Procedure Office


Legislative drafting and procedural support to non-executive senators.

Procedural and parliamentary research services and training.

Secretariat support to legislative scrutiny committees.

Parliamentary information for public servants and the community.

Advice and support for inter-parliamentary relations.

Performance information Performance results

Procedural advice and support is sound and timely, enabling instructing senators to fulfil their roles.

Senators and their staff continued to acknowledge the accuracy, timeliness and value of procedural advice.

Legislative amendments and private senators’ bills are 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 Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation, the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is sound and timely.

Advice and documents prepared for the committees were accurate and provided within the timeframes set by the Senate and the committees, and to the satisfaction of the committees.

Parliamentary research is accurate, timely and fulfilled each request.

Training provided to senators and their staff supports their ability to perform their roles.

The seminar and lecture programs, and other parliamentary information projects, are provided to increase the awareness of the work and role of the Parliament.

Accurate parliamentary research was provided within required timeframes.

Seminars, lectures and training sessions were provided in accordance with the scheduled programs, content was relevant and accurate, and delivered to the satisfaction of the audience demonstrated by positive evaluation feedback.

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

Inter-parliamentary functions, including the provision of secretariat support to the Australian delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, 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, legislative drafting and procedural advice
Rachel Callinan, Clerk Assistant

Procedural advice, support and training.

Drafting of legislative amendments and private senators’ bills.

Procedural support and public information Legislative scrutiny

Jane Thomson, 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

Secretariat, advisory and administrative support to the committees

The office provides advisory, legislative drafting, research and public information services to support the work of senators and the Senate, as well as providing secretariat support for the Parliament’s legislative scrutiny committees.

The demand for procedural and legislative drafting services is driven by the requirements of senators and the Senate, particularly in response to the government’s legislative program. 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 office monitors levels of satisfaction with its performance by formal and informal methods, including 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 2021–22 was 24.7 (25.4 in 2020–21). The cost of providing the services of the Procedure Office in 2021–22 was $4.4m ($4.0m in 2020–21).

Procedural support

In 2021–22, the Procedure and Research Section assisted non-government senators and their staff by providing advice relating to the role and work of the Senate and its committees and procedural drafting services to assist senators conduct business in the Senate. As usual, there was strong demand for such advice, particularly during sitting periods. Advice was provided on a range procedural issues, including various aspects of Senate business, the constitutional powers of the Senate, the legislative process, the disallowance of delegated legislation and orders for production of documents. The office also provided research support to the Clerk and Deputy Clerk and senators on procedural matters.

Staff ensured the accuracy of advice by researching practice and precedents, including through the extensive (and publicly accessible) ‘Parlinfo’ database, referring to authoritative texts such as Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice and other published resources and consulting senior officers including the Clerk Assistant (Procedure), the Clerk and Deputy Clerk. Advice was non-partisan, consistent, clearly articulated and provided to senators and their staff confidentially and in a timely fashion, often within very short timeframes.

In 2021–22, the office prepared an average of 8 procedural scripts each sitting day for use by senators in the chamber, with a total of 275 scripts for the year. These scripts assist senators to pursue matters of concern to them through, for example, the introduction of bills, pursuing outstanding orders for the production of documents and proposing variations to the Senate’s routine of business. This number was a decrease from the previous year’s average of 14. As all requests for scripts were met, it is difficult to identify the reason for this decrease, however the production in this reporting period of a booklet of common procedural scripts for senators to use in the chamber may have had an impact.

The office also supported senators to develop motions to lodge in the Senate for consideration, such as motions to order the production of documents or refer matters to committees for inquiry. By either reviewing drafts prepared by senators and their staff, or drafting motions on instructions, staff ensured that they were procedurally accurate and senators were provided with advice about relevant Senate procedure and practice.

Legislative drafting

In 2021–22, the Procedure and Research Section provided support to senators in relation to the legislative process by drafting amendments to government bills and private senators’ bills. Procedural amendments to the motions that mark the key stages of the passage of bills were also prepared. This drafting support is provided primarily to non-government senators, but also to government senators who are not part of the ministry (ie non-executive government senators).

