House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

14 - Control and conduct of debate

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Curtailment of speeches and debate

Curtailment of speeches

A speech is terminated when a Member resumes his or her seat at the conclusion of his or her remarks, when the time allowed for a speech under the standing orders expires, or when the House agrees to the question ‘That the Member be no longer heard’. Speeches may also be terminated when the time allotted to a particular debate expires, when the House agrees to the question ‘That the question be now put’, or when the House agrees to a motion ‘That the business of the day be called on’ during discussion of a matter of public importance.

Time limits for speeches

Time limits for speeches in the House were first adopted in 1912.[349] Following a recommendation from the Standing Orders Committee that the House adopt a specific standing order limiting the time of speeches,[350] the House agreed to a motion that ‘in order to secure the despatch of business and the good government of the Commonwealth’ the standing orders be immediately amended in the direction of placing a time limit on the speeches delivered in the House and in committee.[351] The standing order, as amended, is now standing order 1 and, unless the House otherwise orders, time limits now apply to all speeches with the exceptions of the main Appropriation Bill for the year, where there is no time limit for the mover of the second reading and for the Leader of the Opposition or one Member deputed by the Leader of the Opposition when speaking to the second reading.

The House may agree to vary, for a specific purpose, time limits provided by standing order 1.[352] Time limits have also been varied for debate on a motion to suspend standing orders and other debates.[353]

In relation to committee and private Members’ business on Mondays the Selection Committee may allot lesser speaking times than provided by the standing order (see Chapter on ‘Non-government business’). Time limits do not apply when statements are made by leave of the House.[354] Time limits do not apply during debate on motions of condolence or thanks[355] and, by convention, on valedictory speeches made at the end of a period of sittings and on some other special occasions.[356]

The timing clocks are set according to the times prescribed in the standing orders or other orders of the House, even in cases, not uncommon, where informal agreements have been reached between the parties for shorter speaking times for a particular item.[357]

The period of time allotted for a Member’s speech is calculated from the moment the Member is given the call[358] (unless the call is disputed by a motion under standing order 65(c)[359]) and includes time taken up by interruptions such as divisions[360] (but not suspensions of Federation Chamber proceedings caused by divisions in the House), quorum calls,[361] points of order,[362] motions of dissent from rulings of the Chair,[363] and proceedings on the naming and suspension of a Member.[364] The time allotted is not affected by a suspension of the sitting and the clocks are stopped for the duration of the suspension.

Extension of time

It is not unusual before or during important debates for the standing orders to be suspended to grant extended or unlimited time to Ministers and leading Members of the Opposition.[365] Sometimes in such circumstances a simple motion for extension of time may be more suitable.

After the maximum period allowed for a Member’s speech has expired the standing order provides that, on motion determined without debate, the Member may be allowed to continue a speech for one period not exceeding 10 minutes, provided that the extension shall not exceed half of the original period allotted.[366] The motion that a Member’s time be extended may be moved without notice by the Member concerned or by another Member, and must be put immediately and resolved without amendment.[367] An extension of time for a specified period, less than the time provided by the standing order, has been granted on a motion moved by leave.[368] It has been held that the granting of a second extension requires the suspension of the standing order,[369] but the House has granted leave for a Member to continue his speech in this circumstance.[370] The Federation Chamber cannot suspend standing orders but may grant leave for the length of a speech to be extended. A Member cannot be granted an extension on the question for the adjournment of the House.[371] If there is a division on the question that a Member’s time be extended, the extension of time is calculated from the time the Member is called by the Chair.[372] Where a Member’s time expires during the counting of a quorum, after a quorum has been formed a motion may be moved to grant the Member an extension of time.[373] Where a Member’s time has expired during more protracted proceedings, standing orders have been suspended, by leave, to grant additional time.[374]

Despite Selection Committee determinations in relation to private Members’ business, Members have spoken again, by leave,[375] or spoken by leave after the time allocated for the debate had expired.[376] Similarly, despite Selection Committee determinations on times for the consideration of committee and delegation business, extensions of time have been granted to Members speaking on these items[377] and Members have also been given leave to speak again.

