Sitting times, screens and Standing Orders: an update on changes in the chambers

There are currently 270 House Standing Orders and 210 in the Senate. These Standing Orders are rules which govern the operation and conduct of House and Senate business, as provided for in The Constitution (section 50). House Practice and Senate Odgers set out that ‘Standing Orders are made and amended via a motion moved on notice in the usual way’ or ‘ordinary way’ respectively. It’s become the custom of incoming governments to review Standing Orders in the new parliament. This review started in the first sitting week of the 47th Parliament, as explained in the previous Flagpost article Sitting times and Standing Orders: recent changes in the House. The House continues to iron out its Standing Orders, meanwhile the Senate has commenced its review. This Flagpost article updates the abovementioned article with more recent developments to Standing Orders in the Senate, House and Federation Chamber.

A new routine in the Senate amongst other things

Senate Odgers describes the ‘more usual practice’ for altering Senate Standing Orders is to submit a proposal to amend via the Senate Procedure Committee (the committee). At the Manager of Government Business Senator the Hon. Katy Gallagher’s request, the President Senator the Hon. Sue Lines referred (Standing Order 17(3)) the committee to consider various matters including hours of meeting and routine of business. The resulting report noted that it ‘responds in part’ to recommendation 27 of the Set the Standards report which recommended ‘enhancing wellbeing, balance and flexibility for parliamentarians and workers in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces’. The recommendation of the committee, as set out in the Appendix of Report 2 of 2022, was agreed to by the Senate on 8 September, to become effective on the first sitting day in October 2022. On Wednesdays and Thursdays the Senate’s start time has been brought forward 30 minutes to 9:00 am (Standing Order 55(1)) and on each of these days the Senate will commence with 1 hour and 10 minutes debate on Private Senators’ Bills. On Monday mornings the Senate will revert to government business and adjourn earlier at 8:30pm. Changes to Standing Order 57(1A) directs that divisions called after 6:30 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays or (as is current practice) 4:30 pm on Thursdays be deferred until the next sitting day. The committee agreed this would make ‘significant improvements’.

The committee also considered matters of public importance (MPIs) and urgency motions. The committee and later the Senate agreed ‘two such matters may be proposed each day, to be discussed or debated for 30 minutes each, and that the opportunities to propose them should be allocated among non-government parties and Independent senators on a proportional basis, rather than being subject to a daily ballot’. Further, the standard speaking time will be set at 5 minutes, rather than 10 minutes.

Providing speaking opportunities for the largest House crossbench

House Sessional Order 65A sets out the expanded crossbench engagement in parliamentary debates to allow for the 47th Parliament’s record-breaking 16 member crossbench. Sessional Order 65A was further amended on 5 September 2022 so that crossbenchers would have priority call on the 17th rather than 21st question in Question Time, in addition to the 5th and 13th questions. Independent MP Zoe Daniel introduced the amendment and explained ‘[t]he intention of the sessional orders agreed at the beginning of the 47th Parliament was that the crossbench get three questions each question time, in line with increased crossbench representation’. This had not come to fruition, as noted in the previous Flagpost article. Further Ms Daniel argued:

Each day that passes, therefore, reflects the denial of the opportunity to question the government on important matters relating to the community that elected this crossbench—the largest crossbench of our time.

This message was reiterated by fellow crossbenchers and supported by the Leader of the House the Hon. Tony Burke MP. However, the Manager of Opposition Business, the Hon. Paul Fletcher MP, said the ‘Opposition will oppose this motion on the practical grounds that its substantive effect is to reduce the number of questions that we receive’ and called on the Prime Minister to resolve the issue ‘by committing that he will maintain a practice of having 22 questions’.

On the three days after the allocation changed, crossbenchers gained their full three questions allocation on two of those days. On 8 September the Coalition used one of its Question Time speaking opportunities to move a motion rather than to ask a question.

Remote participation in the Federation Chamber

The Flagpost article on Remote participation in the Commonwealth Parliament briefly considered if remote participation would again feature in the 47th Parliament. In accordance with the Set the Standard report, members resolved for all meetings from 12 September 2022 to allow leave of absences for some remote participation in Federation Chamber proceedings. Members participating remotely may not be counted for quorum, move or second any motion or amendment to a motion or Bill. Further, members are expected to provide 15 minutes prior notice to the Chair before seeking to make a speech from their Electorate Office or a Commonwealth Parliament Office. This change received bipartisan support, with the Manager of Opposition Business stating that the Opposition would support the motion and that it would allow MPs to ‘more effectively represent their electorates, even in circumstances where they're unable to come to Canberra’.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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