The office prepared and circulated 31 second reading amendments (a decrease on the previous year, when 59 such amendments were circulated). The office also drafted and circulated 151 sets, or ‘sheets’, of committee of the whole amendments, comprising 668 individual amendments (compared to 740 amendments circulated on 245 sheets in the previous year). Committee of the whole amendments, which propose amendments to the text of bills, can range from simple to quite complex and can be resource intensive to prepare. These amendments are referred to as ‘committee of the whole’ amendments as they are debated and voted on during the stage of a bill’s passage when the Senate resolves itself into a ‘committee’ to consider the details of a bill and any amendments proposed.

A further 66 sets of amendments were requested and drafted, but not circulated. The decision to circulate amendments is purely a matter for the instructing senators. 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.

Four sets of amendments were framed as ‘requests’ to the House of Representatives, in accordance with section 53 of the Constitution. 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.

In 2021–22, the office received requests for 26 private senators’ bills, all of which were progressed in accordance with senators’ instructions, and 23 such bills were introduced (compared to 18 introduced in the previous reporting period). This demand reflects a strong interest among non-government senators for a legislative response to policy matters of concern to them, and the use of private senators’ bills as a means of furthering debate on policy issues and, in some case, influencing the government to pursue legislative action.

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 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22
Committee of the whole amendments circulated 473 608 740 668
Second reading amendments circulated 26 52 59 31
Private senators’ bills introduced 39 32 18 23
Procedural scripts prepared 689 977 677 275

Informal feedback received from senators and their staff over the reporting period confirmed the satisfaction of senators with the quality of the procedural advice and legislative drafting services provided by the office, including where support was provided within the tight time constraints common in sitting weeks. The next formal survey of senators and their staff will occur in the following reporting period.

Support for legislative scrutiny committees

The Legislative Scrutiny Unit provides secretariat, research and administrative support to:

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

These committees examine bills and legislative instruments according to their terms of reference which are set out in the Senate’s standing orders, or in the case of the Human Rights Committee its enabling Act (see below). 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.

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.

In this reporting period, the three secretariats undertook all work required by the committees within timeframes set by the committees, examining a large number of bills and instruments, preparing reports for the consideration of the committees, and finalising reports for tabling and preparing any necessary procedural advice or documentation.

In preparing the reports tabled during this period, the Human Rights Committee secretariat examined 163 bills (199 in 2020–21) and drafted 9 reports containing comments on 43 bills (36 in 2020–21) raising matters relating to the committee’s terms of reference as set out in the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011. The secretariat also examined 1,438 disallowable and exempt legislative instruments (1,826 in 2020–21) and drafted comments on 18 instruments (48 in 2020–21). The secretariat also supported the committee to conduct an inquiry referred to it by the Attorney-General into the Religious Discrimination Bills package, which involved a large volume of submissions, public hearings and the preparation of the report within a short timeframe.

The Scrutiny of Bills Committee secretariat examined 165 bills (273 in 2020–21) and drafted 12 reports, containing comments on 71 bills (103 in 2020–21) raising matters relating to the committee’s terms of reference under Senate standing order 24.

From 1 July 2021, the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee has been empowered to consider instruments which are exempt from disallowance, in addition to those subject to disallowance. The secretariat examined 1,549 legislative instruments (1,316 in 2020–21) against its terms of reference set out in Senate standing order 23, including 165 exempt instruments in the period. The secretariat prepared 12 reports, identifying 294 instruments as potentially raising scrutiny concerns (194 in 2020–21) and identifying 100 instruments for the attention of the Senate (150 in 2020–21).

The committees continued to examine and report on a significant volume of delegated and primary legislation made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This work included the Human Rights Committee and the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation Committee publishing on their webpages lists of all COVID-19 related bills and delegated legislation made during human biosecurity emergency period, from 18 March 2020 to 17 April 2022, in order to promote public awareness and scrutiny of these laws.

Parliamentary information and training

The Procedure and Research Section aims to increase knowledge of the role and work of the Senate by coordinating a range of lectures, seminars, training sessions and public information activities, as well as by producing parliamentary resources published both internally and externally.

