Order of business
Following the reading of prayers the House proceeds to its ordinary order of business, as follows:
- Presentation of petitions
- Committee and delegation business and private Members’ business
- Government business
- 90 second statements
- Question Time
- Presentation of documents
- Ministerial statements
- Government business
- Adjournment debate
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
- Government business
- 90 second statements
- Question Time
- Presentation of documents
- Matter of public importance
- Ministerial statements
- Government business
- Adjournment debate
Business on Mondays
The arrangements for the presentation and consideration of reports from committees and delegations, private Members’ business, Members’ statements and grievance debate are described in detail in the Chapter on ‘Non-government business’; the presentation of petitions is covered in the Chapter on ‘Documents’.
Motions to set or vary the order of business
If, for a particular day, it is desired to vary the order of business provided by standing order 34—for example, to change the sequence or change a specified time—a motion is moved (usually by leave, or on notice) to suspend standing orders to provide for the change.
If the House is to meet on a day not provided for in standing order 34—that is, on a Friday (or possibly on a Saturday), or if for a particular day it is desired to replace completely the normal order of business set down by standing order 34, a motion may be moved to suspend standing orders to set the order for that day. If a change to the time or day of meeting is involved, provision for the new time of meeting and the proposed order of business for the day may be included in the one motion. When such a motion has been agreed to, it is not in order to move a further suspension of standing orders to vary the order of business which has just been agreed to.
To allow for change of mind or circumstance it is common for the phrase ‘unless otherwise ordered’ to be included in motions to suspend standing orders for such purposes. A further variation can then be achieved by a second motion (on or without notice) without the need to rescind the original motion.
When a sitting continues over more than one day, the business of the initial day continues (i.e. continuation of government business) unless a variation is agreed to.
House of Representatives order of business
(Operating from September 2016)
Ordinary order of business
Notices and orders of the day
Most of the time of the House is taken up with government notices and orders of the day. The term ‘notices’ refers to new items of business on the Notice Paper—that is, advice of motions to be moved or bills to be presented. ‘Orders of the day’ are items of business the House has ordered to be considered (or further considered) on a particular day.
Notices and orders of the day have precedence of each other according to the order in which the Government has determined that they should be placed on the Notice Paper. As each item is disposed of (or adjourned for future consideration) the Clerk calls on the next item in the order in which it appears on the Notice Paper. Other business may be interspersed between items on the Notice Paper when, for example, appropriation and supply bills, and bills and proposals dealing with taxation, are introduced. These bills and proposals may be brought in by a Minister without notice. Although they are not listed on the Notice Paper, they would normally be included in the Daily Program at a point which reflects the wishes of the Government.
After the Speaker calls on the business of the day, the Clerk announces the first notice or order of the day. As each notice is called on, the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary responsible moves the motion for which notice has been given or presents the bill for which notice of presentation has been given. Upon an order of the day being read by the Clerk the Speaker calls the next Member to speak, giving priority to the Member who previously moved the adjournment of the debate or the Member who was speaking when the debate was previously interrupted and who is thus entitled to pre-audience. In most cases debate continues on an item of business until it is finally disposed of by the House, but on some occasions a debate, particularly a lengthy debate, may be interrupted and adjourned to enable other business to be dealt with.
If a government notice or order of the day is to be dealt with other than during time for government business leave is required.
Determination of precedence
Government business takes precedence over all other business except for those times when, under standing or sessional orders, private Members’ business (before 1988 known as general business) and other non-government business has precedence (see Chapter on ‘Non-government business’). In recent years approximately 55 per cent of the time of the House has been taken up by government business.
The Leader of the House can arrange the order of government notices and orders of the day on the Notice Paper as he or she thinks fit. The Selection Committee determines the order of precedence of private Members’ business.
Postponement of notices and orders of the day—re-arrangement of items of business
The order in which items of business are taken in the House is determined by the order of the notices and orders of the day on the Notice Paper. Variation of the predetermined order is generally achieved by the selective postponement of items of business. The day for moving a notice of motion or a notice of intention to present a bill may be changed or the notice postponed:
by the Member who gave notice moving a motion without notice to postpone the motion;
by the Member who gave notice changing the day proposed for moving the motion to a later day by notifying the Clerk in writing before the motion is called on;
by the Member who gave the notice setting a future time for moving the motion when the notice is called on; or
by another Member, at the Member’s request, setting a future time when the notice is called on.
