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Chapter 3 Strengthening the parliament: increased participation by all
The two underlying principles of the Agreement for a Better
Parliament: Parliamentary Reform (the Agreement)—reinforcing the identity
of ‘local MPs’ and their communities in our democratic system and strengthening
parliament by enhancing opportunities for all Members to participate—
are being adopted partly through an increase in the time for and prominence of private
Members’ business. The Agreement seeks to achieve this by:
- increasing the time available
for private Members’ business in the House and Main Committee;
- adding to opportunities
for private Members to raise issues; and
- changing the order of
business to give greater prominence to private Members’ business.
This chapter presents preliminary data on the allocation and use of the additional
opportunities for private Members and addresses the need to balance these
opportunities with the need to allocate sufficient time for government
business. Based on feedback and data from the early stages of the 43rd
Parliament, the Committee draws attention to aspects it believes warrant close monitoring.
These will be considered further in Chapter 5.
More opportunities for contributions by private Members
Increased participation by Members has primarily been achieved by changes
to the order of business in the House and Main Committee (considered below), and
an increase in sitting hours (considered in more detail in Chapter 5). The
order of business now provides additional:
- time for private
Members’ business: on Monday mornings and evenings in the Chamber and the Main
- time on Mondays, Tuesdays
and Wednesdays for adjournment debates in the Chamber;
- opportunities for 90 second
statements: now taking place in the Chamber in the 15 minutes prior to Question
Time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; and
- time for Matters of Public
Importance: an extra 30 minutes and now scheduled to follow on immediately
after Question Time and presentation of documents.
In total, the maximum time available under the standing orders
for participation by private Members in the House and Main
Committee has increased from 10 hours
and 20 minutes in the 42nd Parliament to 19 hours and 45 minutes in
the 43rd Parliament, with the largest increase in private Members’
Allocated time for private Members’ business
In the 42nd Parliament, on Monday evenings, the time for
private Members’ business comprised 1 hour in the House and 1 hour 35 minutes
in the Main Committee. Eight and a half hours is
now available on Mondays (3 and a half hours in the House and 5 hours in
the Main Committee).
As in previous parliaments, time for private Members’ business is shared
with other non-government business, including up to 10 minutes for presentation
of petitions and responses by the Petitions Committee Chair, and time for committee
and delegation business.
As proposed in the Agreement, a Selection Committee was (re)established
to select and schedule items of non-government business, including private
The Selection Committee and private Members’ business
Standing order 222 prescribes the composition, powers and
responsibilities of the Selection Committee. Its three main roles are
- schedule committee
and delegation business and private Members’ business for each sitting Monday in
accordance with standing orders 39 to 41;
- recommend items of
private Members’ business to be voted on; and
- select bills that the
Committee regards as controversial or as requiring further consultation or
debate for referral to the relevant standing or joint committee in accordance
with standing order 143(b).
The Committee may also determine speaking times for second reading debates
on private Members’ bills. If a second reading motion
is agreed to, further consideration of the bill is accorded priority over other
private Members’ business and the Committee may determine times for
consideration of the remaining stages.
As anticipated, following its establishment the Selection Committee has been
refining its practices and procedures. It meets each sitting Tuesday (primarily
to schedule committee and delegation and private Members’ business for the next
sitting Monday) and Wednesday (primarily to consider bills for referral to
committees). The Committee reports its determinations and recommendations to
the House on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It has adopted general principles to
guide its allocation of priorities regarding private Members’ business.
These include the importance of the subject, the level of interest, and the
extent of discussion on the subject in the parliament and elsewhere.
Private Members’ motions and bills
Data for the early stages of the 43rd Parliament show how the
additional time allocated for private Members’ business has been used. As at 4 March
2011, Members have lodged 116 items of private Members’ business on the Notice
Paper (101 motions and 15 private Members’ bills).
69 of the 101 private Members’ motions were lodged by government Members,
25 by opposition Members and seven by non-aligned Members.
Of the seven private Members’ motions lodged by non-aligned Members, five
were lodged by the Greens Member and two by Independents.
Of the 101 private Members’ motions, 59 were debated, comprising 38 from
government Members, 19 from opposition Members and two from non-aligned Members.
Fifteen were voted on: two from government Members,
12 from opposition Members and one from a non-aligned Member.
Of the 150 Members in the House, 48 contributed to the 101 private
Members’ motions lodged. Twenty-five Members lodged one motion each and the
remaining 76 motions were shared across 23 Members.
In the first sitting period of the previous
(42nd) parliament, only 10 private Members’ motions were debated: five
from government Members and five from opposition Members. None were put to a
Of the 15 private Members’ bills lodged in the 43rd
Parliament (as at 3 March 2011), 14 were introduced in the House: 5 by
non-aligned Members, 7 by shadow Ministers and 2 by the Leader of the
Opposition. At 4 March, the Selection Committee had recommended 6 of these be
voted on, and 2 others be referred to a House standing committee for further
consideration. Of the 6 private Members’ bills recommended for voting on, 2 were
passed, 3 were negatived and 1 was still before the House. The Committee notes
that the bill which was still before the House was discharged on 24 March 2011
after a bill with similar objectives was introduced by the Attorney-General.
Both the Attorney-General and the Leader of the Opposition acknowledged the
constructive cooperation which had achieved this outcome.
In the first sitting period of the previous (42nd) parliament
only one private Member’s bill was introduced, but did not proceed beyond the
first reading. In previous parliaments, private Members’ bills were only
occasionally debated and even then, usually not voted on. Historically, very
few private Members’ bills have been passed by the House.
There are mixed views as to whether the extent of the increase in time
available to private Members was necessary, and some Members have questioned
whether the additional time is being used effectively.
Informal feedback from the non-aligned Members indicated a variety of
views and some were strongly in favour of retaining the increased private
Feedback from government and opposition Members overwhelmingly indicated
that the increase in time allocated to private Members’ business was excessive.
The issue of the allocation of time is covered in Chapter 5.
There was a perception that, in some cases, motions were proposed to fill
the long periods allocated for private Members’ business. Yet, some Members
were concerned that there were occasionally private Members’ motions and bills
they wished to speak to, but could not, because there was not sufficient time
allocated for that particular item.
A number of Members also found that five minutes (often the period of
time allocated by the Selection Committee) was not enough time to speak to
private Members’ items. Therefore, there may be instances where the time
allocated for a debate for a particular item and, within that, the speaking
times, do not take into account the significance of the topics under
There may be value in encouraging a reduction in the number of motions
that are proposed, thereby enabling a greater number of speakers to debate
fewer motions and possibly to speak for longer to them. The Selection
Committee’s general principles allow for this.
The Selection Committee’s principles and broad mandate under standing
order 222 would enable it to address these concerns and exercise greater
flexibility in the time it allocates to debates on items of private Members’
business and to the speaking times it allows.
The Committee notes that the Selection Committee does make some
variation in the length of debate but it may be worth considering greater
The Committee recommends that the Selection Committee be
encouraged to implement the ‘General principles relating to the selection of
private Members’ business’ and exercise the flexibility that is available to
it pursuant to standing order 222 and the principles, particularly in
relation to the length of debates and speaking times allocated.
The Selection Committee’s report of 21 October 2010 recommended
that the general principles endorsed by the Selection Committee relating to the
selection of private Members’ business be adopted by the House.
The standing orders used to provide (prior to 2003) that items of
private Members’ business be selected in accordance with general principles
adopted by the House and the Committee would
be pleased if this provision were reinstated. This might assist the Selection
Committee in applying the principles.
The Committee recommends that the House take up the
Selection Committee’s recommendation that it consider adopting the ‘General
principles relating to the selection of private Members’ business’ (contained
in Report No. 3 of the Selection Committee of 21 October 2010).
The Selection Committee determines which items of private Members’ business
are to be voted on, but it does not schedule the votes (which are taken in government
business time, necessitating an initial suspension of standing orders to enable
the inclusion of private Members’ business, and placing scheduling responsibility
with the government).
This issue warrants monitoring. One option would be to schedule votes on
items of private Members’ motions and bills during private Members’ business (as
was considered during negotiations on the Agreement).
