House documents—agenda and record
The Notice Paper is an official document of the House, published by authority of the Clerk, showing all the business before the House and the Federation Chamber on the particular sitting day for which the Notice Paper is issued. The business includes notices and orders of the day which have been set down for a particular date. Standing order 36 provides that business before the House shall be published on the Notice Paper for each sitting, in accordance with standing and sessional orders. The Notice Paper is prepared by the Table Office and, with the exception of the first sitting day of a session, is issued for every day of sitting. The Notice Paper is available electronically on the House’s web site.
The Notice Paper has three distinct sections, namely, the business section, questions in writing and, after the Clerk’s signature block, an information section.
Items of business
Business before the House is listed in the Notice Paper under the headings ‘Government Business’, ‘Committee and Delegation Business’, and ‘Private Members’ Business’, and within each category divided, where relevant, into ‘Notices’ and ‘Orders of the day’. Occasionally, if proceedings on a bill or another item of business have been by completed in the Federation Chamber but not reported to the House the same day (the usual practice), there is an additional heading ‘Matters to be reported from the Federation Chamber’. When business has been accorded priority by the Selection Committee for the next sitting Monday, including committee and delegation reports for presentation and debate as well as the selected items of private Members’ business, this is listed separately under the heading ‘Business accorded priority—Federation Chamber’ and ‘Business accorded priority—House of Representatives Chamber’. When, occasionally, items of business are sponsored by the Speaker, these are listed separately as ‘Business of the House’.
Business which has been referred to the Federation Chamber is listed separately under the heading ‘Business of the Federation Chamber’—subdivided if necessary into ‘Government Business’, ‘Committee and Delegation Business’ and ‘Private Members’ Business’.
‘Notices’ are new proposed business—that is, business that has not yet come before the House. A notice of motion is entered on the Notice Paper after a Member has delivered a copy of its terms to the Clerk. A notice of intention to present a bill is treated as if it were a notice of motion. A notice becomes effective only when it appears on the Notice Paper. Subject to the ability of the Leader of the House to rearrange the order of government business (prior to each sitting) and of the Selection Committee to arrange the order of private Members’ business on Mondays, notices are entered on the Notice Paper in the order in which they are received by the Clerk, and before orders of the day. Private Members’ notices not called on for eight consecutive sitting Mondays are removed from the Notice Paper.
Orders of the day
Orders of the day are items of business which have already been before the House and which the House has ordered to be taken into consideration at a future time (in the House or the Federation Chamber).
The standing orders provide that the Notice Paper shall state the sequence in which orders of the day are called on. Orders of the day are entered on the Notice Paper in accordance with the order in which the notices of motion were given. However, where an order of the day is set down for a day other than the next day of sitting, it is entered on the Notice Paper under a heading showing that day. At the adjournment of the House those orders of the day which have not been called on are set down on the Notice Paper for the next sitting day at the end of the orders set down for that day. As with notices, this sequence is subject to the ability of the Leader of the House to rearrange the order of government business (prior to each sitting) and of the Selection Committee to arrange the order of private Members’ and committee business on Mondays.
Orders of the day relating to committee and delegation business and private Members’ business which have not been called on for eight consecutive sitting Mondays are removed from the Notice Paper.
Contingent notices of motion
Contingent notices are in practice normally given only by Ministers and appear under a separate heading following orders of the day, government business.
Questions in writing
Questions in writing are numbered consecutively in order of receipt by the Table Office and remain on the Notice Paper until written replies are received by the Clerk. On the first sitting day of each sitting fortnight all unanswered questions are printed. On the remaining sitting days only those questions in writing which appear for the first time that day are printed and a list is included identifying by number the unanswered questions not printed. An electronic ‘questions paper’ on the House website, updated daily, gives the full text of all unanswered questions.
In 1980 a question which had been lodged was inadvertently not printed on the Notice Paper. As the Notice Paper concerned was the last for the Autumn sittings, and the next would not be printed for some months, the Speaker directed that the question be printed in Hansard and treated as a question placed in writing.
