Procedure Office


Legislative drafting and procedural support to non-executive senators.

Secretariat support for legislative scrutiny committees.

Procedural research services.

Parliamentary information for public servants and the community.

Policy support and funding for inter-parliamentary relations.

Performance information Performance results
Procedural advice is sound and timely, enabling the instructing senator to fulfil their role. Senators and their staff continued to acknowledge the accuracy and value of procedural advice.
Legislative amendments and private senators’ bills are constitutionally and legally sound and meet the requirements of instructing senators. Legislative amendments and bills were accurate, and were prepared within required timeframes and to the satisfaction of senators.
Secretariat support to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is accurate, of a high standard and timely. Advice and documents prepared for the legislative scrutiny committees were accurate, of a high standard and provided within the timeframes set by the Senate and the committees.

Parliamentary research information is accurate, timely and comprehensive.

Seminars, lectures and other parliamentary information projects are provided to increase the awareness of the work and role of the Parliament.

Inter-parliamentary functions are supported to the satisfaction of participants.

Accurate and comprehensive parliamentary research was provided within required timeframes.

Seminars and lectures were held in accordance with the programmed schedule, and public information projects were delivered in accordance with the required timeframes. Training was provided to the satisfaction of participants, demonstrated by positive feedback obtained through evaluation processes.

Inter-parliamentary functions were carried out to the satisfaction of participants.


The Procedure Office is led by the Clerk Assistant (Procedure) and has three functional areas, as shown in figure 8.

Figure 8 – Elements and responsibilities of the Procedure Office

Executive and legislative drafting
Jackie Morris, Clerk Assistant

Procedural advice, support and training.

Drafting of legislative amendments and private senators’ bills.

Procedural support and public information Legislative scrutiny

Toni Matulick, Director, Procedure and Research

Legislative drafting and procedural advice

Publications, seminars, public lectures and exhibitions

Parliamentary liaison and research on parliamentary matters

Anita Coles, Secretary, Scrutiny of Bills Committee and Regulations and Ordinances Committee

Toni Dawes, Secretary and Zoe Hutchinson, Acting Secretary, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights1

Secretariat, advisory and administrative support to the committees

The office provides a range of advisory, research and public information services closely aligned with the role and work of the Senate, including legislative drafting services and support for the Parliament’s legislative scrutiny committees.

The demand for procedural and legislative advice and support is driven by the requirements of senators and the Senate. The work of the secretariats of the legislative scrutiny committees is similarly driven by the volume of legislation coming before the Senate and additional inquiries undertaken by the committees.

The Procedure Office monitors levels of satisfaction with its performance through formal and informal channels such as seminar evaluation forms and direct advice from senators and their staff, and members of the public.

The full-time equivalent staffing level for the Procedure Office in 2018–19 was 20.1 (29.5 in 2017–18). The cost of providing the services of the Procedure Office in 2018–19 was $4.3m ($5.7m in 2017–18). Staffing and budget figures have reduced significantly because the 2017–18 figures include staff and funding for the Parliamentary Education Office (PEO) which was separated from the Procedure Office at the beginning of 2018–19 to better reflect the distinct role of the PEO.

Procedural support

In 2018–19, the office assisted non-executive senators and their staff by providing advice relating to the role and work of the Senate and its committees. There was strong demand for such advice, particularly during sitting periods. Advice was provided on many procedural issues, including the constitutional powers of the Senate, the legislative process, the process for disallowance of delegated legislation, reference of matters to committees, orders for production of documents and opportunities for debate. The office also provided research support to the Clerk and Deputy Clerk on procedural matters.

Staff ensured the accuracy of advice by researching appropriate precedents and consulting other departmental officers, particularly the Clerk and the Deputy Clerk. Advice was non-partisan, consistent, and provided to senators and their staff in a timely fashion often within very short time frames.

In 2018–19, the office prepared an average of 19 procedural scripts per sitting day for use by senators in the chamber, and a total of 689 scripts for the year. This represented a significant increase in scripts per day on the previous year when an average of 13 scripts per sitting day were drafted. These scripts assist senators to pursue matters of concern to them through, for example, orders for the production of documents, committee references and the introduction of bills.

