Form and content of motions
Authority of the Speaker to amend or disallow
The standing orders direct the Speaker to amend any notice of motion which contains inappropriate language or which does not conform to the standing orders. The House in effect places an obligation on the Speaker to scrutinise the form and content of motions which are to come before the House. The Speaker’s action in so amending a notice cannot be challenged by a motion of dissent, as the Speaker is exercising an authority given by the standing orders rather than making a ruling.
In 1912 a motion stating that the Speaker’s action in endeavouring to prevent a Member from reading a notice of motion, and in refusing to accept the notice (ruled out of order on the grounds that it was frivolous—see below) ‘… was a breach of the powers, privileges and immunities of Members’ was moved and negatived. Reinforcing this precedent was a decision of the House in 1920 negativing a motion that the Speaker had infringed the privileges of Members by ruling a notice of motion out of order, thus preventing the notice coming before the House.
It has been ruled that a notice of motion practically incorporating a speech cannot be given. In 1977 the Speaker referred to the form of notices (then given orally), noting that notices which were inordinately and unnecessarily long continued to be given, and that Members were tending to use notices to narrate a long argument rather than to put a concise proposition for determination by the House. The Speaker said that if Members continued to misuse the procedure he would have to intervene to have Members reform their notices or to have the Clerks eliminate the argument and unnecessary statements. The view and direction put forward by the Speaker were adhered to and came to constitute the practice of the House.
In more recent times Members have been cautioned about the length of motions, particularly in relation to censure motions and motions without notice to suspend standing orders to debate a matter, which, like the former oral notices, sometimes tend to ‘narrate a long argument’. A motion to suspend standing orders has been ruled out of order on the grounds that it was unnecessarily long and not a concise proposition for determination by the House.
As long as their language is not unparliamentary (see below), it is up to the movers of motions to choose their own language to express their intentions, not a matter for the Speaker or the Chair. The Speaker’s role with regard to the content of motions is to administer the rules and practices of the House, which do not cover grammar. Within the rules, Members may use whatever wording they think appropriate, and different degrees of formality, to best meet their intentions.
The Speaker has ruled a proposed motion out of order because the written motion submitted differed substantially from the terms stated by the Member in seeking to move the motion.
Rules regarding subject matter
A number of general rules of debate have equal application to the content of a motion.
A motion should not contain offensive or disorderly words. In 1938 the Speaker stated that he would not allow a notice of motion of privilege accusing a Member of ‘blasphemous and treasonable statements of policy and intention’ to be placed on the Notice Paper in that form. The Speaker did not state his reasons but presumably it was ruled out of order because of the use of unparliamentary words. In 1980 the Speaker directed the Clerk to remove a notice from the Notice Paper when his attention was drawn to unparliamentary words contained in it. In 1999 the Speaker held that a notice which referred to another Member in ironic terms could not be published without amendment.
Frivolous or rhetorical content
In 1912 a notice of motion to the effect that an Address be presented to the Governor-General informing him that the Opposition merited the censure of the House and the country for a number of stated reasons (which parodied the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment to the Address in Reply) was ruled out of order on the ground that it was frivolous. In 1983 a notice was removed from the Notice Paper, with the authority of the Speaker, on the ground that it was frivolous.
The Speaker has ruled out of order part of a motion, after a point of order had been taken that it was rhetorical.
A motion may not be brought forward which relates to a matter awaiting, or under, adjudication by a court of law. In 1995 the Speaker wrote to a Member, drawing the Member’s attention to the fact that certain matters relevant to a notice lodged by the Member were sub judice and expressing the view that discussion of the matter should not take place. In the event the notice was amended and eventually debated.
Same motion rule
The Speaker may disallow any motion (or amendment) which is the same in substance as any question which has already been resolved in the same session. The application of the same motion rule is totally at the Chair’s discretion. The rule, in serving the purpose of preventing unnecessary obstruction or repetition, should not be held to restrict or prevent the House from debating important matters, particularly during a long session which can be of two to three years’ duration.
The same motion rule has rarely been applied. A motion to suspend standing and sessional orders to enable consideration of a private Member’s notice of motion was ruled out of order as the same motion had been negatived on each of the two previous sitting days. The Chair has prevented a Member moving for the suspension of standing orders to enable another Member to continue his speech as a motion for that purpose had been negatived previously. More recently a proposed motion to suspend standing and sessional orders was ruled out of order because it was the same in substance as a question already resolved earlier that day. A motion of dissent from a ruling has also been ruled out of order on the ground that a motion of dissent from a similar ruling had just been negatived.
Standing order 150(e) applies a further specific provision to the detailed stage of bills which prevents an amendment, new clause or new schedule being moved if it is substantially the same as one already negatived or inconsistent with one already agreed to. This provision does not apply when a bill is being reconsidered.
The same motion rule does not prevent the provisions of section 57 of the Constitution from being fulfilled, and a second bill the same as one passed previously but which the Senate has rejected, failed to pass or passed with amendments not acceptable to the House may be introduced and passed by the House. In February 2009, after the Senate had negatived at the third reading stage bills in a package, a replacement package in which some of the bills were identical to those already passed was introduced in and passed by the House without any issue being raised in respect of the same motion rule.
Two particular occurrences are worthy of note. On the first occasion, a notice of motion was placed on the Notice Paper in exactly the same terms as a previously defeated amendment to a motion to adopt a Standing Orders Committee report. The notice remained on the Notice Paper until, following a suspension of standing orders, it was moved in the form of an amendment to a later motion proposing amendments to the standing orders and changes in practice. The amendment was again defeated. On the second occasion, a notice of motion which was the same in substance as a second reading amendment negatived earlier in the session was placed on the Notice Paper. Prior to the notice being called on; however, it was substantially altered and the necessity for a decision in the House did not arise.
A question may be raised again if it has not been definitely decided. Thus, a motion or amendment which has been withdrawn or, in certain circumstances, has been superseded (see page 303) or, for example, where no decision was reached because of a lack of quorum in a division, may be repeated. Private Members’ bills which have been removed from the Notice Paper under the provisions of standing order 42 have been re-introduced, no decisions of substance having been taken on them.
An extension of the same motion rule is contained in standing order 78 where a number of subsidiary motions and questions of a procedural nature are listed which, if put to the House and negatived, cannot be put to the House again if the Speaker or Chair is of the opinion that it is an abuse of the orders or forms of the House, or the motion is moved for the purpose of obstructing business. This provision is of somewhat transient character as a motion may be out of order in its purpose and timing at one time but in order if moved for a different purpose or at a different time.