Bills containing special appropriations

Government expenditure is funded either by annual appropriations, contained in the annual Appropriation Acts (see page 424) or by special appropriations. The majority of total expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund is by way of special appropriation.[19] Special appropriations may be specific or indeterminate in both amount and duration. Those not limited by amount, providing continuing funding for a particular purpose, are known as standing appropriations.[20]

A special appropriation bill is distinguishable from an ordinary bill in that it:

  • contains words which appropriate the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the extent necessary to meet expenditure under the bill; or
  • while not in itself containing words of appropriation, would have the effect of increasing, extending the objects or purposes of, or altering the destination of, the amount that may be paid out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund under existing words of appropriation in an Act. The existing words of appropriation may be in a principal Act to be amended by the bill, or may be in another Act entirely.[21]

Examples where the appropriation is in another Act include:

  • bills that amend the Social Security Act 1991 to provide for, increase or widen eligibility for various social security payments, standing appropriation for which is contained in the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999;
  • bills or amending bills that establish a Special Account.[22] The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 provides standing appropriation for expenditure from Special Accounts;[23]
  • bills that amend the Governor-General Act 1974 or that used to amend the Ministers of State Act 1952[24] to vary the amount provided for the salary of the Governor-General and the salaries of Ministers, respectively, standing appropriations for which are contained in the Constitution.[25]

An example of a bill increasing an amount in a principal Act to be amended was the Apple and Pear Stabilization Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1977 which did not contain actual words of appropriation but extended for the 1978 season financial support under the Apple and Pear Stabilization Act 1971.

An example of a bill altering the destination of an amount was the ABC/SBS Amalgamation Bill 1986 (clause 30) which provided that money already appropriated for the Special Broadcasting Service be directed to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Procedures peculiar to special appropriation bills


The introductory and other stages through which such bills pass are similar to those described in connection with ordinary bills. However, the principle of the financial initiative of the Executive plays an important part in procedures for the initiation and processing of all legislation providing for appropriations of public moneys.

The requirement of section 56 of the Constitution for appropriations to be recommended by a message of the Governor-General is supplemented and given effect to by standing order 180:

  1. All proposals for the appropriation of revenue or moneys require a message to the House from the Governor-General recommending the purpose of the appropriation in accordance with section 56 of the Constitution.
  2. For an Appropriation or Supply Bill, the message must be announced before the bill is introduced.
  3. For other bills appropriating revenue or moneys, a Minister may introduce the bill and the bill may be proceeded with before the message is announced and standing order 147 (message recommending appropriation) applies.
  4. A further message must be received before any amendment can be moved which would increase, or extend the objects and purposes or alter the destination of, a recommended appropriation.

Section 56 has been interpreted by successive governments and the House as applying to a proposed law that would cause an increase in an appropriation of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, whether or not the proposal itself contains words of appropriation.

As the Governor-General acts on ministerial advice, it is not possible for a private Member to obtain the Governor-General’s recommendation for an appropriation. Furthermore, when a recommendation is required, only a bill introduced by a Minister may be proceeded with before the message is announced. Therefore in practice only a Minister may introduce a bill which appropriates public moneys. In 2011 a bill that had been introduced by a private Member was examined and found to be a bill which would, if enacted, both appropriate moneys and impose a charge. The Speaker ruled that the bill could not proceed in its present form. A motion of dissent was debated and defeated.[26]

The permissive element in the standing order stating that such bills ‘may be proceeded with before the message is announced’ has become the firm practice, and messages concerning bills containing a special appropriation are announced after the bill has been read a second time,[27] not before the bill is introduced.[28]

Special appropriation bills which also deal with taxation may be introduced without notice under standing order 178. In practice such bills have also been introduced pursuant to notice and by leave.

Second reading amendment

In the case of a special appropriation bill, a private Member may move a reasoned amendment bearing on the appropriation, even though such an amendment could not be moved during the detail stage. The success of such a reasoned amendment would simply be declaratory of the opinion of the House and would not effect an amendment of the bill itself. Consequently, a second reading amendment is in order to the effect that a bill be withdrawn and re-drafted with a view to providing, for example, that a subsidy paid to gold producers also be paid as a bonus on gold recovered from gold mine dumps and tailings,[29] whereas an amendment to the bill to such effect could not be moved during consideration in detail unless a further message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation for the purposes of the amendment was received. In response to a point of order that a proposed second reading amendment was out of order as it would increase the expenditure contemplated by the proposed legislation, the Speaker ruled that the proposed amendment was merely a declaration of opinion, that it, in itself, did not increase expenditure, and was therefore in order.[30]

Proceedings following second reading

The procedure on special appropriation bills immediately following the second reading differs from ordinary bills in that the Governor-General’s message recommending appropriation is then announced—that is, just before the detailed consideration of the clauses of the bill.