The office also checked material, particularly procedural scripts and draft motions, for procedural accuracy on request from senators and their staff. The advice provided was accurate and provided in time to enable senators to use this material in the Senate and elsewhere.

Legislative drafting

In 2018–19, the office provided legislative support to senators by drafting amendments and private senators’ bills, primarily for non-government senators.

The office prepared and circulated 26 second reading amendments (a small decrease on the previous year, when 30 second reading amendments were circulated). The office also drafted and circulated 122 sets of committee of the whole amendments, comprising 473 individual amendments in 2018–19. This represented a significant decrease on the 1,011 amendments circulated on 177 sheets in the previous year primarily as a result of there being fewer sitting weeks due to the election in May 2019.

A further 65 sets of amendments were requested and drafted, but not circulated. Reasons that amendment sheets may not be circulated include the sponsoring senator deciding not to proceed with the amendments, or amendments being drafted to inform negotiations between parties or as an alternative position to circulated amendments.

In accordance with section 53 of the Constitution, four sets of amendments were framed as requests to the House of Representatives. For these requests, the office produced statements of reasons to explain why the amendments were framed as requests, as required by the Senate’s procedures.

Senators continued to use private senators’ bills as a means of furthering debate on policy issues and, in some cases, influencing the government to pursue legislative action. In 2018–19, the office received requests for 50 private senators’ bills, and 39 private senators’ bills were introduced. This was a surprisingly high level of demand for drafting and introduction of private senators’ bills in the context of an election year with a reduced number of sitting weeks. Two private senators’ bills were passed by the Senate during 2018–19.

Figure 9 summarises legislative drafting and procedural services provided to senators over the past four years.

Figure 9 – Legislative drafting and procedural advice services provided to senators

Service 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19
Committee of the whole amendments circulated 1,158 667 1011 473
Second reading amendments circulated 22 43 30 26
Private senators’ bills introduced 17 21 31 39
Procedural scripts prepared 593 701 727 689

Informal feedback from senators and staff from various political parties, confirmed the quality of the procedural advice and legislative drafting service provided by the office including where support was provided within tight time constraints. As a result of the timing of the election, the next formal survey of senators regarding these services will be held in 2019–20.

Support for legislative scrutiny committees

During the year, the Legislative Scrutiny Unit provided secretariat, research and administrative support to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The committees examine all bills and instruments according to each committee’s terms of reference. The committees report each sitting week on the scrutiny review undertaken and also report annually, outlining their work for each year and highlighting the significant matters they have pursued.

The Regulations and Ordinances Committee secretariat examined 1,202 legislative instruments (1,838 in 2017–18) and drafted 10 reports, containing comments on 229 legislative instruments, raising matters related to the committee’s scrutiny terms of reference (under Senate standing order 23). In addition, the committee conducted an inquiry and tabled a report on its role and future direction, and the adequacy of the existing framework for parliamentary scrutiny of delegated legislation. The committee made several recommendations, and identified a number of changes to its practices, to strengthen that framework.

The Scrutiny of Bills Committee secretariat examined 192 bills (260 in 2017–18) and drafted 10 reports, containing comments on 73 bills (117 in 2017–18), raising matters relating to the committee’s scrutiny terms of reference (under Senate standing order 24).

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights secretariat examined 181 bills (266 in 2017–18) and drafted nine reports containing comments on 49 bills (71 in 2017–18), raising matters relating to the committee’s scrutiny terms of reference (contained in the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011). The secretariat also examined 1,144 disallowable and exempt legislative instruments (1,697 in 2017–18) and drafted comments on 24 instruments (62 in 2017–18).

The work of the committees in scrutinising bills and legislative instruments supports parliamentary consideration of legislation in a number of important ways, including influencing the drafting of bills and legislative instruments, informing debate in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and resulting in amendments to bills and the disallowance of instruments.

