Chapter 3 - Deputy President and Chairman of Committees

9      Term of office

  1. At the commencement of the sittings next ensuing after the 30th day of June following each periodical election, or at the commencement of the session after a general election of the Senate, or when any vacancy occurs, the Senate shall appoint a senator to be Deputy President and Chairman of Committees.

  2. The office of Deputy President and Chairman of Committees shall become vacant:

    1. on the day next before the first sitting day of the Senate after the 30th day of June following a periodical election; and

    2. on the date of a proclamation dissolving the Senate.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SO 26 (corresponding to paragraphs (1) and (2))


  • 9 September 1909, J.120 (to take effect 1 October 1909) (constitutional change to date of commencement of senators’ terms)
  • 1 August 1934, J. 460 (to take effect 1 October 1934) (tidying up exercise, clarification of terminology)
  • 22 October 1981, J. 589–90 (change of title of office)
  • 6 May 1993, J. 96) (removal of hyphen)

1989 revision: Old SO 26 restructured as two paragraphs and renumbered as SO 9


Senator Henry Dobson

Senator Henry Dobson (FT, Tas) was appointed as the first Chairman of Committees, on a temporary basis, on 13 June 1901 (Source: National Library of Australia)

The Senate had met for more than a month before it reached the committee stage on a bill for the first time and confronted the need for a chairman of committees to be appointed. That such an appointment was necessary seemed largely beyond question as it was almost universal parliamentary practice for the Speaker or President to leave the chair when a committee of the whole was formed to enable this body to be chaired by its own chairman. An exception was the South Australian Legislative Council where President Baker had done “double duty” for years. The Council did not believe it was bound under its rules to appoint a chairman. President Baker thus had first hand experience of an alternative practice.

Although the Senate had agreed to adopt the standing orders of the South Australian Legislative Assembly with relevant modifications as a temporary measure,[1] it was clearly not appropriate to appoint a permanent chairman until permanent standing orders had been adopted and the need for a chairman of committees had been agreed. The debate preceding the committee stage of the Post and Telegraph Bill on 13 June 1901 shows senators grappling with the application of borrowed rules to the requirements of a new legislature. It was proposed to appoint a temporary chair by way of an amendment to the question that the President do now leave the chair and that the Senate resolve itself into a committee of the whole. As Senator Harney (FT, WA) pointed out, such an amendment was not technically possible, but President Baker held that it was necessary for the conduct of business.[2] After further argument, Senator Dobson (FT, Tas) was appointed as temporary chair for the Post and Telegraph Bill until the adoption of permanent standing orders.

Dobson’s appointment was remade on 20 June 1901 to apply to all committees of the whole.[3] Immediately after Dobson’s reappointment, the Second Report of the Standing Orders Committee was presented, recommending the appointment of a Chairman of Committees for the session. The recommendation was adopted on 26 June 1901 and two days later, following Dobson’s resignation, Senator Best (Prot, Vic) was appointed Chairman of Committees “during the present session, and until the end of the second week of next session”.[4]

The Third Report of the Standing Orders Committee proposed that the text of standing order 26 follow the terms of the resolution that had appointed Best until the second week of the next session, but during debates on 10 June and 18 August 1903 the proposed standing order was amended to bring the Chairman’s term broadly into line with the term of office of the President.[5]

Change of title

The Parliamentary Presiding Officers Amendment Act 1992 changed the title of the office in the principal Act to reflect the changes made by the Senate in 1981

Standing order 26 (as it was) differed from old SO 15, providing for the term of office of President, in that it contained a reference to sessions.[6] By prescribing an election for Chairman of Committees “at the commencement of the Session after each periodical or general election of the Senate”, old SO 26 did not ensure that a Chairman of Committees would hold office until at least the 30th of June following an election, although such was the intention of the Senate. Although it had not been expected that a session would be commenced between the date of an election and the following 30th of June, this had indeed occurred in 1923[7] and an amendment was necessary to address such a possibility.

The First Report of the Standing Orders Committee, tabled on 31 July 1934, recommended an amendment to old SO 26 that would bring it into line with the equivalent standing order for the election of President and ensure that both offices would be coterminous. The change was a formality.[8] It had apparently been overlooked in the 1922 tidying up exercise when the President’s term was clarified and the potential anomaly did not become apparent until the peculiar circumstances of 1923 arose. There was no discussion about it on the public record at the time and no suggestion that the Senate intended to do other than wait until after 30 June 1923 to elect a new Chairman.

In 1981 the Standing Orders Committee recommended that the title of the office be changed from “Chairman of Committees” to “Deputy-President and Chairman of Committees” to reflect more accurately the nature of the office in practice. The intention was that the office would be known generally as the Deputy President and that the term “Chairman of Committees” would be restricted to the role of chairing committees of the whole.

During debate on the report, Senator Missen (Lib, Vic) raised an objection to the proposed changes on the grounds that the Standing Orders Committee should consider a proposal to divide the duties between two officers, to be called Deputy President (Procedures) and Deputy President (Committees). The former would carry out chamber-related functions while the latter would have greater responsibility for the running and management of the Senate’s committee system. A motion to amend standing orders to establish the two offices had been moved, debated and defeated on 20 August 1981 after the election for Chairman of Committees had been postponed on 18 August, but Senator Missen suggested that opposition to the proposal had been based on the objection that it had not been considered by the Standing Orders Committee.[9] Here was an opportunity for the Standing Orders Committee to examine the proposal, argued Senator Missen. Senator Peter Baume (Lib, NSW) and Senator Button (ALP, Vic) countered that the proposed change to the title of the office would not prejudice future discussion of the issue of two offices and the amendments were agreed to on 22 October 1981.[10]

It is not apparent that the Standing Orders committee ever reported on the question of establishing two positions of Deputy President and the proposal never resurfaced.

The Parliamentary Presiding Officers Amendment Act 1992 (a private senator’s bill, introduced by Senator Colston (ALP, Qld) on 25 June 1992 and assented to 11 December 1992) was a minor legislative amendment that, among other things, changed the title of Chairman of Committees in the principal Act to Deputy President and Chairman of Committees to reflect the changes made by the Senate in 1981. Also note the removal of hyphen from the term Deputy President. The Procedure Committee, in its First Report of 1992 recommended that the antiquated practice of hyphenating titles such as Deputy-President, Deputy-Clerk and Clerk-Assistant be discontinued and the titles updated for the next reprint of standing orders. This recommendation was agreed to on 6 May 1993.[11]