Senate. The delegates may then discuss the disagreement. The objective of the delegates of the House is the withdrawal by the delegates of the Senate of the disagreement, or its modification or amendment. For bills, the delegates of the House may not suggest an amendment (other than a consequential amendment) to any words of a bill which both Houses have already agreed, unless the words are directly affected by the disagreement. The delegates must report to the House immediately a conference has ended.
The Senate has equivalent standing orders providing for a Senate initiated conference in respect of disagreement relating to a Senate bill. These provide that there shall be only one conference on any bill or other matter, and require the Senate to be suspended during a conference. If the Senate has requested a conference, the House appoints an equal number of delegates as the Senate to represent it and appoints the time and place for holding the conference. The delegates for the House must assemble at the time and place appointed, and receive the delegates of the Senate. There is no provision in the standing orders of either House for a request by one House for a conference on a bill originating in the other House.
Two formal conferences have been held between the Houses, both initiated by the House of Representatives. In both cases they were held in private and the standing order which then required the House to be suspended during a conference, and the standing order which specified the duties of managers, were suspended for the purposes of the conferences.
On 7 August 1930 the House resolved to request a conference with the Senate on amendments, insisted upon by the Senate, to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill 1930. The House appointed and named five managers. The Senate agreed to the conference, appointed and named five managers and named the Senate Committee Room (main floor) as the place and 12.30 a.m., Friday, 8 August 1930 as the time for the holding of the conference. The managers reported to the House that some of the amendments should be agreed to, some should be agreed to with modifications, and others should not be agreed to. Following consideration and the exchange of further messages, the Senate returned the bill amended in accordance with the agreement reached at the conference. The bill was thereupon passed by both Houses and assented to on 18 August 1930.
On 17 December 1930 the House resolved to request a conference with the Senate on amendments, insisted upon by the Senate, to the Northern Territory (Administration) Bill 1930. The House appointed and named five managers. On 29 April 1931 the Senate agreed to the conference, appointed and named five managers and appointed the Senate Committee Room (main floor) as the place, and 8 p.m. that day as the time, for the holding of the conference. On 5 May the managers reported to the House that the Senate amendments should not be agreed to. A message was received from the Senate on 6 May insisting on its amendments. The conference report was considered in the committee of the whole on 14 May and the House did not insist on disagreeing with the amendments insisted on by the Senate. The bill was thereupon passed by both Houses and assented to on 21 May 1931.
The only other formal conference proposed on a bill was on 22 June 1950 when the Senate resolved to request a conference with the House of Representatives on an amendment insisted upon by the House to the Social Services Consolidation Bill 1950. This bill was initiated in the Senate. The House did not agree to the request for a conference and asked the Senate to reconsider the amendment. The Senate agreed to the amendment and the bill was assented to on 28 June 1950.
On 10 December 1921 the Prime Minister notified the House that an informal committee of three Members of each House had considered an amendment requested by the Senate to the Appropriation Bill 1921–22. The amendment would have reduced a salary increase for the Clerk of the House so as to maintain parity with the Clerk of the Senate. The conference recommended that there should be uniformity in salaries of the chief officers in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and that in the future preparation of the estimates this uniformity should be observed. The House endorsed the recommendations and gave the necessary authority to Mr Speaker to carry them into effect. In view of this the Senate did not press its request for amendment.