House of Representatives Practice, 6th edition – HTML version

6 - The Speaker, Deputy Speakers and officers

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Sources of procedural authority

The operation of the House is governed by various rules and conventions which in turn are sources for the procedural authority exercised by the Speaker. There are three main sources of procedural authority:

  • the Constitution;
  • the standing orders; and
  • traditional practice.

In many ways the provisions of the Constitution and the standing orders reflect traditional parliamentary practice which applied in the House of Commons in the years before Federation, and which was also followed in various ways in Parliaments in the Australian colonies prior to Federation.


The Constitution contains a number of detailed provisions dealing with the actual operations of the House. Amongst the provisions are:

  • the requirement that the House, before proceeding to any other business, must choose a Member to be the Speaker, and must also choose a Member to be Speaker whenever the office becomes vacant, and the related provision that the Speaker ceases to hold office if he or she ceases to be a Member, and may be removed from office by a vote of the House or may resign by writing addressed to the Governor-General;
  • the provision that before or during an absence of the Speaker the House may choose a Member to perform the Speaker’s duties during the absence; and
  • the provision that questions arising shall be determined by a majority of votes other than that of the Speaker, who only has a casting vote.

Standing orders

Acting under the power conferred by section 50 of the Constitution, the House has adopted comprehensive standing orders to govern the conduct of its business, and also to govern related matters such as the operation of committees and communication between the Houses. The standing orders are rules the House has adopted by resolution, and they are considered to have continuing, or standing, effect. They are thus binding at all stages, unless they are suspended (the standing orders themselves contain special provision for their suspension), or unless there is unanimous agreement—that is, leave—for something to be done which would otherwise be inconsistent with the standing orders.

The House adopted temporary standing orders in 1901 which were largely based on rules and standing orders followed in the colonial legislative assemblies. These temporary standing orders were amended from time to time until 1950, when permanent standing orders were adopted. In 1963 a major revision and renumbering was agreed to, and significant changes were subsequently made on a regular basis.

In November 2003 the Procedure Committee presented a report providing and recommending a completely revised set of standing orders for the House[186]—a revision initiated by an earlier recommendation by the committee that the standing orders be ‘restructured and rewritten to make them more logical, intelligible and readable’.[187] In June 2004 the House resolved to adopt the revised standing orders, to come into effect on the first day of sitting of the 41st Parliament.[188]

The standing orders:

  • reflect traditional parliamentary practice in the conduct of business, for example, in the consideration of legislation; and
  • reflect and complement constitutional provisions, for example, in the detailed rules laid down in the standing orders for the consideration of financial bills.

The House has often adopted sessional orders, which are temporary standing orders or temporary changes to the standing orders, in order, for example, to enable experimentation with a new procedure or arrangement before a permanent change is made to the standing orders.

See also ‘Motions relating to the standing orders’ in Chapter on ‘Motions’.

Traditional practice

A number of practices and conventions are observed in the House which are not imposed either by the Constitution or by the standing orders, but which are traditional parliamentary rules, often also followed in other Parliaments operating in the Westminster tradition. Examples of such a convention are the sub judice convention and the practice that a charge against a Member should only be made by means of a substantive motion which admits of a distinct vote of the House. Other practices have evolved locally, for example, the convention of alternating the call between Opposition and Government during debate and in Question Time.

The standing orders used to provide that in all cases not provided for in the standing orders or by sessional or other order or by practice of the House, resort shall be had to the practice of the United Kingdom House of Commons ‘in force for the time being, which shall be followed as far as it can be applied’.[189] With the development of the House’s own body of practice, reference to House of Commons practice has become very rare, and this provision was omitted from the revised standing orders adopted in 2004. Standing order 3(e) now provides that:

The Speaker (or other Member presiding) is responsible for ruling whenever any question arises as to the interpretation or application of a standing order and for deciding cases not otherwise provided for. In all cases the Speaker shall have regard to previous rulings of Speakers of the House and to established practices of the House.

186. Standing Committee on Procedure, Revised standing orders, PP 394 (2003).
187. Standing Committee on Procedure, It’s your House: Community involvement in the procedures and practices of the House of Representatives and its committees, PP 363 (1999).
188. VP 2002–04/1744.
189. Former S.O. 1.