Chapter 5 - Standing and Select Committees

Standing Committees

24A Selection of Bills

  1. A Selection of Bills Committee shall be appointed at the commencement of each Parliament to consider all bills introduced into the Senate or received from the House of Representatives, except bills which contain no provisions other than provisions appropriating revenue or moneys, and to report–

    1. in respect of each such bill, whether the bill should be referred to a legislative and general purpose standing committee; and

    2. in respect of each bill recommended for referral to a standing committee:

      1. the standing committee to which the bill should be referred,

      2. the stage in the consideration of the bill at which it should be referred to the standing committee, and

      3. the day which should be fixed for the standing committee to report on the bill.

    1. The committee shall consist of the Government Whip and 2 other senators nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Opposition Whip and 2 other senators nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and the whips of any minority groups.

    2. The quorum of the committee shall be 4 members.

    3. The chair of the committee shall be the Government Whip, and the chair shall appoint from time to time a deputy chair to act as chair when the chair is not present at a meeting.

    4. In the event of votes on a question before the committee being equally divided, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, shall have a casting vote.

  2. Where the committee reports on any sitting day, the report shall be presented after the giving of notices of motion.

  3. Following the presentation of a report by the committee, the chair of the committee, or a member of the committee on behalf of the chair, may move without notice a motion for the adoption of the report.

  4. Amendments may be moved to a motion under paragraph (4), including amendments to refer to a standing committee any bill of the kind referred to in paragraph (1) which is not the subject of a motion moved pursuant to paragraph (4).

  5. An amendment of the kind referred to in paragraph (5) shall specify–

    1. the standing committee to which the bill is to be referred;

    2. the stage in the consideration of the bill at which it is to be referred to the committee; and

    3. the day on which the committee is to report.

  6. On a motion moved pursuant to paragraph (4), a senator shall not speak for more than 5 minutes, and at the expiration of 30 minutes, if the debate be not sooner concluded, the President shall put the question on the motion and any amendments before the chair, but if a senator wishes to move a further amendment at that time, that amendment may be moved and shall be determined without debate.

  7. Where a motion moved pursuant to paragraph (4) is agreed to with or without amendment, at the conclusion of the stage of the consideration of a bill referred to in the report adopted by that motion or in an amendment, the bill shall stand referred to the standing committee specified, and the further consideration of the bill shall be an order of the day for the day fixed for the presentation of the report of the standing committee.

  8. In considering a bill referred to it pursuant to this standing order, a standing committee shall have no power to make amendments to the bill or requests for amendments, but may recommend amendments or requests for amendments which would be in order if proposed in a committee of the whole.

  9. A report from a standing committee relating to a bill referred to it under this order shall be received by the Senate without debate, and consideration of the report deferred until the order of the day relating to the bill is called on.

  10. Where:

    1. the committee recommends that a bill be referred to a select committee; or

    2. a senator indicates that the senator intends to move to establish a select committee to consider a bill or to refer a bill to an existing select committee,

    this standing order shall have effect as if each reference to a standing committee included reference to a select committee.

Amendment history

Adopted: [Initially adopted on 5 December 1989 as a sessional order to come into effect on the first day of sitting in 1990, J.2303–05; re-adopted as a sessional order on 5 May 1993, J.68; re-adopted for temporary periods on:

  • 1 May 1996, J.74
  • 6 May 1996, J.99
  • 9 May 1996, J.147
  • 23 May 1996, J.220
  • 30 May 1996, J.277
  • 20 June 1996, J.349
  • 27 June 1996, J.419
  • 22 August 1996, J.497
  • 19 September 1996, J.632
  • 17 October 1996, J.742 (to continue to operate)]
  • Incorporated as SO 24A on 13 February 1997, J.1447 (to take effect 24 February 1997)


Selection of Bills Committee Report

A report of the Selection of Bills Committee

For background to the adoption of procedures for the systematic referral of bills to committees and the establishment of the Selection of Bills Committee, see the report of the Senate Select Committee on Legislation Procedures (PP No. 398/1988). For a detailed study of the operation of the committee, see John Vander Wyk and Angie Lilley, Reference of Bills to Australian Senate Committees with particular reference to the role of the Selection of Bills Committee, Papers on Parliament No. 43, Department of the Senate, June 2005.

