In one of the first acts of the 47th Parliament, the Government proposed a series of changes to the House Standing Orders. These (currently 270) Standing Orders are rules which govern the operation and conduct of House business, as provided for in The Constitution (section 50). House Practice explains that ‘Standing orders are made and amended by motion moved on notice in the usual way’. While Standing Orders can be amended any time by passing a motion, it’s become the custom of incoming governments to review Standing Orders in the new parliament. This Flagpost article outlines the recent changes to Standing Orders and their various impacts.
A new routine
An important consideration for the most recent Standing Orders review was the Set the Standards report, which recommended ‘enhancing wellbeing, balance and flexibility for parliamentarians and workers in Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces’. Accordingly, on Wednesdays and Thursdays the start time for the House has been brought forward 30 minutes to 9:00 am (Standing Order 29). This additional time provides parliamentarians with an opportunity to make statements on significant issues. However, this did not occur during the first sitting fortnight with the time instead used to debate Government legislation. Additionally, the Federation Chamber also commences 30 minutes earlier on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 am (Standing Order 192).
Changes to Standing Orders 133(c) and 55(d) also now direct that almost all divisions or quorum counts called after 6:30 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays be deferred until the next sitting day. In explaining this change the Leader of the House, Tony Burke, indicated it:
… has come principally from caucus members who've brought young families to parliament. Effectively, what they've had to do every afternoon until now is, when it's time for the child to get to bed, check with the whip as to whether or not they could get a pair on that particular day.
Providing speaking opportunities for the largest House crossbench
The 47th Parliament’s record-breaking 16 member crossbench has also delivered expanded crossbench engagement in parliamentary debates, as set out in Sessional Order 65A. Notably, crossbenchers now have priority call on the 5th, 13th and 21st questions in Question Time, although its variable length and conduct means this may not always occur. During the first 6 days since the new rule commenced, crossbenchers gained their full 3 question allocation on only 2 of those days. To maximise the number of questions available, Standing Order 47 was amended to allow suspensions of standing orders to be deferred until after Question Time.
The Government has acknowledged the impossibility of proportionately allocating crossbenchers’ speeches in every type of debate, but instead has attempted to average this out across the spectrum. It has also capped crossbench questions to 30 seconds in line with all other MPs. The Opposition has additionally contended that its own role in scrutinising the Government during Question Time is proportionately diminished commensurate to the crossbenchers’ expanded role.
The Government also introduced a new process for expediting debate on urgent Bills, through amending Standing Order 85. If the House votes that a Bill is declared urgent, second reading debate may continue from 7:30 pm until 10:00 pm and speaking times are capped to 10 minutes. On the next sitting day ‘any second reading amendment and the question on the second reading is put without further amendments and debate’. The Social Security (Administration) Amendment (Repeal of Cashless Debit Card and Other Measures) Bill 2022 was the first such Bill declared urgent in the new parliament.
There was only one amendment moved to these changes to the Standing Orders, from Independent MP Zali Steggall. She successfully amended the changes to debating urgent Bills, to provide a speaking opportunity for parliamentarians who move amendments during consideration in detail.
For further information and context, see: