Glossary of Senate terms

Absolute majority - more than half of all possible votes (currently 39 of the 76 places). A simple majority is more than half of the senators who are present for the vote. Decisions that require an absolute majority are:

  • to suspend standing orders without notice
  • to rescind (or undo) an order of the Senate
  • to pass a bill to alter the Constitution

Adjournment - each sitting day at the time established by standing order 57, the President proposes "that the Senate do now adjourn". This question is open to debate, and under standing order 53, the debate does not have to be relevant to the question - meaning that senators may speak on any matter.

Adoption of committee report occurs after the committee of the whole stage in the passage of a bill through the Senate. The committee reports to the Senate that it has considered the bill and has agreed to it with (or without) amendments. The adoption of the committee report is the stage at which the Senate determines whether to accept the bill (with amendments, if applicable) as a prelude to the final vote, or send it back for further consideration. (Guide to Senate Procedure No. 16—Consideration of Legislation)

Business of the Senate includes disallowance motions, orders of the day for the presentation of committee reports, motions to refer matters to standing committees, motions for leave of absence for a senator and motions concerning the qualification of a senator. It has precedence over government business and general business for the day on which it is listed. (Guide to Senate Procedure No. 4—Categories of Business)

Closure motion - commonly known as a "gag", this motion, when successful, closes the current debate. The question before the chair is immediately put and determined.

Committee of the whole is a process during which details of a bill are discussed, and amendments are moved, debated and determined. Amendments moved during this stage are to the text of the bill and may affect the final contents of the law. (Guide to Senate Procedure No. 16—Consideration of Legislation ). See also Request for an amendment

Cut-off refers to a deadline for the receipt of bills. If a bill is received from the House of Representatives more than two-thirds of the way through a sitting period, it is automatically adjourned until the next period of sittings. (The two-thirds cut-off date is marked on the sitting calendar by a pair of scissors.) Similarly, bills are automatically adjourned until the next period of sittings if they are introduced in the Senate, or if they are introduced in the House and sent to the Senate within the same sitting period (standing order 111(5)). With the agreement of the Senate, bills can be exempted from the cut-off, allowing them to be moved, considered and passed in the same period of sittings.

Declaration of urgency - commonly known as the "guillotine", this is a procedure whereby a majority may ensure that debate on a bill eventually comes to a conclusion and the questions necessary for the passage of the bill are put to a vote.

Delegated legislation is the collective term for regulations, determinations, instruments, directions, by-laws or notices made by either the Governor-General, a minister or statutory office-holder to whom the Parliament has delegated the power to make such rules. All such delegated legislation must be tabled in both Houses of Parliament and is subject to disallowance by either House. If a regulation is disallowed, it ceases to have effect. (See also Disallowance of delegated legislaton)

Disallowance of delegated legislation - any senator can move a motion to disallow delegated legislation. Once a notice of motion for the disallowance of regulations is given in the Chamber, the Senate has 15 sitting days to deliberate and vote. If the matter is not resolved within the 15 sitting days, the regulation is automatically disallowed. For further information see Guide to Senate Procedure No. 19—Disallowance.

Formal motions are an opportunity for notices of motion to be fast-tracked - that is, moved and voted on without debate. 

General business is initiated by senators who are not ministers. It includes motions to take note of answers, most notices of motion, consideration of committee reports and government responses and private senator's bills. General business takes precedence over government business on Mondays and Thursdays as described below. (Guide to Senate Procedure No. 4—Categories of Business)

Government business is business initiated by a minister and includes all debate on government bills. Government business takes precedence over general business except for Monday mornings (for private senators' bills), and Thursday afternoons. (Guide to Senate Procedure No. 4—Categories of Business)

Leave is the unanimous consent of all senators present in the chamber and is determined by the Chair after he or she ascertains if there is any objection to a particular course of action being sought.

Motions - a motion is a proposal submitted to the Senate by a senator. If the chair accepts a motion moved by a senator, the chair puts the motion to the Senate in the form of a question. Debate may then ensue if the question is one which, under the rules of the Senate, may be debated. The question is then put again by the chair and voted upon by the Senate. If the Senate agrees to the motion it then becomes a resolution or order of the Senate. (See also Notice of motion)

Notice of motion - all decisions of the Senate begin as motions moved by senators. The first step is usually for a senator to give notice of their intention to move a motion. A notice of motion therefore signals a potential decision of the Senate.

Private senator's bill is a piece of legislation not introduced by the government of the day, but by a senator in a private capacity as a way of making a policy statement.

Request for an amendment - under section 53 of the Constitution, the Senate may not amend a bill imposing taxation, or a bill appropriating money for the ordinary annual services of government (an appropriation bill). It also may not amend a bill in a way which will increase any proposed charge or burden. If the Senate wishes to make such amendments, they must be made in the form of requests to the House of Representatives. (Guide to Senate Procedure No. 16—Consideration of Legislation) See also Committee of the whole

Second reading amendment is an amendment to the motion that a bill be read a second time. This type of amendment adds or changes words in the motion to, for example, express an opinion about the bill or the government's handling of policy issues. (Guide to Senate Procedure No. 16—Consideration of Legislation)

Second reading debate is a policy debate relating to the principles of a particular bill. A senator may speak for up to 15 minutes and make a further contribution if a second reading amendment is moved. The second reading debate is opened by a minister who outlines the policies of the bill, and is usually closed by a minister who may respond to issues raised during the debate. The debate culminates in a vote signifying that the bill is agreed to, or rejected, in principle. (Guide to Senate Procedure No. 16—Consideration of Legislation)

Sitting is a period of time during which the Senate meets and does not adjourn for more than 20 days (Standing Order 111).

Standing orders are procedural rules that facilitate the orderly conduct of business and protect the rights of individual senators (see also Suspension of standing orders).

Suspension of standing orders is a mechanism that may be used to allow action to be taken that the standing orders would otherwise prevent. (See Guide to Senate Procedure No. 5—Suspension of standing orders)

Third reading is the final vote on a bill, signifying the Senate's acceptance or rejection of it (as amended, if applicable).

Urgency motions and matters of public importance (MPIs) provides a procedure under standing order 75 whereby a senator can raise for debate, without the usual notice of not less than one day, any matter which is considered as warranting immediate debate. Only one such motion can be considered each day, and the opportunity only exists on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. If the proposal is in order, the President shall read it to the Senate at the time allotted. In order for the debate to proceed, the motion must be supported by four other senators. At the conclusion of the debate there is no vote taken on the substantive issue of the matter or motion. However, in the case of urgency motions, a procedural vote is taken as to whether the matter is considered urgent or not. (Standing Order 75; Guide to Senate Procedure No. 9—Matters of Public Importance and Urgency Debates)