Closure of Member

With the exceptions stated below, any Member may move at any time that a Member who is speaking ‘be no longer heard’ and the question must be put immediately and resolved without amendment or debate.[378] The standing order was introduced at a time when there were no time limits on speeches and, in moving for its adoption, Prime Minister Deakin said:

The …new standing order need rarely, if ever, be used for party purposes, and never, I trust, will its application be dictated by partisan motives.[379]

The motion cannot be moved when a Member is moving the terms of a motion,[380] or when the House has agreed to an extension of time for a speech. If negatived, the same motion cannot be moved again if the Chair is of the opinion that the further motion is an abuse of the orders or forms of the House, or is moved for the purpose of obstructing business.[381] A successive closure has also been ruled out of order under the same question rule, the Speaker ruling that by negating the motion when first moved the House had resolved that the Member had the right to be heard.[382]

The motion is not necessarily accepted by the Chair when a Member is speaking with the Chair’s indulgence; or when a Member is taking or speaking to a point of order or making a personal explanation, as these matters are within the control of the Chair. In respect of a point of order the matter awaits the Chair’s adjudication, and in respect of a personal explanation the Member is speaking with the permission of the Chair under standing order 68. Thus, in both cases the discretion of the Chair may be exercised.[383] The Speaker has declined to accept the motion while a Member who had moved a motion of dissent from the Chair’s ruling was speaking, as he desired to hear the basis of the motion of dissent.[384] The Chair is not bound to put the question on the motion if the Member speaking resumes his or her seat having completed the speech, the question having been effectively resolved by that action.[385] A closure of Member motion may be withdrawn, by leave.[386] Where offensive words have been incorporated in such a motion but then accepted by the Chair as having been withdrawn the motion has been regarded as in order.[387] The motion has been moved in respect of a Member making a statement by leave,[388] and in respect of Ministers answering questions.[389]

When the motion has been agreed to, the closured Member has again spoken, by leave.[390] The standing order has been interpreted as applying to the speech currently in progress—a closured Member has not been prevented from speaking again on the same question where the standing orders allow this (for example, during the detail stage of a bill).[391] Notice has been given of a motion to suspend the operation of the standing order for a period except when the motion was moved by a Minister.[392]

Adjournment and curtailment of debate

Motion for adjournment of debate

Only a Member who has not spoken to the question or who has the right of reply may move the adjournment of a debate. The question must be put immediately and resolved without amendment or debate.[393] The motion cannot be moved while another Member is speaking. It can only be moved by a Member who is called by the Speaker in the course of the debate. There is no restriction on the number of times an individual Member may move the motion in the same debate. A motion for the adjournment of the debate on the question ‘That the House do now adjourn’ is not in order.

Unless a Member requests that separate questions be put, the time for the resumption of the debate may be included in the adjournment question,[394] and when a Member moves the motion ‘That the debate be now adjourned’ the Chair puts the question in the form ‘That the debate be now adjourned and the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for …’. The time fixed for the resumption of debate is either ‘the next day of sitting’, ‘a later hour this day’, or a specific day. It is only when there is opposition to the adjournment of the debate or to the time for its resumption that the two questions are put separately. When the question to fix a time for the resumption of the debate is put separately, the question is open to amendment and debate. Both debate and any amendment are restricted, by the rule of relevancy, to the question of the time or date when the debate will be resumed. For example, an amendment must be in the form to omit ‘the next sitting’ in order to substitute a specific day.[395]

If the motion for the adjournment of debate is agreed to, the mover is entitled to speak first when the debate is resumed[396] (see page 686). If the motion is negatived, the mover may speak at a later time during the debate[397]—this provision has been interpreted as allowing the Member to speak immediately after a division on the motion for the adjournment.[398] If the motion is negatived, no similar proposal may be received by the Chair if the Chair is of the opinion that it is an abuse of the orders or forms of the House or is moved for the purpose of obstructing business.[399]

If the Selection Committee has determined that consideration of an item of private Members’ business should continue on a future day, at the time set for interruption of the item of business or if debate concludes earlier, the Speaker interrupts proceedings and the matter is listed on the Notice Paper for the next sitting.[400] The Chair will also do this even if the time available has not expired but where there are no other Members wishing to speak.[401]

Standing order 39 allows a Member who has presented a committee or delegation report (after any statements allowed have been made), to move a specific motion in relation to the report. Debate on the question must then be adjourned until a future day.[402]

In the Federation Chamber, if no Member is able to move adjournment of debate, the Chair can announce the adjournment when there is no further debate on a matter, or at the time set for the adjournment of the Federation Chamber.[403] In the House, if there is no Member available qualified to move the motion—that is, when all Members present have already spoken in the debate—the Chair may also, without the motion being moved, simply declare that the debate has been adjourned and that the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.[404]

Leave to continue remarks

If a Member speaking to a question asks leave of the House to continue his or her remarks when the debate is resumed, this request is taken to be an indication that the Member wishes the debate to be adjourned.[405] If leave is granted, the Chair proposes the question that the debate be adjourned and the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for an indicated time.[406] If leave is refused, the Member may continue speaking until the expiration of the time allowed.[407] However, refusal is unlikely, as the Member’s request for leave is generally made to suit the convenience of the House in concluding proceedings on an item of business at a prearranged time.

