Chapter 14 | Control and conduct of debate

The term ‘debate’ is a technical one meaning the argument for and against a question. In practice, the proceedings between a Member moving a motion (including the moving of the motion)[1] and the ascertainment by the Chair of the decision of the House constitute a debate. A decision may be reached without debate. In addition, many speeches by Members which are part of the normal routine of the House are excluded from the definition of debate, because there is no motion before the House. These include the asking and answering of questions, ministerial statements, matters of public importance, Members’ statements and personal explanations. However, the word ‘debate’ is often used more loosely, to cover all words spoken by Members during House proceedings.

It is by debate that the House performs one of its more important roles, as emphasised by Redlich:

Without speech the various forms and institutions of parliamentary machinery are destitute of importance and meaning. Speech unites them into an organic whole and gives to parliamentary action self-consciousness and purpose. By speech and reply expression and reality are given to all the individualities and political forces brought by popular election into the representative assembly. Speaking alone can interpret and bring out the constitutional aims for which the activity of parliament is set in motion, whether they are those of the Government or those which are formed in the midst of the representative assembly. It is in the clash of speech upon speech that national aspirations and public opinion influence these aims, reinforce or counteract their strength. Whatever may be the constitutional and political powers of a parliament, government by means of a parliament is bound to trust to speech for its driving power, to use it as the main form of its action.[2]

The effectiveness of the debating process in Parliament has been seen as very much dependent on the principle of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech in the Parliament is guaranteed by the Constitution,[3] and derives ultimately from the United Kingdom Bill of Rights of 1688.[4] The privilege of freedom of speech was won by the British Parliament only after a long struggle to gain freedom of action from all influence of the Crown, courts of law and Government. As Redlich said:

… it was never a fight for an absolute right to unbridled oratory … From the earliest days there was always strict domestic discipline in the House and strict rules as to speaking were always enforced … the principle of parliamentary freedom of speech is far from being a claim of irresponsibility for members; it asserts a responsibility exclusively to the House where a member sits, and implies that this responsibility is really brought home by the House which is charged with enforcing it.[5]

The Speaker plays an important role in the control and conduct of debate through the power and responsibilities vested in the Chair by the House in its rules and practice. The difficulties of maintaining control of debate, and reconciling the need for order with the rights of Members, ‘requires a conduct, on the part of the Speaker, full of resolution, yet of delicacy … ’.[6]

Manner and right of speech

When Members may speak

Matters not open to debate

General rule—a Member may speak once to each question

Moving and seconding motions

Moving and speaking to amendments

Leave to speak again

Speaking in reply

Misrepresentation of a speech

Personal explanations

Other matters by indulgence of the Chair

Statements by indulgence referred to Federation Chamber

Statements by indulgence—Speech time limits

Statements by leave

Ministerial statements

Leave requirement for ministerial statements

Statements on a topic following suspension of standing orders

Allocation of the call

List of speakers

Manner of speech

Remarks to be addressed to Chair

Place of speaking

Reading of speeches

Language of debate

Incorporation of unread material into Hansard

Display of articles to illustrate speeches

Citation of documents not before the House

Rules governing content of speeches

Relevancy in debate

General principles and exceptions

Cognate debate

Persistent irrelevance or tedious repetition


Allusion to previous debate or proceedings

References to committee proceedings

References to Members

Offensive or disorderly words

Reflections on Members

Reflections on the House and votes of the House

References to the Senate and Senators

References to the Queen, the Governor-General and State Governors

References to other governments and their representatives

Reflections on members of the judiciary

Sub judice convention

Right to legislate and discuss matters

Discretion of the Chair

Civil or criminal matter

Chair’s knowledge of the case

Matters before royal commissions and other bodies

Interruptions to Members speaking



Curtailment of speeches and debate

Curtailment of speeches

Time limits for speeches

Extension of time

Closure of Member

Adjournment and curtailment of debate

Motion for adjournment of debate

Leave to continue remarks

Closure of question


Other provisions for the interruption and conclusion of debates

Powers of Chair to enforce order

Sanctions against disorderly conduct

Direction to leave the Chamber

Naming of Members

Proceedings following the naming of a Member

Gross disorder by a Member

Removal by Serjeant-at-Arms

Grave disorder in the House

Disorder in the Federation Chamber

Other matters of order relating to Members