Message recommending appropriation

Prior to August 1990 the terms of any message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation were made known to the House by the Speaker reading them out in full. Current practice is for the Chair just to announce the receipt of the message. The message normally takes the following form:

Governor-General Message No. [ ]
In accordance with the requirements of section 56 of the Constitution, the Governor-General recommends to the House of Representatives that an appropriation be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act [remainder of long title].
Canberra [date]

Messages may however contain precise details on the relevant purposes of the appropriation.[31] Messages recommending an appropriation have been received from the Deputy of the Governor-General[32] and, in the absence of the Governor-General from Australia, from the Administrator.[33]

The message is drafted within the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, which arranges for the Governor-General’s signature and delivers the message to the Clerk of the House.[34]

On occasions in the past a message recommending appropriation was received after the House had completed consideration of a bill. In such cases the message was reported to the House at the first opportunity[35] and the bill was not transmitted to the Senate for its concurrence until the message had been reported. In other circumstances a message not announced at the usual time was announced later, including, by leave, during the consideration in detail stage.[36] Although such procedures may have conformed with the requirement of the standing order then applying, that an appropriation message should be announced after the bill had been read a second time,[37] it was generally the practice to announce the message immediately after the second reading, and this is now the required practice.[38] (A message recommending an appropriation for the purposes of an amendment should be announced before the amendment is moved—see below.)

When bills are considered together after standing orders have been suspended, and it is necessary in respect of any of the bills to announce a message recommending an appropriation, the motion for the suspension of standing orders has included a provision to enable the message(s) to be announced after the motion ‘That the bills be passed’ or ‘That the bills be now read a second time’, etc, has been agreed to.[39]

If after a prorogation, the House agrees to resume, or requests the Senate to resume, consideration of a lapsed bill in respect of which a message recommending an appropriation has been announced in the previous session, a new message is announced.[40]

Message for amendment

If a Minister wishes to move any amendment which would increase, or extend the objects and purposes or alter the destination of, a recommended appropriation, a further message from the Governor-General must be received.[41] The message in this instance recommends that an appropriation be made for the purpose of an amendment (or amendments) to the bill. The wording of the message may reflect the principle of the financial initiative explicitly by stating that the recommendation is for the purposes of amendments to be moved by a Minister.[42] The message is regarded as covering only the amendments immediately before the House, and a further message may be needed for amendments moved on a later occasion, for example in response to Senate requests.

A message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation for the purposes of an amendment to be moved to a bill is announced before the amendment is moved.[43] Normally the message is announced immediately after the message recommending an appropriation for the purposes of the bill.[44] Such a message has been announced, by leave, after the consideration in detail stage had commenced.[45] Where a bill has not been accompanied by a message for the purposes of the bill, a message for the purposes of an amendment has also been announced before the House commenced to consider the bill in detail.[46] A message recommending that the purposes of the appropriation proposed by the main appropriation bill for the year be varied in accordance with an amendment to be moved by a Minister, the proposed amendment being specified in the message, was announced to the House immediately before the bill was further considered in detail.[47]

When the Governor-General by message recommends an appropriation for the purposes of an amendment requested by the Senate in a bill which originated in the House, the message is announced before the requested amendment is considered by the House.[48] A message cannot recommend appropriation to the House in respect of a Senate amendment (quite apart from the question of the validity of the amendment), as the recommendation must be made to the House in which the proposal originated.[49] A replacement message has been provided where the long title of an appropriation bill has been amended.[50]

Consideration in detail

The only additional consideration in respect of special appropriation bills at the detail stage, not in common with ordinary bills, is imposed by standing order 180 and the principle of the financial initiative of the Executive. As outlined above, no amendment of a proposal for the appropriation of any public moneys may be moved which would increase, or extend the objects and purposes or alter the destination of, the appropriation recommended unless a further message is received.[51] This restriction effectively prevents private Members from moving such amendments.

A proposed amendment has been ruled out of order because it appeared to involve an appropriation,[52] or because its effect would be to increase the appropriation required,[53] alter the purpose of the appropriation,[54] alter the destination of the appropriation,[55] or go beyond the appropriation recommended.[56]

The assessment of whether amendments proposed by private Members would be in order can be difficult. At one extreme it may be argued that virtually any change in any bill will have some financial impact and, at the other extreme, it may be claimed that, unless an amendment explicitly and directly increases or alters an appropriation, it may be moved by a private Member. It is considered that neither of these positions is valid and that the only proper course is to examine each proposed amendment on its merits. The test that should be applied is to ask what is expected to be the practical result or consequence of the amendment in so far as an appropriation is concerned. An amendment by a private Member to a bill may be out of order, for instance, even though the bill as introduced did not have any direct financial impact, if it amended a principal Act and the Member sought to use the opportunity provided by the bill to move an amendment which would increase or vary the appropriation in the principal Act. It has been considered that the provisions of standing order 180 do not prevent a private Member from moving an amendment which, if successful, would reduce ‘savings’ proposed in a bill, provided the effect was not to increase expenditure above that already provided for in the principal Act.[57]

It is not unusual for a Member to be advised in advance that a proposed amendment may be ruled out of order by the Chair on one of the grounds mentioned, but sometimes Members have proceeded to propose an amendment so that they could make a particular point. A Member unable to move an amendment in such circumstances may choose to put his or her view on the matter to the House in an appropriate second reading amendment,[58] or to read the amendment they would have moved into the Hansard record.[59]