Procedural variations for different categories of bills
Private Members’ bills
Private Members’ bills may be taken during the periods on Mondays in the House and Federation Chamber reserved for committee and private Members’ business. Bills are given priority over other private Member’s business. The mover of the second reading of a private Member’s bill may speak to the second reading for ten minutes at the time of the bill’s presentation, after which debate is automatically adjourned. The allocation of time for the resumption of the debate on a subsequent private Members’ day is subject to the determination of the Selection Committee. When the debate is resumed the mover may speak in continuation for a further 5 minutes, if he or she so wishes. If the second reading is agreed to by the House, further consideration of the bill is given priority over other private Members’ business. A private Member’s bill may be considered during time normally reserved for government business following the suspension of standing orders. This has been the usual practice when Private Members’ bills are voted on. (For more detail see ‘Private Members’ bills in Chapter on ‘Non-government business’.)
Constitution alteration bills
The passage of a bill proposing to alter the Constitution is the same as for an ordinary bill, with the exception that the third reading must be agreed to by an absolute majority. Such a bill may be initiated in either House.
Section 128 of the Constitution provides that a bill proposing to alter the Constitution must be passed by both Houses, or by one House in certain circumstances (see below), by an absolute majority. If, on the vote for the third reading, no division is called for and there is no dissentient voice, the Speaker draws the attention of the House to the constitutional requirement that the bill must be passed by an absolute majority and directs that the bells be rung. When the bells have ceased ringing the Speaker again states the question and, if no division is called for and there is no dissentient voice, the Speaker directs that the names of those Members present agreeing to the third reading be recorded by the tellers in order to establish that the third reading has been carried by an absolute majority. When only two Members have indicated they would vote ‘No’ after the doors had been locked, the Speaker has directed the names of those voting ‘Aye’ and ‘No’ be recorded, despite the fact that under the usual provisions the division would not have been proceeded with.
If a bill initiated in the House is amended by the Senate and that amendment is agreed to by the House, thus causing a change to the bill, the question on the amendment must also be agreed to by the House by an absolute majority. It follows that an absolute majority is not required in the case of the House disagreeing to an amendment of the Senate, as there is no change to the bill as agreed to by the House.
There was some uncertainty in the past as to whether a bill proposing to alter the Constitution required an absolute majority on the second reading as well as on the third reading. In 1965 the Attorney-General expressed the following opinion:
My own view is that the Second Reading of a Bill is no more than the process through which the Bill passes before it reaches the stage at which the House can decide whether or not to pass it; the passing of the Bill occurs when the question on the Third Reading is agreed to. The fact that amendments can be made in the Committee [detail] stage after the Second Reading, and that the Bill can be refused a Third Reading, or re-committed before the Third Reading is agreed to, confirms this view. I am accordingly of the opinion that an absolute majority is not required at the Second Reading stage and that there is no need to record such a majority at that stage.
This reasoning is supported by standing order 155(c), which states ‘After the third reading the bill has passed the House and no further question may be put’. In recent years the practice has been to establish the existence of an absolute majority only on the third reading—that is, the final act in the passage of the bill through the House.
If a bill does not receive an absolute majority on the third reading, it is laid aside immediately and cannot be revived during the same session. However, in the case of the Constitution Alteration (Simultaneous Elections) Bill 1974, the bill failed to gain an absolute majority on the third reading because of a malfunction of the division bells. On the same day the House agreed to a suspension of standing orders to enable the vote to be rescinded and taken again. The question ‘That this bill be now read a third time’ was then put again and, on division, was agreed to by an absolute majority.
Disagreements between the Houses
Section 128 of the Constitution provides for the situation where there is a deadlock between the Houses on constitution alteration bills. It is possible under certain conditions for a constitution alteration bill twice passed by one House to be submitted to referendum (and hence, if approved, assented to and enacted) even though not passed by the other House—see ‘Constitution alteration bills passed by one House only’ in the Chapter on ‘The Parliament and the role of the House’.
The form of bills introduced into the Senate is governed by the limitations, imposed on the Senate by the Constitution, that a proposed law appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate (see Chapter on ‘Financial legislation’). Bills received from the Senate are therefore either ordinary bills or constitution alteration bills. Only a minority of bills introduced into the House (nowadays generally less than 5%) are in fact received from the Senate.
Introduction and first reading
A bill introduced into and passed by the Senate is conveyed to the House under cover of a message transmitting the bill for concurrence. The message takes the following form:
The Senate has passed a Bill for 'An Act [remainder of long title]', and transmits it to the House of Representatives for its concurrence.
If the House is sitting, the message is delivered to the Chamber by the Usher of the Black Rod where it is received at the Bar by the Serjeant on duty and taken to the Clerk at the Table. If the House is not sitting, the message is delivered to the Clerk or other staff.
Inside the Senate message is a copy of the bill bearing the certificate of the Clerk of the Senate:
THIS bill originated in the Senate; and, having this day passed, is now ready for presentation to the House of Representatives for its concurrence.
At a convenient time in the day’s proceedings the Speaker reads the terms of the message to the House. The action of reading the message in effect presents the bill to the House. The bill is then read a first time without any question being put and, to the necessary extent, then proceeds as if it was a House bill (that is, ordinary bill).
A message has been received from the Senate asking the House to consider immediately a bill earlier transmitted from the Senate. Consideration was not made an order of the day.
The explanatory memorandum for a Senate bill is not presented when the bill is introduced, but immediately prior to the moving of the second reading, whenever that occurs.
If the second reading of a Senate bill is to be moved immediately after its first reading, copies of the bill must be available for distribution in the Chamber. Stocks of the bill are usually received from the Senate when the message transmitting the bill is sent to the House. Leave is required to move the second reading immediately should copies of the bill not be available. When the second reading is moved immediately after the first reading, debate must be adjourned after the Minister’s second reading speech. When copies of the bill are available, it may be the wish of the House that the second reading be moved at a later hour rather than immediately—in this case the debate must also be adjourned after the Minister’s speech unless leave is obtained for it to proceed.
In most cases the second reading of a Senate bill is not moved immediately after its first reading (or at a later hour), and instead a motion is moved that the second reading be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The order of the day for the second reading may be referred to the Federation Chamber. When, on a future sitting day, the order of the day is called on (either in the House or the Federation Chamber), the second reading is moved and the second reading speech made. The second reading debate then generally proceeds directly—the mandatory provision requiring the adjournment of the debate after the Minister’s speech does not apply in these circumstances.
It is usual for a contingent notice to be on the Notice Paper enabling a Minister to move the suspension of standing orders to permit a bill received from the Senate to be passed through all its stages without delay (see page 392).
In the case of a Senate bill for which a private Member has responsibility for carriage, subsequent proceedings follow the procedures for private Members’ bills (see Chapter on ‘Non-government business’).
If the bill is agreed to and not amended by the House, the Clerk’s certificate is attached to the top right hand corner stating that ‘This Bill has been agreed to by the House of Representatives without amendment’. It is returned to the Senate by message in the following form:
The House of Representatives returns to the Senate the Bill for an Act [remainder of long title], and acquaints the Senate that the House of Representatives has agreed to the Bill without amendment.
When a Senate bill has been amended by the House, the bill is returned with a schedule of amendments certified by the Clerk.
The further procedural steps involved when the Senate returns the bill with any of the amendments made by the House disagreed to, or further amendments made, are covered in the Chapter on ‘Senate amendments and requests’.