Chapter 14 - Motions and questions

79    Notice required

Except by leave of the Senate, or as otherwise provided by the standing orders, a motion shall not be moved unless it is in accordance with a notice duly given.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SO 109

Amended: 2 December 1965, J.427 (to take effect 1 January 1966) (very minor drafting amendment)

1989 revision: Old SO 115 renumbered as SO 79; language modernised and repetitious material already covered in SO 76 removed


Senator Staniforth Smith

Senator Staniforth Smith (FT, WA) (Source: National Library of Australia)

Standing order 79 embodies a fundamental principle of parliamentary procedure in providing for notice to be given, in most cases, of any motion to be considered by a deliberative assembly and voted on, thus safeguarding against surprise and haste.

See Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 12th edition, pp.174–75, for a list of motions which do not require notice under the standing orders. See pages 166–67 of that work for an explanation of leave.

Edwards gives an extensive introduction to this chapter of the standing orders in his 1938 MS, citing various authorities on the meaning and importance of such terms as “motion”, “resolution” and “question”. He refers to the very many motions moved without notice “nowadays” and notes the very strong views of President Baker in opposition to this practice. The issue came to a head one afternoon in 1904 immediately after prayers, when Senator Staniforth Smith (FT, WA) sought leave to move a motion for an order for the production of a report by Sir John Forrest on one of the potential Federal Capital sites, Lyndhurst, near Carcoar:

President BAKER – … I have thought over the matter, and come to the conclusion that it is a most objectionable practice for honorable senators to move motions, without notice, even with the consent of the Senate. There may be only twelve senators present, and, if no one objects, a motion may be moved and carried of which the majority of the senators have had no notice. This is one of the matters in which I think that a practice ought to be laid down. I do not think that a motion ought to be moved without notice unless the Standing Orders are suspended, which can be done at any time by an absolute majority of the Senate. Standing order 109 was made to prevent motions from being moved without notice, and carried, to which the majority of the Senate may be opposed. … I think that the practice is objectionable, and ought not to be permitted.[1]

Senator McGregor (ALP, SA), for the government, indicated willingness to produce the report and suggested a procedural compromise, but Senator Symon (FT, SA) took the President on (in a very civil way), asserting that what Senator Staniforth Smith sought to do was sanctioned by the standing order, forcing President Baker to “admit that the standing order appears to be in conflict with what I have said, but I submit to the Senate that the reasons I have given are very strong and powerful”. Senator Symon did not disagree, but put the case for flexibility:

Senator Smith's motion is tabled

The report ordered to be tabled by Senator Staniforth Smith's motion

There is no doubt, sir, that the reasons given by you are exceedingly weighty reasons for the Senate to give this concession with great caution. They are very strong reasons to be taken into consideration by the Senate before granting leave, but I think that it would be a dangerous thing for us to whittle away the right which the standing order confers on honourable senators. The reasons which are suggested might, on a particular motion, be very strong reasons for withholding the leave; but, in introducing the standing order into our code, it was recognised that, in cases of urgency, or in cases where it was unnecessary that notice should be given, or in cases where the Senate might be unanimous, there ought to be no obstacle placed in the way of any honourable senator from moving a particular motion. Under the standing order, the Senate has the power in its own hands. … If the motion of Senator Smith is one which the Senate feels might well be moved at once, it is a pity that he should not be permitted to move it, otherwise it is throwing doubt on the efficacy of the standing order.[2]

While, at the time, Senator Smith was permitted to seek leave to move his motion (but not till President Baker had put him off till after routine business had been dealt with),[3] the tension between these two views surfaced from time to time. It was probably to put the matter beyond any doubt that a paragraph was added to SO 88 in the 1989 revision to specify that a motion otherwise requiring notice may be moved without notice if leave is granted (see SO 88).

Motions commonly moved by leave on a regular basis include condolences, committee memberships, leave of absence for senators, uncontested variations to the routine of business (for example, to delay the commencement of consideration of government documents if proceedings on a bill are about to conclude), and motions to take note of tabled documents and reports at most times.