The practice of the House is that one Minister may act for another and, accordingly, a Minister may move the postponement of a notice given by another Minister.
An order of the day may be postponed on motion without notice moved by the Member in charge of the order or, in the Member’s absence, by another Member at the Member’s request. The Member in charge is the Member who moved the motion or presented the bill. As with a notice the practice of the House is that one Minister may act for another Minister in moving for the postponement of an order of the day. The motion should be moved before the order is called on.
A private Member cannot move to vary the order of government business in the House, nor can he or she move an amendment to a postponement motion which would have the effect of varying the order of government business. An amendment expressing lack of confidence in the Prime Minister has been moved to a postponement motion.
A Minister may not move for the postponement of an item of private Members’ business. Standing orders have been suspended on the motion of a Minister to enable a particular private Member’s business item to be called on during time when government business would normally be considered, and to make alternative arrangements for private Members’ business.
Postponement of an order of the day may be until a later hour of the day, until the next sitting or until a specified day. When business has been postponed until a later hour it may be called back on at a convenient time without further action of a procedural nature. Consideration of an order of the day has been postponed until certain bills, which were themselves orders of the day, had become law.
Member absent or failing to rise when notice called on
A motion not moved when called on is withdrawn from the Notice Paper unless the Member who gave notice, or another Member at his or her request, sets (by orally informing the House) a future time for moving the motion.
Orders of the day referred to the Federation Chamber
Government business orders of the day may be referred to or recalled from the Federation Chamber, for consideration at a later hour that day, by a programming declaration made in the House by the Leader of the House or the Chief Government Whip (or other whip on his or her behalf). An order of the day may also be referred or recalled by motion moved without notice by a Minister.
Discharge of orders of the day
An order of the day remains in the possession of the House and remains on the Notice Paper until the House disposes of it or a motion for its discharge is agreed to. On an order of the day being read, it may, on motion without notice moved by the Member in charge of it, be discharged. In the case of government orders of the day a motion for discharge may be moved by any Minister. In 1972 Speaker Aston ruled privately that a motion to discharge an order of the day must be moved immediately the order is read and there can be no debate on the order of the day after the order is read and a motion moved for its discharge.
Orders of the day may also be discharged by motion moved pursuant to notice or by leave. Generally, such motions encompass multiple orders of the day, and are moved periodically to clear the Notice Paper of items of government business on which no further debate is required. Less frequently, an individual item of business, or a group of items, may be discharged—for example, when the Government has decided not to proceed with bills. Under standing order 42, private Members’ notices and orders of the day not called on within eight consecutive sitting Mondays are automatically dropped from the Notice Paper.
Notices and orders of the day not called on
At the adjournment of the House each day any notices or orders of the day which have not been called on are set down on the Notice Paper for the next sitting, after any notices or orders of the day set down for that day. These provisions operate subject to standing order 45 which provides that the Leader of the House can arrange the order of government notices and orders of the day on the Notice Paper as he or she thinks fit. The Selection Committee has a similar power in respect of private Members’ notices and orders of the day (see Chapter on ‘Non-government business’).
90 second statements
At 1.30 pm the Speaker interrupts business and calls on statements by Members. Any Member except a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary may make a statement for no longer than 90 seconds. The period lasts until 2 pm. For further information see Chapter on ‘Non-government business’.
Although Question Time is scheduled to start at 2 pm, other matters sometimes intervene before the Speaker calls for questions without notice—for example, ministerial arrangements may be announced, the deaths of former Members may be reported or condolence motions may be moved, valedictory remarks made, statements may be made by indulgence, motions may be moved by agreement about significant events, or the consideration of a bill completed. Standing orders are from time to time suspended to alter the time—for example, to 2.30 pm to permit Members to attend a lunch-time function, or to allow other business to be dealt with at 2 pm. It has been considered that standing orders should be suspended to allow a ministerial statement to be made at 2 pm.
The length of time the House devotes to Question Time is controlled by the Government. The Prime Minister or a Minister determines the time for questions to conclude by asking that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper, and may do so even if a Member is in the process of asking a question or has received the call to ask a question. After Question Time has concluded, a Minister may wish:
to provide information which has come to hand in relation to a question asked earlier;
to provide additional information in respect of an answer given earlier; or
to correct an answer given earlier.
