Chapter 23 - Communication between the two Houses

155  Messages from the House of Representatives

A message from the House of Representatives shall be received, if the Senate is sitting, by a clerk at the table, and, if the Senate is not sitting, by the Clerk of the Senate, and shall be reported by the President as early as convenient, and a future time fixed for its consideration, or it may, by leave, be dealt with at once.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SO 327 but renumbered as SO 323 for the first printed edition


  • 11 June 1914, J.79–80 (insertion of a requirement that messages from the House be received while the Senate was sitting)
  • 2 December 1965, J.427 (to take effect 1 January 1966) (inclusion of arrangements for receipt of messages when the Senate is not sitting)

1989 revision: Old SO 337 renumbered as SO 155; minor streamlining of expression


Despite an amendment moved to SO 153 before it was adopted, removing the stipulation that messages be delivered during the sitting of the Senate, it was not long before the question arose of the timing of the receipt of messages from the House in relation to bills. The relevant standing orders having been described as vague, the Standing Orders Committee recommended an amendment to provide for messages to be received while the Senate was sitting. In the debate on the amendment in 1914, President Givens referred to “certain honorable gentlemen” in the previous year “who were rather nervous as to when certain Bills would be received by the Senate. Probably they had in their minds the test Bills, or the Constitution Alteration Bills”.[1] At the time, the Senate was days away from its first dissolution pursuant to s.57 of the Constitution and timing issues relating to bills were clearly of interest (although the timing of the receipt of a bill by the Senate is not relevant to the terms of s.57).

A message from the House of Representatives is delivered by the Serjeant-at-Arms

A message from the House of Representatives is delivered by the Serjeant-at-Arms and collected by a clerk at the table at the bar of the Senate (Photo courtesy of AUSPIC)

The Serjeant-at-Arms waiting at the bar of the Senate with a message (Photo courtesy of AUSPIC)

The Serjeant-at-Arms waiting at the bar of the Senate with a message (Photo courtesy of AUSPIC)

Despite this concern, the practical arrangements that had been referred to in 1903 for the receipt of messages whether or not the Houses were sitting continued to operate. They were formalised in a later round of routine amendments in 1965.[2] The standing order as currently formulated continues to make provision for receipt of messages in either circumstance.

In the earlier versions of the standing order there was a reference to messages being received at the “Bar of the Senate”. This was removed as superfluous during the 1989 revision.[3] In practice, when the Senate is sitting, the Serjeant-at-Arms enters the Senate chamber with a message and waits behind the bar area[4] for a clerk at the table to come and collect the message. If the Senate is not sitting, messages are delivered to the Clerk (or in practice to the Clerk’s delegates in the Table Office). Reciprocal arrangements apply to messages despatched by the Senate to the House.

In the published weekly routine of business which is based on SO 57, there is a daily opportunity for reporting any messages from the House of Representatives. For convenience, most messages are reported at these times although circumstances will require their presentation at other times on occasion. For example, when urgent legislation is required, the message transmitting the bill from the House may be reported as soon as it is received and the bill taken through all stages without adjournment. Similarly, at the end of periods of sitting, when the Houses are negotiating on amendments or requests for amendments to bills, messages may be reported virtually on receipt in order to complete the necessary proceedings before the Houses adjourn.

After a message has been received, a time may be set for its future consideration or it may be dealt with at once by leave. The requirement for leave to deal with a message at once is modified in respect of messages returning bills with amendments or with amendments disagreed. Standing orders 126(1) and 132(1) provide for the fixing of a time by motion for the message to be considered in committee of the whole. The time fixed by motion may be “immediately” or “at a later hour” or “on the next day of sitting”. For messages of a different character that require a response, immediate consideration requires leave.[5]

For further commentary on the timing of consideration of messages, see Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice, 12th edition, pp.540–41.