The final section of the Notice Paper appears after the Clerk’s signature. This section is for the information of Members and the public generally and is not directly connected with the business of the House. It contains a current listing of occupants of the Chair, the membership of all parliamentary committees on which Members of the House are serving, and a list of the current inquiries being undertaken by those committees. The appointments of Members to statutory bodies are also included.
Votes and Proceedings
The Votes and Proceedings are the official record of the proceedings of the House of Representatives. This record contains the proceedings and decisions of the House and the Federation Chamber; and the attendance of Members in the House, including any leave.
It is the purpose of the Votes and Proceedings to record all that is, or is deemed to be, done by the House, but to ignore everything that is said apart from the words of motions, amendments, and so on, unless it is especially ordered to be entered. The Votes and Proceedings are, in effect, the minutes of the House and should not be confused with Hansard, which is a verbatim report of the debates of the House.
The entries are compiled, on the authority of the Clerk, in the Table Office and are printed and circulated the next day in proof form. This proof is checked against the notes kept by the Deputy Clerk and the original documents of the House. The Votes and Proceedings are then printed and distributed in final form and are issued for each session in bound volumes. Since 1999 the proof issue of the Votes and Proceedings has been published combined with the daily proof Hansard. The Votes and Proceedings are available electronically on the House’s web site.
The standing orders require that Members’ attendance, divisions, and any reason stated by the Chair for its casting vote, be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings. The standing orders also provide that a Member may, if he or she wishes, have dissent to any question recorded if he or she is the only Member calling for a division. The names of Members voting for or against the question are recorded for each division. ‘Pairs’ have been recorded since 1999.
A day’s Votes and Proceedings record the items of business considered by the House. Depending on the sequence of business on the particular day, they also record that questions without notice were asked, the documents presented by Ministers, ministerial statements made, any committee reports presented, the matter of public importance discussed, and legislation presented or considered, and they conclude with a reference to the adjournment, a list of documents deemed to have been presented and the record of Members’ attendance (the names of absent Members are recorded).
In respect of notices called on and orders of the day, the record in the Votes and Proceedings is, broadly speaking, an account of what actually takes place in the House. The decisions of the House on all questions before it are recorded irrespective of whether or not a division is called for, as are the terms of every motion proposed in the House. If debate takes place on any question, that fact is also recorded.
On the days on which the Federation Chamber meets, the Minutes of Proceedings of the Federation Chamber, under the name of the Deputy Clerk in his or her capacity as Clerk of the Federation Chamber, are included as a supplement to the Votes and Proceedings. During the trial, under sessional orders, of legislation committees and estimates committees in 1978 and 1979, it was the practice to record the minutes of these committees in the Votes and Proceedings as a supplement.
The Votes and Proceedings also record the substance of statements by the Speaker on matters of privilege and important procedural and administrative matters. Some matters not formally being business of the House in a technical sense are also recorded because of the importance attached to them by the House. These include announcements concerning ministerial arrangements, the absence of the Governor-General (on occasions), and references to the deaths of persons that are not the subject of motions of condolence.
The standing orders provide that motions and amendments not seconded shall not be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings. These are the only specific exclusions mentioned in the standing orders. However, it has been the practice to exclude from the Votes and Proceedings certain matters which are not considered to be part of the business of the House. Proceedings which are not recorded include:
- New notices. These are listed on the next day’s Notice Paper;
- Personal explanations. These are not formally part of the business of the House; they arise mainly from what is reported about a Member in the media and through what is said in debate, and are therefore not normally recorded. When a personal explanation gives rise to some further proceedings then it may be recorded;
- Points of order. These are not normally recorded unless they give rise to some further procedural action; and
- Rulings of the Chair. These are not normally recorded unless they are of a significant nature or there is a motion of dissent from the ruling moved.
As it is the purpose of the Votes and Proceedings to record those things done by the House and not what has been said in the House, no record is made of debates other than to record that debate took place on a particular question.