It is within the province of the Chair to grant indulgence for this to be done.
Questions without notice, having been called on by the Chair, may not be proceeded with if the Prime Minister or a Minister in charge of arrangements immediately asks that they be placed on notice. This may happen on occasions when the time of the House has been taken up by another matter, for example, when debate on a no confidence or censure motion has been given precedence.
For more detail on Question Time procedures see Chapter on ‘Questions’.
Presentation of documents
The presentation of documents follows Question Time. Documents may be presented by the Speaker or Ministers, pursuant to statute or otherwise, or by order of the House. Formerly documents were presented individually, but arrangements in effect since 1988 have permitted the presentation of documents together. The arrangements for this are:
by 12 noon on the day of presentation a schedule of documents to be presented is made available to the Manager of Opposition Business and later circulated to all Members in the Chamber;
following questions without notice a Minister presents the documents as listed on the schedule;
documents so listed are recorded in the Votes and Proceedings and Hansard;
if a schedule has not been circulated, or if documents have not been included on the schedule, the documents in question must be presented individually; and
if a statement is to be made or a motion moved in relation to a document, a Minister may present the document separately.
There may be other business arising out of the presentation of a document, such as motions to take note of the document or to make it a Parliamentary Paper. The motion ‘That the House take note of the document’ is used as a device to enable a document to be debated, either at the time it is presented or, more usually, at a later sitting.
For documents presented at other times see page 264, and see Chapter on ‘Documents’.
Matter of public importance
If a proposed matter of public importance has been given in a written statement to the Speaker and determined to be in order, the Speaker reads the statement to the House. If the matter is supported by eight Members, discussion ensues. The discussion may be terminated at any stage by the House agreeing to the motion, moved by any Member, ‘That the business of the day be called on’. The time for discussion is limited to one hour.
For further information see Chapter on ‘Non-government business’.
By leave of the House Ministers may make statements concerning government policy or other matters for which they have ministerial responsibility. Ministerial statements are usually made at the time indicated in the routine of business, following presentation of documents and discussion of matter of public importance, although they may also be made at other times. On occasions leave has not been sought by the Government or has been refused by the Opposition and standing orders have been suspended to enable a statement to be made.
When a Minister has been granted leave to make a ministerial statement, the Leader of the Opposition, or Member representing, is deemed to have been granted leave to speak in response to the statement for an equal amount of time.
Ministerial statements are not an everyday occurrence, although their frequency has increased in recent years. For further detail, including comment on the need for leave, see ‘Statements by leave’ in Chapter on ‘Control and conduct of debate’.
Matters accorded precedence
The ordinary order of business may be superseded by matters which are accorded precedence by practice or pursuant to the standing orders, or by other matters which may intervene or interrupt proceedings.
Censure or no confidence motions and amendments
A motion of which notice has been given or an amendment which expresses a censure of or no confidence in the Government takes precedence of all other business until disposed of by the House, and additional speaking time is provided, if it is accepted by a Minister as a censure or no confidence motion or amendment under standing order 48.
This form of motion has been accepted immediately after the notice has been given orally (when notices could be given orally) or immediately after the notice has been reported to the House by the Clerk. In these circumstances it is necessary to suspend standing orders or secure leave to enable the motion to be moved immediately. A no confidence amendment has been similarly accepted immediately it has been moved. If it is not accepted by a Minister for the purposes of standing order 48, a notice of a no confidence motion does not attract any automatic precedence and is placed on the Notice Paper under private Members’ business. However, even if it is not accepted by a Minister for the purposes of standing order 48, action may still be taken to bring the debate on early (in which case the normal time limits for a motion apply). The notice may also be granted precedence on a later day when accepted by a Minister.
For many years it was the practice of the House to adjourn until the next sitting following notice of a no confidence motion. This practice has not been followed since 1947.