Like many changes to its procedures made by the Senate in the latter part of the 20th century, the Selection of Bills Committee was established by sessional order and therefore perceived as being on probation. Early assessments of it effectiveness were positive but the committee and associated procedures continued to be constituted on a sessional basis. Following a change in government in March 1996, objection was taken to some specific aspects of the new government’s proposed sessional orders[1] and adoption of all orders was delayed pending negotiations. In the meantime, the sessional orders which had been current on 30 November 1995 were re-adopted from week to week as a temporary measure until October 1996 when the government abandoned its proposals for the time being and the sessional orders from the previous Parliament were agreed to on a continuing basis. The Selection of Bills Committee had operated normally during this period despite the precarious status of its authorising resolutions.

The attraction of sessional orders as a vehicle for thoroughly considered procedural innovations is difficult to sustain. As commander of its own rules, the Senate may just as readily amend standing orders as adopt sessional ones. A disadvantage of sessional orders is that they must be re-adopted at the beginning of each Parliament and potentially debated at length. This disadvantage was experienced in 1996. Later that year, the proliferation of orders, both sessional and of continuing effect, led to an examination by the Procedure Committee of a more rational solution involving the incorporation, where appropriate, of continuing and sessional orders into the standing orders. The consolidation prepared by the committee and presented to the Senate in its First Report of 1996 (PP No. 194/1996) was adopted on 13 February 1997 with effect from 24 February 1997. By this process, SO 24A establishing the Selection of Bills Committee was adopted.

The terms of reference for the committee are essentially those recommended by the Select Committee on Legislation Procedures in 1988.[2] Some amendments were made in the course of adopting the order on 5 December 1989. These included the provision for the committee to refer bills to select committees (either existing or to be established for the purpose), a more flexible membership formula and a more flexible approach to the position of deputy chair.

Since then, the only change to the order has been of a minor nature and occurred in the process of the Procedure Committee’s consolidation of the standing orders in its First Report of 1996. This change was to the timing of presentation of the committee’s reports (paragraph (3)) which may occur on any sitting day at a specified place in the routine of business. Originally this was to occur on any day after the presentation of documents by ministers, which was itself to be inserted after notices of motion, but the 1997 consolidation specified that reports were to be presented on any day after notices of motion. Changes to the presentation of documents by ministers meant that this item of business was no longer performed as an overt action and could not therefore provide a reference point for the following business. The consolidation gave effect to the original intention of the select committee and did not represent a substantive change.[3]

The prescription of a particular place in the routine of business for the presentation of the committee’s reports is analogous to giving notice that a report may be presented at that time. Paragraph (4) of the standing order authorises a motion for the adoption of the report to be moved after its presentation, without notice. This is in contrast to reports from other committees, such as the Publications Committee, whose adoption after presentation can be moved only by leave (unless presented at a particular time – see SO 22), and is an example of balancing the rights of individual senators against the need for expeditious transaction of routine business. If the committee wishes to present a report at a time other than the specified one, leave of the Senate is required. This specific provision overrides the general authorisation in SO 63 for committee reports to be presented at any time when there is no other business before the chair.

The size of the committee does not have a fixed upper limit because the membership is expressed to include the government and opposition whips and the whips of any minority groups, together with four additional senators representing both government and opposition. The original formula was for a committee of whips and deputy whips of the government and opposition, and whips of specified minor parties, but this was amended on adoption. In practice, the four additional places are usually occupied by senators appointed either as the deputy government or opposition whips or as manager of government or opposition business. A minority group does not require party status of any kind, for example, recognition in a determination of the Remuneration Tribunal or a minimum number of senators, to be entitled to representation on the Selection of Bills Committee. An announcement to the chamber that a senator is the whip of a particular party is sufficient.[4]