Training and resources

The provision of training via video conference, initially introduced as a response to the impacts of the pandemic, has provided the section with an opportunity to provide interactive and engaging training to participants regardless of their location. To ensure consistency and quality in the provision of online and in-person training, the section has initiated the development of a training curriculum and complementary presentation material, invested in its delivery capacity, updated resources and provided ongoing support to presenters.

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. Presented via video conference and during non-sitting periods to enable staff located across the country to participate, this training program provides staff with a practical understanding of Senate procedure and the corresponding resources provided by the department to support senators to conduct business. The Procedure Hub, a resource on the senators’ intranet (Senate Connect), is a key focus of the training which aims to assist staff to understand and utilise the various templates, forms and guidance material available to support senators to engage with the whole range of Senate business.

As can be seen in figure 11, the section increased the number of training sessions provided to public service agencies in this reporting period, in part due to our focus on online delivery. Through efforts to continuously improve our training offering, new material and complementary resources have been developed focused on the interaction between public service agencies and the Parliament, including accountability obligations and duties in relation to public funds. The section will continue to develop training materials and its remote delivery capacity for public service agencies in 2022–23.

A pilot online training program for community-based not-for-profit organisations, whose work involves understanding, monitoring or interacting with the Senate and its committees, was offered this reporting period. The three session series provided not-for-profit organisations with an understanding of the opportunities for public and community engagement with the Senate and its committees. The first two sessions were held in this reporting period, with 52 attendees from 30 organisations.

The pandemic again impacted the Senate Lecture Series with a smaller number of lectures offered than in pre-pandemic years and only one of the four lectures could be held with an in-person audience. However, online attendance was the highest since the series began, with 677 online viewers. The lectures are live streamed and recorded and, since 2020, are Auslan interpreted in real time.

As in previous years, a range of training sessions were offered to departmental staff with the aim of building expertise across the department in Senate practice and procedure. These sessions were well attended by staff and contribute significantly to professional development.

In June, Senate matters, a collection of short-form public interest articles on the work, people and events of the Senate was launched on the Australian Parliament House website. Written by Senate officers, the articles provide insight into the Senate’s operations, traditions and practices while revealing its key roles and powers, to highlight the ways in which the Senate matters.

Figure 11 – Seminars, training programs and lectures, 2018–19 to 2021–22
Service 2018–19 2019–20 2020–21 2021–22
Senators’ orientation sessions 2 2 0 3
Senators’ staff training sessions 6 11 14 10
Training for public service officers

number of training sessions
number of attendees
Public lectures

number of lectures
number of attendees
live online view

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 are coordinated by the International and Parliamentary Relations Office (IPRO) and the Parliamentary Skills Centre (PSC). 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 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 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. The Senate Department supports the program by providing secretariat support to various outgoing delegations, responding to requests for information, and providing presenters and support to incoming delegation visits.

In this reporting period, the Department of the Senate continued to provide secretariat support to the Australian Delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), including during the 144th IPU Assembly held in Nusa Dua, Indonesia. The Department usually provides delegation secretaries to support other parliamentary delegations each year, however in this reporting period such travel was curtailed by the pandemic.

A detailed description of the work of IPRO and PSC is provided in the annual report of the Department of the House of Representatives.

The Procedure Office also responded to various requests for information and research from other parliaments and international parliamentary bodies.

Performance outlook

A key focus for the Procedure Office for 2022–23 will be to support senators and their staff as they commence the 47th Parliament. Significant undertakings include organising and running the Senators’ Orientation Program, and associated training for new senators staff, as well as providing advice and support as they settle into their roles and familiarise themselves with the practices and procedures of the Senate. Similarly, the Legislative Scrutiny Unit will focus on supporting the three parliamentary scrutiny committees as they establish themselves with new membership and continue the important work of these committees in the new parliament.

Another focus will be to continue to manage and support staff as the community continues ‘living with Covid’ and its ongoing challenges. The office will also continue its work to provide procedural development resources for departmental staff in order to contribute to knowledge sharing and succession planning across the department.