The House has considered other business before a censure or no confidence motion or amendment has been finally disposed of. In 1949 standing orders were suspended to enable a censure motion to take precedence of all other business until disposed of. The censure motion was then debated and adjourned to the next sitting. Prior to the resumption of the debate on the next sitting day, several items of business were dealt with including petitions, questions without notice, statements by leave, and the introduction of bills. However, if it is the wish of the House to proceed with some of the normal order of business, such as questions without notice, petitions and other items of business, as in the above circumstances, it would be preferable to suspend standing orders to enable this to be done. This course was followed in 1961, although the Speaker questioned whether other business should intervene during a no confidence debate.
An amendment censuring the Government and motions censuring or expressing no confidence in the Government have been granted precedence following suspension of the standing orders, even though they were not accepted by a Minister under standing order 48. In these cases the normal time limits for a motion apply.
Standing orders have been suspended to allow a motion of censure of a Minister, which does not attract any precedence, to be moved forthwith and to be moved forthwith and to take precedence. Such motions have also been moved without notice and debated immediately by leave.
For a more detailed account see ‘Motions of no confidence or censure’ in Chapter on ‘Motions’.
Matters of privilege
A Member may rise at any time to speak on a matter of privilege suddenly arising. Until a matter of privilege is disposed of (for example, by the Speaker giving a decision immediately or stating that the matter will be considered), or unless debate on a motion arising from a matter is adjourned, it suspends the consideration and decision of every other question. However, precedence over other business is not given to any motion if, in the opinion of the Speaker, a prima facie case of breach of privilege has not been made out or the matter has not been raised at the earliest opportunity.
When consideration of a substantive motion on a matter of privilege or a report from the Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests is made an order of the day, the practice is to place it on the Notice Paper with a note ‘to take precedence’. If it is not desired to consider the motion or report as the first item of business, a positive motion to postpone the order is necessary. It has been the practice of the House to proceed with the ordinary order of business up to, but not including, ‘Government business’ before a privilege motion or report is considered.
For further information see Chapter on ‘Parliamentary Privilege’.
Motions of thanks or condolence
Precedence is ordinarily given, by courtesy, to a motion of thanks of the House or to a motion of condolence. The practice of the House is that condolence motions or references to the deaths of certain persons are normally dealt with immediately following Prayers or at 2 pm, after which the ordinary order of business may be proceeded with. Traditionally following a condolence motion the House could be adjourned, or suspended to a fixed hour, as a mark of respect; however, this is now unusual. If the House has been suspended, the ordinary order of business may be proceeded with on the resumption of the sitting.
For further information see ‘Motion of condolence’ and ‘Motion of thanks’ in Chapter on ‘Motions’.
Motions for leave of absence to a Member
A motion to grant leave of absence to a Member can be moved without notice and has priority over all other business. For convenience the motion is usually moved after presentation of documents, but it may be moved at other times.
Announcements of ministerial arrangements
The Prime Minister from time to time informs the House of changes in the Ministry, of the absence or illness of Ministers, of any acting and representational arrangements that are made within the Ministry, and of changes in departmental and administrative arrangements. It is the normal practice for such an announcement to be made before questions without notice to assist Members in directing their questions. If the Prime Minister is not present the senior Minister present makes the announcement. The Leader of the Opposition may make similar announcements in respect of the shadow ministry. Ministry and shadow ministry lists may also be presented.
Swearing-in of Members and announcements of returns to writs
Every Member of the House must make an oath or affirmation of allegiance before taking his or her seat. Any Member absent at the opening of a Parliament is sworn in at the first opportunity. On the election of a Member at a by-election the Speaker may announce the return to the writ immediately after Prayers, the new Member then being introduced and sworn in, although on occasions the new Member has been sworn in just before Question Time.
Other matters that can interrupt the ordinary order of business
With the leave of the Chair, a Member may explain how he or she has been misrepresented or raise another matter of a personal nature. The usual practice is for a Member desiring to make a personal explanation to inform the Speaker and for the Speaker to call on the Member at a convenient time after Question Time. This does not prevent Members making personal explanations at other times, subject to the overall authority of the Speaker, but such a course is not encouraged.
For more detail see ‘Misrepresentation’ and ‘Personal explanations’ in Chapter on ‘Control and conduct of debate’.
Acknowledgment and admission of distinguished visitors
The Speaker may acknowledge the presence of distinguished visitors in the gallery and, with the implied concurrence of the House, distinguished visitors have on occasion been admitted to a seat on the floor of the House. This action has been taken by the Speaker immediately after Prayers but it can occur at any time during a day’s proceedings. It is most common for distinguished visitors to be present during questions without notice.