Accuracy and alterations
The accuracy of the Votes and Proceedings has been challenged in the House on only three occasions. On 25 July 1901 a Member directed the attention of the Speaker to an alleged omission from the Votes and Proceedings of some of the proceedings of the House. The Speaker ruled that, as the proceedings omitted were proceedings which were out of order, under the standing orders the entry had to appear in that form.
In March 1944 a question was asked of the Speaker as to what procedures were available to Members to challenge the accuracy of the Votes and Proceedings. The Speaker suggested that the matter ought to be raised with him and he would discuss it with the Clerks. The Speaker ruled that such questions were not questions of order, and that a substantive motion, of which notice had been given, would be necessary if the matter were to be dealt with otherwise. The Speaker went on to say that the submission of such a motion might have far reaching consequences and warned Members of the danger of establishing a precedent of moving for the alteration of the records of the House. A specific matter was then raised, as a point of order, concerning an alleged inaccuracy in the Votes and Proceedings of 15 March 1944. The Speaker reiterated his earlier ruling and undertook to consult with the Clerks, Hansard and the Chairman of Committees. Subsequently, a motion to suspend standing orders was unsuccessfully moved seeking a debate on the accuracy of the Votes and Proceedings. The Speaker later reported to the House that, having investigated the allegation of inaccuracy, he was satisfied that the Votes and Proceedings of 15 March 1944 presented a correct record of the proceedings.
On 22 November 1979 a Member sought the indulgence of the Speaker to bring to his attention an alleged anomaly in the Votes and Proceedings of 20 November 1979. The Speaker indicated that the record would be checked and, if found to be inaccurate, corrected. As the record was found to be accurate, no alteration was made.
On 24 November 1988, although the accuracy of the record in the Votes and Proceedings was not challenged per se, there was some confusion as to decisions taken during consideration of a bill at the previous sitting and, following the suspension of standing and sessional orders, the House resolved that the recorded decisions of the committee of the whole, and the House itself, on the bill be rescinded and the committee and remaining stages be considered again. This happened immediately.
There have been two occasions on which the House has considered motions to expunge entries from the Votes and Proceedings. On 28 July 1909, during the debate on the election of the Speaker, a motion was moved that the debate be adjourned. The ensuing division resulted in an equality of voting and the Clerk, who was acting as Chair during the election, purported to exercise a casting vote against the motion for the adjournment of the debate. On a point of order being raised that the Clerk could not vote, the Clerk ruled that, if he did not have a casting vote as Chair, the motion nevertheless had not been agreed to, as it had not received a majority of votes. On 29 July 1909, a Member raised the matter as one of privilege and unsuccessfully moved for the expunging of those entries from the Votes and Proceedings which recorded the exercise of a casting vote by the Clerk.
On 29 April 1915 a Member moved that a resolution of the House in the previous Parliament, which had suspended a Member from the service of the House, be expunged from the Votes and Proceedings, as the resolution was subversive of the right of a Member to freely address his constituents. The motion was agreed to without a division and the entry in the printed volumes held by the Clerk was inked out.
If a Member complains to the House that a division has been wrongly recorded, the Speaker may direct the record to be corrected. The Votes and Proceedings are also altered on other occasions to correct minor errors, without reference to the House. On such occasions either an erratum slip or a substitute copy of the Votes and Proceedings is issued.
Hansard—the parliamentary debates
The parliamentary debates are the full reports of the speeches of Members of the House. The debates are substantially the verbatim reports, with no unnecessary additions, with repetitions and redundancies omitted and with obvious mistakes corrected, but on the other hand leaving out nothing that adds to the meaning of a speech or illustrates an argument. The debates are better known as Hansard, which is a name derived from the printing firm which began printing the House of Commons debates in the early 19th century. The term Hansard did not appear on the title page of the volumes of the Australian parliamentary debates until 1946, when it was added in parentheses.
The parliamentary debates, as well as containing the verbatim report of Members’ speeches, contain the full text of petitions presented and any responses from Ministers, notices of motion, questions in writing and the answers thereto, results of divisions and requests for detailed information asked of the Speaker. The report of the debates does not constitute the official record of the proceedings of the House; that is the purpose of the Votes and Proceedings.