Public information and parliamentary research

The Procedure and Research section helps increase knowledge of the role and work of the Senate by coordinating a range of lectures, seminars and public information activities and producing parliamentary resources.

Training programs

Procedural training for senators and staff was a particular focus in 2018–19. The section organised orientation seminars for new senators who filled casual vacancies or will commence their terms on 1 July 2019. The one-day program in August 2018 and two-day program in June 2019 focused on key concepts and contacts for advice and practical assistance. As with the previous year, a number of one-on-one sessions were also provided to new senators by senior officers. Formal and informal feedback indicated that the program is regarded by new senators as an essential part of their preparation for their parliamentary duties.

Work commenced on a joint project, with the Senate Public Information Office, to develop a central online source of practical procedural information and resources for senators and staff: the Procedural Hub. This online material will augment training programs offered to senators’ staff on conducting business in the Senate.

The number of attendees at seminars provided to public service agencies held steady in 2018–19 while demand for bespoke programs continued to grow. The number of senators’ staff training sessions in 2018–19 was reduced due to the election year. Specialised training sessions and a professional development placement were also offered to Senate staff to deepen procedural and drafting skills within the department.

Open Day 2018

Open Day in October 2018 celebrated the 30th anniversary of Parliament House. The department provided displays and public access to the Senate chamber and private areas including the President’s and Government Whip’s offices. Over 8,600 visitors attended.

50th anniversary of the Senate committee system

The section also commenced a project to mark 50 years since the establishment of the Senate committee system in June 1970. A new website under development will present historic information on the work of committees through interactive maps, timelines and other data visualisations.

Figure 10 – Seminars, training programs and lectures, 2015–16 to 2018–19

Service 2015–16 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19
Senators’ orientation sessions nil 2 1 2
Senators’ staff training sessions 9 10 12 6

Seminars for public service officers

  • number of seminars
  • number of attendees





Public lectures

  • number of lectures
  • number of attendees
  • live online views





Inter-parliamentary relations and capacity building

The Australian Parliament’s international program focuses on strengthening engagement and cooperation with parliaments internationally, with an emphasis on parliamentary relations with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The program’s activities and projects in 2018–19 were coordinated by the International and Parliamentary Relations Office (IPRO) and the Parliamentary Skills Centre (PSC), with input from all four parliamentary departments. IPRO manages incoming and outgoing delegation programs, membership of inter-parliamentary organisations, and the international interests and travel of senators and members. The PSC is responsible for all parliamentary strengthening and capacity building programs of the Australian Parliament, including study programs for visiting parliamentarians and staff of other parliaments.

IPRO and PSC are offices administered by the Department of the House of Representatives, and IPRO is funded jointly by the Department of the Senate and the Department of the House of Representatives. A detailed description of the work of IPRO and PSC is provided in the annual report of the Department of the House of Representatives.

Performance outlook

The reduction in the number of senators on the cross-bench, as a result of the 2019 election, is likely to moderate demand for procedural and legislative drafting support over the course of 2019–20. However, in the short term, it will require increased focus upon training and support for a large number of new senators and staff. This will be addressed through the delivery of scheduled and tailored training sessions for senators’ staff, and the completion of a project to enhance the online procedural resources available to senators and their staff.

The election period provided an opportunity to focus upon procedural and legislative drafting training of staff in the Procedure and Research Section as well as a broader pool of staff across the department. Further development of the procedural knowledge and legislative drafting skills of departmental staff will continue to be a focus in 2019–20.

The Legislative Scrutiny Unit will continue to highlight and support the work of the parliamentary scrutiny committees. In particular, it will work to implement recommendations of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee inquiry into parliamentary scrutiny of delegation in order to strengthen the framework for parliamentary scrutiny and control of delegated legislation, and the role of the scrutiny committees within this framework.

In terms of public education, a key focus in 2019–20 will be the delivery of an online project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Senate committee system with a new website which presents historic information on committees.

1 Toni Dawes, September–December 2018 and Zoe Hutchison, July–September 2018 and
January–June 2019.