When a Member’s speech is interrupted by the operation of a standing order providing for the interruption of business at a fixed time,[408] leave of the House for the Member to continue the speech when the debate is resumed is implied and automatic. This is so whether or not an announcement noting the leave to continue is made by the Chair.

Leave is necessary because the Member interrupted would otherwise be speaking twice to the same question, in contravention of standing order 69. A Member granted leave to continue his or her remarks is entitled to the first call when the debate is resumed, and may then speak for the remainder of his or her allotted time. If the Member does not speak first when the debate is resumed the entitlement to continue is lost.[409]

Closure of question

After a question has been proposed from the Chair (that is, only after the motion concerned has been moved and, if necessary, seconded) a Member may move ‘That the question be now put’. This motion must be moved without comment, be put immediately and resolved without amendment or debate.[410] No notice is required of the motion and it may be moved irrespective of whether or not another Member is addressing the Chair. When the closure is moved, it applies only to the immediate question before the House.

The requirement for the closure motion to be put immediately and resolved without amendment or debate means that, until the question on this motion has been decided, there is no opportunity for a point of order to be raised or a dissent motion to be moved in respect of the putting of the motion. The closure thus takes precedence over other opportunities or rights allowed by the standing orders.[411]

The provision for the closure of a question, commonly known as ‘the gag’, was incorporated in the standing orders in 1905[412] but was not used until 7 September 1909.[413] Since then it has been utilised more frequently.[414] The closure has been moved as many as 41 times in one sitting[415] and 29 times on one bill.[416]

If a motion for the closure is negatived, the Chair shall not receive the same proposal again if of the opinion that it is an abuse of the orders or forms of the House or moved for the purpose of obstructing business.[417] The closure of a question cannot be moved in respect of any proceedings for which time has been allotted under the guillotine procedure.[418] This restriction has been held not to apply to a motion, moved after the second reading of a bill, to refer the bill to a select committee when that proposal had not been included in the allotment of time for the various stages of the bill.[419] The closure cannot be moved on a motion in relation to which the House has adopted the Selection Committee’s determination that debate may continue on a future day,[420] as such matters cannot be brought to a vote without the suspension of standing orders.[421] The Chair has declined to accept the closure on a motion of dissent from the Chair’s ruling.[422]

If a division on the closure motion is in progress or just completed when the time for the automatic adjournment is reached, and the motion is agreed to, a decision is then taken on the main question(s) before the House before the automatic adjournment procedure is invoked.[423]

When the closure is agreed to, the question is then put on the immediate question by the Chair. If the immediate question is an amendment to the original question, debate may then continue on the original question, or the original question as amended.[424] From time to time interruptions have occurred between the agreement to the closure and the putting of the question to which the closure related.[425]

If the closure is moved and agreed to while a Member is moving or seconding (where necessary) an amendment—that is, before the question on the amendment is proposed from the Chair—the amendment is superseded, and the question on the original question is put immediately.[426] However, the Chair has declined to accept the closure at the point when a Member was formally seconding an amendment, and then proceeded to propose the question on the amendment.[427] Similarly, a motion to suspend standing orders moved during debate of another item of business is superseded by a closure moved before the question on the suspension motion is proposed from the Chair, as the closure applies to the question currently before the House.[428]

Any Member may move the closure of a question in possession of the House, including a Member who has already spoken to the question.[429] It may be moved by a Member during, or at the conclusion of, his or her speech, but no reasons may be given for so moving,[430] nor may a Member take advantage of the rules for personal explanations to give reasons.[431] If the seconder of a motion has reserved the right to speak, the closure overrides this right.[432]

Notice has been given of a motion to suspend the operation of the standing order for a period except when the motion was moved by a Minister.[433]


From time to time the Government may limit debate on a bill, motion, or a proposed resolution for customs or excise tariff by use of the guillotine.[434] This procedure is described in detail in the Chapter on ‘Legislation’.