Announcements and statements by the Speaker
The Speaker may be called upon to make a number of announcements during the course of a day’s proceedings. These include messages from the Governor-General notifying assent to bills and messages from the Senate. When such details are available prior to the meeting of the House, the announcements may be held until after the presentation of documents. When they become available later during the course of the sitting, they may be announced between items of business. The Speaker also makes statements to the House, for example, on matters of parliamentary administration; such statements are made between items of business or occasionally at another time convenient to the Speaker.
Committee reports and documents
Although the normal order of business provides periods on Mondays of each sitting week for the presentation of reports of parliamentary committees, the standing orders also permit committee reports to be presented at any time when other business is not before the House. When reports are presented in this way (that is, outside the allocated period), leave of the House must be obtained for a Member to make a statement on the report at the time of presentation. Leave is not required to move a motion in connection with the report (usually ‘That the House take note of the document’).
Documents may be presented by the Speaker or Ministers at any time when other business is not before the House. For wider discussion on the presentation of documents see Chapter on ‘Documents’.
Matter of special interest
At any time when other business is not before the House a Minister may indicate to the House that it is proposed to discuss a matter of special interest on which it is not desired to move a specific motion. A matter of special interest has been discussed by the House on only one occasion when it was discussed early in the order of business prior to the giving of notices. For more detail see ‘Motion to discuss matter of special interest’ in Chapter on ‘Motions’.
Suspension of standing orders
It is not unusual in the functioning of the House for it to be found necessary to suspend standing orders, or a particular standing order, to permit certain action to be taken. Common instances are to grant unlimited or extended time for particular speeches, to permit the introduction of particular bills without notice and their passage without delay, or the consideration of certain bills together, to enable censure or other motions to be moved, and to enable the introduction of new business after the usual time of adjournment. The suspension of standing orders may also affect the ordinary order of business, for example, when it is to enable an item of private Members’ business to be called on in other than the normal order, to allow a notice of motion to be called on immediately, the notice having been given for the next sitting, or to put in place a special routine.
Having received the call from the Chair, a motion to suspend standing orders may be moved by any Member without notice, but to be passed it must be carried by an absolute majority of all Members (76 votes in a House of 150 Members). If the motion is moved pursuant to notice, pursuant to contingent notice, or with the leave of the House, it may be carried by a simple majority of Members present. A motion for the suspension of standing orders may only be moved if the substance of the motion is relevant to the item of business before the House, or, alternatively, when there is no business before the House, that is, between items of business.
For further information see ‘Motion to suspend standing or sessional orders’ in Chapter on ‘Motions’.
Points of order
Any Member may raise a point of order at any time which, until disposed of, suspends the consideration and decision of every other question. A point of order may lead to a ruling being given by the Chair which may be objected to and a motion of dissent moved. A motion of dissent must be debated and determined immediately.
For more detailed discussion see ‘Speaker’s rulings’ in Chapter on ‘The Speaker, Deputy Speakers and officers’.
The proceedings of the House may also be interrupted by disorder arising in the House or in the galleries. In the case of grave disorder arising, the Speaker may adjourn the House or suspend the sitting until a time to be named.
Absence of a Minister
There is a convention that a Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) should be present in the Chamber at all times, and in practice Governments maintain a roster of ‘Duty Ministers’. It is of course desirable from the Government’s point of view, and expected by Members, that there should be a Member present able to react with authority on behalf of the Government to any unexpected development. There is obviously a need for a government representative to be ‘in charge of’ items of government business. However, even when other matters are before the House—for example, during private Members’ business, or adjournment or grievance debates—it is expected that a government representative will be available to take note of or to respond to matters raised. A short absence of a Minister may go unremarked, but sometimes a point of order will be taken and the Chair’s attention drawn to the situation. In such circumstances the Chair has sometimes intervened on his or her own initiative—for example, by asking a government whip to fetch a Minister—and on one occasion has even had the bells rung to secure a Minister’s attendance.
There is not a similar requirement for an opposition frontbencher to be present, although this does facilitate the business of the House and is desirable from the Opposition’s point of view. In practice a roster is maintained.