Hansard is issued in two editions. There is a daily proof traditionally available the day after the proceedings to which it refers. The Official Hansard contains the reports of proceedings for each sitting period. Hansard is available electronically and may be accessed by Members and other users.
The production of Hansard is the responsibility of the Department of Parliamentary Services. For privilege in relation to Hansard see page 623.
Control of publication
Control over the published content of the Hansard reports of the House resides in the House itself. Speakers have consistently ruled that, ultimately, only the House itself can exercise this control. However, in 1977 the Speaker ruled that if the House passed a resolution ordering the incorporation of a document in Hansard, the Speaker still had a discretionary power to refuse that incorporation on the basis of the size of the document and the inconvenience it might cause in the production of the daily Hansard.
Correction, deletion and incorporation of material
Prior to the subedited transcript being forwarded for publication, each Member is given an opportunity to read the transcript prepared of what he or she has said and, if necessary, to make minor corrections. The right of Members to peruse and revise the drafts of their speeches was a well established practice long before the Commonwealth Parliament first met. Although Members have this right to make corrections to their remarks, emendations which alter the sense of words used in debate or introduce new matter are not admissible. In some instances of error or inaccuracy in the Hansard reports, the position is better clarified by a personal explanation. Draft reports of speeches delivered to Members are also available electronically to other Members and Senators on the Senators and Members Services Portal on the day of sitting.
As well as having an opportunity to make corrections before the subedited transcript is forwarded for inclusion in the daily proof issue, Members also have one week in which to suggest corrections for the Official Hansard.
Although only the House itself can exercise control over the content of the Hansard reports, in practice this responsibility has devolved to the Speaker. Rulings of the Chair form the guidelines for what is to be deleted from the debates and what is to be incorporated.
Since 1904 the practice has been followed that interjections to which the Member addressing the Chair does not reply ought not to be included in the Hansard record. The Chair has ruled that questions ruled out of order should not be included in Hansard, however, in more recent years they have been published. The Chair has a responsibility to ensure that no objectionable material is included in the debates. Exceptionally, offensive remarks ordered to be withdrawn have been deleted from the records. The Chair has ruled that the remarks made by a Member after his time has expired are not to be recorded and that the remarks of a Member who has not received the call are not to be entered in the record.
Although Hansard is basically a record of the spoken word, the House has always had procedures for the incorporation of unread material. The final decision on incorporating material rests with the Speaker and occupants of the Chair are guided in this matter by guidelines issued by the Speaker (see Chapter on ‘Control and conduct of debate’).
During both World War I and World War II the House acted to censor its own debates and at both times the Chair reiterated that only the House itself could exercise this form of control over its own debates.
In recent years the issue of copyright has arisen in connection with parliamentary publications, principally in relation to bills. Parliament has taken the position that it is important that it facilitate access by interested persons to its proceedings and publications. As is to be expected, requests have often been made for the use of various items, and permission has been given on many occasions. To ensure that the administrative arrangements are as straightforward and clear as possible on these matters, especially from the point of view of persons making inquiries, parliamentary authorities have agreed that the responsible area of the Executive may serve as a single contact point for persons or organisations with copyright queries. Under the arrangements any relevant matter concerning Parliament must then be referred to the appropriate parliamentary department. The Parliament has been careful to ensure that, whilst agreeing to certain administrative arrangements for reasons of practicality, it has never countenanced the concept that parliamentary publications, such as bills, should in any sense be regarded as the ‘property’ of the Executive.
A legal opinion given in respect of the Yirrkala bark petitions (see page 632) indicated that the fact that the petitions had been presented to the House did not extinguish the copyright interest of the persons who had created them. Special arrangements were made in respect of requests to publish images of these items, in recognition of their unique status and significance, but it was considered that the Houses of the Parliament, and committees, had undoubted rights in respect of the publication of documents presented to them or in their possession.