Other provisions for the interruption and conclusion of debates

The standing orders provide for the period of certain debates to be limited in time or to be concluded by procedures not yet dealt with in this chapter. Time limits[435] apply to debates on:

  • the question ‘That the House do now adjourn’ (S.O. 31);
  • the question ‘That grievances be noted’ (S.O. 192b);
  • a motion for the suspension of standing orders when moved without notice under standing order 47 (S.O. 1);
  • a motion for allotment of time under the guillotine procedures (S.O. 84);
  • proceedings on committee and delegation business and private Members’ business on Mondays (S.O.s 34, 192); and
  • matters of public importance (S.O. 46).

A debate (or discussion) may also be concluded:

  • at the expiration of the time allotted under the guillotine procedure (S.O. 85(b));
  • on withdrawal of a motion relating to a matter of special interest (S.O. 50);
  • at the end of the time determined by the Selection Committee (S.O. 222(c));
  • by the closure motion ‘That the question be now put’ (S.O. 81);
  • by the motion ‘That the business of the day be called on’ in respect of a matter of public importance (S.O. 46(e)); or
  • by the motion ‘That the ballot be taken now’ during the election of Speaker or Deputy Speaker (S.O. 11(h)).

A debate may be interrupted:

  • by the automatic adjournment (S.O. 31);
  • at the time fixed for the beginning of Question Time (S.O. 97(a));
  • when the time fixed for the conclusion of certain proceedings under the guillotine procedure has been reached (S.O. 85(a)); or
  • at the end of the time determined by the Selection Committee (S.O. 222(c));

In all these cases the standing orders make provision as to how the question before the House is to be disposed of (where necessary).

A debate in the Federation Chamber may be interrupted by:

  • the adjournment of the House (S.O. 190(c));
  • the motion for the adjournment of the sitting of the Federation Chamber (S.O. 190(e)); or
  • the motion that further proceedings be conducted in the House (S.O. 197).

The Federation Chamber may resume proceedings at the point at which they were interrupted following any suspension or adjournment (S.O. 196).

