48 Senators’ seats
The front seats on the right of the President shall be reserved for ministers.
The front seats on the left of the President shall be reserved for leaders of parties and for opposition senators designated as having responsibility for particular matters.
In relation to seats other than front seats, senators shall be entitled to retain the seats occupied by them at the time of their taking their seats for the first time after their election so long as they continue senators without re-election.
Subject to this standing order and to any other order of the Senate, any question relating to the occupation of seats by senators shall be determined by the President.
Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SOs 43, 45 and 46 (corresponding to paragraphs (1), (3) and (4))
1989 revision: Old SOs 45, 47 and 48 combined into one, structured as three paragraphs and renumbered as SO 48; paragraph (2) inserted to reflect contemporary practice; expression clarified
Standing order 48 reflects universal practice in parliaments with Westminster origins. It was earmarked for significant modernisation and the first draft of the revised standing orders, tabled on 17 May 1988, reduced it to the first paragraph and a provision enabling the President to determine any question regarding seats to be occupied by senators, subject to any order of the Senate. The latter element was an innovation as was the proposal to abolish the right of senators to retain the seats first occupied by them. However, consultation on the revised standing orders revealed a strong attachment to what is now paragraph (3), which was retained at the request of senators. Paragraph (2) was also retained to reflect the current rules and practices relating to the opposition front bench.
As explained by Senator Drake (Prot, Qld) in 1903, this standing order did not mean that the President should dictate where new senators would sit, only that the President was authorised to determine any difference of opinion between senators or any disputed claim. The 1938 MS confirmed this practice, noting that the President was rarely called on to determine questions about seating:
New Senators are permitted to select seats from among those which are vacant or are about to become vacant, and the choice is usually decided on the basis of “first come, first served”.
Current practice is for senators to sit in party groups with ministers and shadow ministers on the relevant front benches, and minor parties and independent senators at the horse-shoe end of the chamber. Seating arrangements are made by party whips, subject to the approval of the President. See Odgers Australian Senate Practice, 14th edition for further commentary.
With certain exceptions, a senator must be in his or her seat to receive the call. A minister leading for the government on a bill or any other matter may speak from the front bench seat nearest the advisers’ box. Likewise, a resolution of the Senate in 1986 provided for an opposition senator leading for the opposition on any matter to speak from the equivalent seat on the opposition front bench. A senator performing duty as a party whip may also speak from the relevant whip’s seat.