Chapter 1 - The opening of Parliament

3      Address-in-reply

  1. Before the Governor-General’s speech is reported to the Senate, some formal business may be transacted, and petitions may be presented, notices of motion may be given, and documents laid upon the table.
  2. The President shall report to the Senate the speech of the Governor-General.
  3. Consideration of the Governor-General’s speech may be made an order of the day for a future day, or a motion for an address-in-reply to the speech may be made.
  4. Only formal business shall be entered into before the address-in-reply to the Governor-General’s opening speech has been adopted.
  5. When the address has been agreed to, a motion will be made that it be presented to the Governor-General by the President and senators.
  6. The President shall report to the Senate the presentation of the address and the reply of the Governor-General.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 10 and 11 (corresponding to paragraph (1)), 12 to 15 (corresponding to paragraphs (2),(3), (5) and (6)) and 16 (corresponding to paragraph (4)) but renumbered as SOs8 to 14 for the first printed edition


  • 9 September 1909, J.119 (to take effect 1 October 1909) (changes to paragraphs (3), (4) and (5) to expand and clarify procedures)
  • 1 September 1937, J.44 (to take effect 1 October 1937) (paragraph (6) expressed more simply)

1989 revision: Old SOs 8 to 14 combined into one, structured as six paragraphs and renumbered as SO 3; language modernised and expression streamlined


Copy of the Governor-General's opening speech

A copy of the Address-in-Reply to the Governor-General's opening speech

The address-in-reply is the formal acknowledgement by the Senate to the Governor-General for the speech given at an opening of Parliament. For other addresses to the Queen or Governor-General, see SO 170. For procedures for the presentation of addresses of all types, see SO 172.

Certain mechanical changes were suggested by the Standing Orders Committee in its First Report in 1908, dealt with in September 1909.[1] Paragraph (3) was amended to add the option of making the address-in-reply an order of the day for a future day, rather than disposing of it at once. The meaning of “formal business” in paragraph (4), which had been expressed more prescriptively before the 1989 revision,[2] was enhanced by the addition of a reference to the tabling of papers under SO166(1). In paragraph (5) a reference was inserted to the address being agreed to before a motion was moved for its presentation, an obvious step which had been assumed in the original drafting. Words considered to be “merely surplusage” were also removed.[3]

Amendments in 1937 were cosmetic rather than substantial and their purpose was to “clarify the verbiage” by rearranging the syntax of paragraph (6). Stocks of printed copies of standing orders were running low and these minor revisions were undertaken prior to a reprint.[4]

As with SOs 1 and 2, little has changed in practice although the whole procedure is now cloaked with a greater air of informality that reflects the times. The right of the Senate in paragraph (1) to transact certain business before the Governor-General’s speech is reported is invariably bypassed as a tokenistic and unnecessary demonstration of its independence.[5] As Edwards pointed out in 1938 MS, it represented a survival of House of Commons practice that has always been discretionary in the Senate (but mandatory under the standing orders of the House). He commented that “the Senate has been content to possess the right without formally asserting it”. Paragraph (4) is invariably suspended by a resolution at the commencement of new parliaments to allow normal business to proceed before the address-in-reply is finalised.

Presentation of the Address-in-Reply

Presentation of the Address-in-Reply by the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon. John Hogg, to the Governor-General, Ms Quentin Bryce AC, at Government House on 22 September 2008 (Photo courtesy of AUSPIC)

In the 1938 MS, Edwards also reported that it was “practically an established custom that the Address-in-Reply shall be moved and seconded by two new Senators on the Government side of the Senate – if there are any”. Seconding of motions was abolished in 1981 (see SO 84) but has been informally retained as a traditional element of this procedure. The President is flanked by the mover and seconder of the motion when he or she presents the address to the Governor-General. While the tradition of new (or new-ish) senators moving and seconding the motion survives to a large extent, it has also been varied to provide for the mover to be a retiring senator.

The order of the day for the adjourned debate on the address-in-reply is often kept on the Notice Paper for lengthy periods, as a fallback should the amount of legislation so early in a new parliament be insufficient to fill the program. In the past, the address-in-reply was often a useful vehicle for new senators to make their first speeches because of the relaxation of the rule of relevance in such debates. This is now rarely the case for two reasons. First, the practice has developed of new senators making first speeches pursuant to orders of the Senate which set out a timetable for first speeches and allow them to be made without any question before the Chair. Secondly, if elections are held in spring (which they commonly have been in recent times), there can be a long gap between an opening of parliament and the commencement of senators’ terms on the following 1 July, during which the motion for the address-in-reply may well have been passed.

The motion for an address-in-reply may be amended. See Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 14th edition, for precedents.

Once the address has been agreed to (with or without amendment), a notice of motion is given by a minister proposing the day and time of presentation. A reminder is issued at an appropriate time and the Senate is suspended while the President and senators who wish to accompany him or her travel in convoy to Government House (see SO 172). After the presentation of the address, the President reports the fact to the Senate.

The address itself is a formal document, printed on goatskin parchment,[6] be ribboned and signed by the President. Several copies are made including one for the National Archives of Australia for historical purposes.