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 and support 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 though a formal survey and ad hoc feedback.
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 Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation 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 (with some interruption due to the pandemic), 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 9.

Figure 9 – Elements and responsibilities of the Procedure Office

Executive and legislative drafting

Rachel Callinan, 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, Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

Glenn Ryall, Secretary, Scrutiny of Bills Committee and Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee (formerly Regulations and Ordinances Committee)

Secretariat, advisory and administrative support to the committees

The office provides a range of advisory, research and public information services to support the work of senators and 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, surveys and direct feedback from senators and their staff, and members of the public.

The full-time equivalent staffing level for the Procedure Office in 2019–20 was 20.5 (20.1 in 2018–19). The cost of providing the services of the Procedure Office in 2019–20 was $4.0m ($4.3m in 2018–19).

Procedural support

In 2019–20, 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 Assistant (Procedure), 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 2019–20, the office prepared an average of 17 procedural scripts per sitting day for use by senators in the chamber with a total of 977 scripts for the year. This was similar to the previous year’s average of 19. 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 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 2019–20, the office provided legislative support to senators by drafting amendments and private senators’ bills, primarily for non-government senators.

The office prepared and circulated 52 second reading amendments (an increase on the previous year, when 26 such amendments were circulated). The office also drafted and circulated 170 sets of committee of the whole amendments, comprising 608 individual amendments (compared to 473 amendments circulated on 122 sheets in the previous year). While the preparation of second reading amendments is usually straightforward, committee of the whole amendments, which propose amendments to bills, can range from simple to quite complex and resource intensive.

A further 76 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, 16 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. The majority of the requests that were drafted related to the government’s coronavirus response package.

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 2019–20, the office received requests for 48 private senators’ bills, and 32 private senators’ bills were introduced. This demand was similar to the previous reporting period and reflects a strong interest among non-government senators for a legislative response to policy matters of concern to them. Two private senators’ bills were passed by the Senate during 2019–20.

Figure 10 summarises legislative drafting and procedural services provided to senators over the past four years.

Figure 10 – Legislative drafting and procedural advice services provided to senators
Service 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20
Committee of the whole amendments circulated 667 101 473 608
Second reading amendments circulated

43 30 26 52
Private senators’ bills introduced 21 31 39 32
Procedural scripts prepared 701 727 689 977

The results of a formal survey of senators and staff, as well as informal feedback, confirmed the quality of the procedural advice and legislative drafting service provided by the office including where support was provided within the tight time constraints common in sitting weeks.

Support for legislative scrutiny committees

During the year, the Legislative Scrutiny Unit provided secretariat, research and administrative support to the following committees:

  • Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights
  • Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, and
  • Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation (formerly the Regulations and Ordinances Committee).

The committees examine all bills and legislative instruments according to each committee’s terms of reference. The committees generally report each sitting week on the bills and legislative instruments scrutinised, and annually outline their work and the significant matters they have pursued during the year.

In preparing the reports tabled during this period, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights secretariat examined 278 bills (181 in 2018–19) and drafted 13 reports containing comments on 76 bills (49 in 2018–19), raising matters relating to the committee’s scrutiny terms of reference (contained in the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011). The committee also examined 2,272 disallowable and exempt legislative instruments (1,144 in 2018–19) and drafted comments on 33 instruments (24 in 2018–19).

In preparing the reports tabled during this period, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee secretariat examined 296 bills (192 in 2018–19) and drafted 16 reports, containing comments on 129 bills (73 in 2018–19), raising matters relating to the committee’s scrutiny terms of reference (under Senate standing order 24).

Following amendments to standing order 23, on 4 December 2019 the Regulations and Ordinances Committee was renamed the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation and the scope of the scrutiny principles on which the committee assesses legislative instruments was clarified. In preparing the reports tabled during this period, the secretariat examined 1,695 legislative instruments (1,202 in 2018–19) and drafted 16 reports, containing comments on 290 legislative instruments (229 in 2018–19), raising matters related to the committee’s scrutiny terms of reference. On 30 April 2020 the committee initiated (under standing order 23(12)) a broad-ranging inquiry into the exemption of delegated legislation from parliamentary oversight. This inquiry will conclude in the next reporting period.

The work of the three 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 legislative instruments and associated explanatory materials.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the three legislative scrutiny committees examined and reported on a significant volume of delegated and primary legislation made in response to the pandemic, with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee publishing lists of COVID-19 related legislation relevant to their terms of reference on their websites to promote public scrutiny of these laws. As at 30 June 2020, 12 COVID-19 related bills had been introduced into the Parliament and 211 COVID-19 related legislative instruments had been registered on the Federal Register of Legislation. Committee secretariats supported the committees in this work in addition to the usual support provided to the committees. This work will continue into the next reporting period.

Parliamentary information and training

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

Training and resources

In July 2019, the section launched Procedural Hub, a resource located on the senators’ intranet (Senate Connect), to assist senators and their staff to learn about and utilise various procedural mechanisms to further their aims in the Senate. Web traffic and survey results suggest that this online resource is a valuable and accessible reference for senators and their staff on procedural matters, particularly during sitting periods. This resource was further developed in 2020 with the addition of audio-visual materials.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw access to Parliament House restricted from March 2020 and ongoing limitations on the size of gatherings for building occupants, an increased emphasis was placed on online training programs and resources in the fourth quarter of the reporting period.

In addition to providing ad hoc one-on-one training sessions for senators by senior officers, the section provided a comprehensive program of training for senators’ staff. Formal and informal feedback indicated that the program is well regarded by participants, many of whom attended via video and teleconference.

As can be seen in figure 11, the number of seminars provided to public service agencies reduced substantially due to the inability to provide face-to-face training in March–June 2020. However, the section successfully trialled a modified session delivered online and will continue to develop its remote delivery capacity in 2020–21.

A program of specialised procedural training sessions and practical placements for Senate department staff, first offered in 2018–19, recommenced in 2019–20 due to popular demand.

Work commenced on a project to revise and re-purpose the Senate Briefs, a set of public information sheets about the work of the Parliament and the Senate, for the digital environment. The revision aims to improve readability, reduce duplication and utilise multimedia and links to digital sources to revitalise this important resource on the Senate and its work.

50th anniversary of the Senate committee system

On 11 June 2020 the President of the Senate made a statement in the Senate to mark 50 years since the establishment of the current Senate committee system. New web resources presenting the history, significance and work of committees through interactive maps, timelines and other data visualisations have been developed throughout the reporting period and will be launched in the first half of 2020–21.

Figure 11 – Seminars, training programs and lectures, 2016–17 to
Service 2016–17 2017–18 2018–19 2019–20
Senators’ orientation sessions 2 1 2 2
Senators’ staff training sessions 10 12 6 11
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 between parliaments internationally, with an emphasis on parliamentary relations with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The program’s activities and projects in 2019–20 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

As with other areas of the Department, a key focus for the Procedure Office for 2020–21 will be to ensure that we continue our high level of service provision within the constraints of the pandemic. While many of our services, including legislative drafting, can continue largely unaffected, others require careful adjustment such as the method of delivery of our training and seminar programs. To the extent possible, the office will harness the changes imposed upon us to revise our ways of working and position ourselves better for the future. The office will also continue its work to provide training and development opportunities for departmental staff in order to contribute to knowledge sharing and succession planning across the department.

The Legislative Scrutiny Unit will continue to support the work of the three parliamentary scrutiny committees, including the work being undertaken by the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee to scrutinise the delegated legislation related to the government’s COVID-19 response.

In terms of public education, a key focus in 2020–21 will be the delivery of a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Senate committee system with a new website which presents historic information on committees. The office will also continue its work of revising key resources to better align them with digital format as the primary means of consumption.