349. The provisional standing orders adopted on 6 June 1901 only contained time limits for speeches on what is now known as a matter of public importance. The limitations were 30 minutes for the mover and 15 minutes for any other Member speaking.
350. H of R 1 (1912).
351. VP 1912/38, 42–5. The motion was originally moved by a private Member from the Opposition and it was agreed to by the House with amendments.
352. As examples of variations in time limits for speeches on bills see Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 1978–79, VP 1978–80/370; and a package of bills considered together in 1998 to provide for new taxation arrangements, VP 1998–2001/207.
353. E.g. VP 1998–2001/1347; VP 2002–04/1549.
354. H.R. Deb. (28.11.1947) 2918; S.O. 1.
355. S.O. 1.
356. E.g. H.R. Deb. (11.8.2005) 91–6; H.R. Deb. (17.8.2005) 157–90 (Main Committee). Members have also made valedictory speeches while technically speaking on the second reading of a bill—the rules of relevance and time limits are not enforced on such occasions, and points of order not taken, e.g. H.R. Deb. (24.6.2010) 6540, 6545, 6561.
357. The Chair has no official knowledge of and cannot enforce such arrangements. However, the Speaker has on occasion directed the Clerks to set the clocks for a shorter time than provided by S.O. 1, assuming this met the convenience of the House, e.g. H.R. Deb. (17.9.2001) 30745–6.
358. H.R. Deb. (14.11.1979) 2970.
359. H.R. Deb. (9.9.1996) 3735.
360. H.R. Deb. (17.11.1920) 6587. This includes divisions on motions for the closure of the Member speaking, e.g. H.R. Deb. (18.6.2003) 16799–16802.
361. VP 1912/226.
362. H.R. Deb. (10.5.1945) 1571.
363. H.R. Deb. (1.10.1953) 885. In this case the Member who received the call did not get to speak.
364. H.R. Deb. (8.7.1931) 3561.
365. E.g. VP 1978–80/1602, 1690; VP 1993–95/2686.
366. S.O. 1.
367. S.O. 78(a).
368. VP 1976–77/26.
369. VP 1970–72/242.
370. VP 1970–72/634.
371. S.O. 1.
372. H.R. Deb. (9.11.1933) 4356.
373. VP 1985–87/1726, H.R. Deb. (3.6.1987) 3909.
374. VP 1993–95/2347.
375. E.g. VP 1993–95/1258.
376. E.g. VP 1993–95/1617.
377. E.g. VP 1993–95/1343.
378. S.O. 80. The standing order was first adopted in 1905, VP 1905/181–3.
379. H.R. Deb. (24.11.1905) 5762.
380. This provision was included in 1963 following the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee, H of R 1 (1962–63) 25; VP 1962–63/201, 455.
381. S.O. 78; e.g. H.R. Deb. (19.10.1977) 2171, VP 2008–9/192.
382. H.R. Deb. (26.8.2002) 5654–6.
383. Private ruling by Speaker Snedden (17.2.1978).
384. VP 1978–80/572; but see VP 2002–04/969–70.
385. VP 1929–31/484, 492; VP 1970–72/1060–1.
386. VP 1998–2001/1311.
387. H.R. Deb. (25.5.2006) 49–58.
388. VP 2002–04/1102.
389. See ‘Length of answers’ in Ch. on ‘Questions’.
390. H.R. Deb. (4.12.1947) 3213–14, 3264.
391. H.R. Deb. (29.10.1996) 6013–4.
392. E.g. NP (7.12.2000) 8998; NP (19.6.2003) 3846; NP (11.8.2009) 4.
393. S.O. 79(a). A Member who moved a motion to take note of a paper and moved that the debate be adjourned was not regarded as having closed the debate, H.R. Deb. (11.8.2005) 114–6.
394. S.O. 79(a).
395. VP 1978–80/1473.
396. S.O. 79(b).
397. S.O. 79(c).
398. H.R. Deb. (4.9.2000) 20047.
399. S.O. 78(e). When an opposition Member was prevented from moving the adjournment of the debate a second time, the Chair immediately accepted a motion moved by a Minister which the House agreed to, H.R. Deb. (30.6.1949) 1892–3.
400. S.O. 41(a). E.g. VP 1993–95/2080; VP 2008–10/1119.
401. VP 1993–95/1972.
402. VP 1993–95/2107; VP 2008–10/1118.
403. S.O. 194.
404. This practice is not recognised by the standing orders, but is a pragmatic development (supported by a Speaker’s private ruling) which is recorded as occurring by leave. It is likely to occur towards the end of a lengthy debate, such as the budget debate.
405. As she or he has spoken to the question, the Member is prevented by S.O. 79(a) from moving that the debate be adjourned.
406. VP 1978–80/1663; VP 1998–2001/1418; VP 2010–12/200.
407. VP 1976–77/173.
408. Or equivalent situation, for example a speech in the Main Committee (Federation Chamber) interrupted by a division in the House causing the premature adjournment of the Committee, VP 2008–10/1241, H.R. Deb. (17.8.2009) 8110.
409. E.g. VP 1998–2001/1219, 1236. If the Member wishes to speak later leave is required, e.g. VP 2004–07/677—see ‘Leave to speak again’ at page 690.
410. S.O. 81.
411. H.R. Deb. (15.3.2000) 14781–9; H.R. Deb. (3.4.2000) 15093.
412. The debate lasted over a week and amendments proposing to give the Chair a discretion not to accept the motion were defeated, VP 1905/167–78.
413. VP 1909/105.
414. See Appendix 20.
415. VP 1934–37/211–38.
416. VP 1923–24/25–48.
417. S.O. 78(g); e.g. H.R. Deb. (13.5.1980) 2657.
418. S.O. 85(c).
419. VP 1934–37/483.
420. H.R. Deb. (9.3.1998) 780–81.
421. VP 1996–98/495.
422. H.R. Deb. (16.11.1978) 2893.
423. E.g. H.R. Deb. (4.4.1973) 1102–3; H.R. Deb. (13.10.2005) 96.
424. E.g. VP 1956–57/42.
425. A Member has been named and suspended, VP 1954–55/123–4; a request has been made for leave to make a statement, VP 1932–34/114; the sitting has been suspended for a meal break and on resumption the Speaker has made a statement, VP 1951–53/609.
426. E.g. VP 1920–21/260; VP 1956–57/74; VP 1998–2001/1300; H.R. Deb. (21.8.2003) 19205–7. H.R. Deb. (13.10.2005) 93–4.
427. H.R. Deb. (15.5.1980) 2814.
428. H.R. Deb. (12.8.2004) 32954.
429. VP 1943–44/57; H.R. Deb. (17.2.1944) 279,284; H.R. Deb. (31.3.2004) 27730.
430. H.R. Deb. (20.3.1947) 926–8; H.R. Deb. (27.3.1947) 1229.
431. H.R. Deb. (21.2.1947) 123.
432. H.R. Deb. (26.7.1946) 3203.
433. NP (7.12.2000) 8998; NP (19.6.2003) 3846.
434. S.O.s 82–85.
435. Time limits are consolidated in S.O. 1.