Chapter 26 - Tabling of documents

169  Motions after tabling

  1. On a document being laid before the Senate, it shall be in order to move:
    1. that a day be appointed for its consideration; or
    2. that it be printed.
  2. Where a motion is moved by leave in relation to a document presented to the Senate, including a document presented to the President when the Senate is not sitting, a senator speaking to such a motion shall not speak for more than 10 minutes, and debate on the motion shall not exceed 30 minutes; where 2 or more such motions are moved in succession, debate on all motions shall not exceed 60 minutes.

Amendment history

Adopted: 19 August 1903 as SO 355 (corresponding to paragraph (1)) but renumbered as SO 351 for the first printed edition

Amended: 13 February 1997, J.1442–45, J.1447 (to take effect 24 February 1997) (paragraph (2) added to implement a 1994 recommendation of the Procedure Committee)

1989 revision: Old SO 365 renumbered as SO169(1); “paper” replaced with “document” and reference in paragraph (1)(a) to the paper being read deleted; expression streamlined


Adopted without debate in 1903 from the South Australian model, paragraph (1) is an expression of the Senate’s control over documents presented to it. It is a companion provision to SO 39 which applies to committee reports.

Documents presented to the Senate

Documents presented to the Senate that are authorised for printing are published in the Parliamentary Papers Series, distributed to major libraries

Originally, paragraph (1)(a) provided for a motion that the document be read and, if necessary, a day appointed for its consideration. In the 1938 MS, Edwards noted that there had been no case on record of a motion being moved for a document to be read, other than petitions and reports of the then Printing Committee, although there were one or two occurrences in the late 1970s.[1] This part of the standing order was subsequently deleted in the course of the 1989 revision.

A motion for a document to be printed does not go to the issue of publication as such, which is already covered by SO 167. If agreed to, a motion that a document be printed authorises its publication as a Parliamentary Paper. Under SO 22 the Publications Committee is delegated with the task of examining all documents presented to the Senate and making recommendations as to whether the documents should be published in the Parliamentary Papers Series. This standing order, and SO 39 in relation to committee reports, allows the Senate to bypass that process at any time. In practice, while it is common for a printing motion to be moved in relation to Senate and certain joint committee reports at the time of tabling, other documents are left to the Publications Committee which usually meets as a joint committee with the equivalent House of Representatives committee and makes recommendations in relation to documents that have been tabled in both Houses. See SO 22 for early disputes about unilateral recommendations by the Senate Printing Committee on such documents.

Between the 1920s and the 1970s, a motion that a document be printed was allowed to be used as a vehicle for substantive comment on the document itself. Although earlier rulings had enforced the rule of relevance, practices became more lenient in the 1920s and were endorsed by a ruling of President Kingsmill in 1931 to the effect that a motion for the printing of a paper setting out government policy provides an opportunity for the Senate to express its opinion by amendment if necessary.[2] By the late 1970s, however, it became common for leave to be granted to move a motion to take note of a paper. If several senators wished to speak on a report and the debate was adjourned, perhaps over several weeks, the Notice Paper accumulated large numbers of orders of the day with little prospect of debate resuming on many of them. The Standing Orders Committee noted the practice and suggested that a more selective approach to papers should be employed by giving notice of motions to take note of them (rather than doing it by leave on the spot).[3] The suggestion was reiterated in its next report but senators continued to seek leave to speak to reports on the day of tabling.[4] In 1981, new procedures were implemented that would lead to more structured opportunities to consider documents.[5] These developments are considered under SO 61.

Senators’ interest in debating committee reports and government documents has continued unabated. Such documents invariably address important issues of the day and provide a timely opportunity for senators to make a contribution on those issues. With time taken up by such debate on most days, there have been efforts to regulate the presentation and consideration of reports and documents. See SOs 61 and 62. The 1994 reforms to the hours of meeting and routine of business included significant new opportunities for the presentation and consideration of committee reports, but reports and documents continued to be presented at other times with potentially unlimited debate. A notice of motion given in general terms by the then Manager of Government Business, Senator Faulkner (ALP, NSW), in June 1994, proposing to limit presentation of reports and documents to the structured times and to limit debate on other documents, was referred to the Procedure Committee. The committee devised an alternative to the original proposal and recommended that what is now paragraph (2), be adopted as an amendment to the sessional order implementing the 1994 reforms.[6] The report was not considered.

Following the change in government in 1996, there was some difficulty in settling new sessional orders, with the result that the sessional orders that had been in place under the previous government were re-adopted from week to week until the end of the year when agreement was reached.[7] Paragraph (2) was put forward as part of an amended order for the times of meeting and routine of business, as had been intended by the Procedure Committee. It had also been included in the Procedure Committee’s First Report of 1996 (PP No. 194/1996) which recommended the incorporation in standing orders of several long-standing sessional orders, orders of continuing effect and previously unimplemented recommendations of the committee. It was therefore doubly adopted on 13 February 1997, to take effect on 24 February.[8]