Consideration might also be given to listing the items of private Members’
business to be voted on in the Notice Paper.
The Committee deals with the overall allocation of time for private
Members’ business in the context of the emerging issues discussed in Chapter 5.
Other opportunities for private Members
Additional opportunities for private Members to raise matters of their
- adjournment and grievance
- Members’ 90 second
statements and 3 minute constituency statements;
- Matters of Public
Reforms in the 43rd Parliament have included changes to some
of these opportunities—discussed below.
In a typical sitting week the time for adjournment debates in the House has
increased from 2 hours in the 42nd Parliament to 3 and a
half hours in the 43rd Parliament. In the first four-week
sitting period of the 42nd Parliament there were 17 adjournment debates
and 101 speakers, averaging 25.3 speakers per week, compared to the first
five-week period of the 43rd Parliament when there were 21
adjournment debates and 214 speakers, averaging 42.8 speakers per week.
Members’ 90 second statements and three minute constituency statements
In the 43rd Parliament, Members’ 90 second statements have
been moved to the House, taking place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, in
the 15 minutes before Question Time. A total of 134
statements were made in the first five sitting weeks. Members have made full
use of the time.
The move back to the Chamber and the new timeslot expose the issues to a
wider audience and provide a dynamic lead-in to Question Time.
Members continue to raise a range of issues during three minute
constituency statements in the Main Committee on Mondays, Wednesdays and
Thursdays. (The Agreement did not effect a change to this.)
Matters of Public Importance
Discussion on Matters of Public Importance (MPIs) provides opportunities
for debate on a topical issue and is usually proposed by a non-government Member.
In the previous parliament up to one hour was available for the MPI, following Question
Time, presentation of documents, and Ministerial statements, on Tuesdays,
Wednesdays and Thursdays. Now, the MPI is discussed following Question Time and
the presentation of documents, and the maximum time has been increased to one and
a half hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (the time on Thursdays remaining in
To date in the 43rd Parliament 25 MPIs have been discussed.
Twenty-four have been proposed by the opposition with roughly equal number of
speakers from the government and opposition. So far no MPI has been proposed by
a non-aligned Member.
The average time taken for discussion on an MPI in the first sitting
period of the 43rd Parliament was 1 hour and 8 minutes. For the
equivalent period in the 42nd Parliament the average time was
The balance between private Members’ business and government business and
the nature of legislative debate
The proportion of time spent on private Members’ motions and bills in
the first sitting period of the 43rd Parliament was more than double
the equivalent time in the 42nd Parliament, increasing from 8% to
Increased participation of all Members is central to the Agreement,
however, it is also vital to operations of the parliament and the government, that
adequate time is available to transact the business of government, which for
the most part is government legislation. There has been a small decrease in the
proportion of time allocated to government business, although data show that
the total time spent on government business has increased slightly. During the
first five sitting weeks of the 43rd Parliament an average of 19 hours
and 32 minutes per week was committed in the House and Main Committee to government
business and 63 government bills were presented to the House. For the
equivalent period in the 42nd Parliament, the average time spent on government
business in the House and Main Committee was 18 hours and 50 minutes. During the
first four sitting weeks of the 42nd Parliament 50 government bills
were presented to the House.
The passage of legislation is necessarily a time-consuming process and some
observers have described debates on legislation as lengthy and uninteresting.
The Agreement includes proposals to make debate on legislation more efficient,
lively and interactive.
Standing orders have now reduced maximum speaking times on bills for
most Members from 20 minutes to 15 minutes. The Selection Committee
may further reduce speaking times to 5 or 10 minutes when many Members wish to
speak—although it has not yet done so. A sessional order which allows up to 5
minutes for questions and answers at the end of second reading speeches has
been introduced but to date no Member
has used it.
A stated aim of the Agreement is to increase the authority of the parliament—relative
to the executive—by increasing opportunities for participation by all Members.
Initial indications are that the increased time for private Members’ business
has provided Members with additional opportunities. An illustration of the
effectiveness of the reforms was the first successful passage of a private
Member’s bill originating in the House since 1999.
A second private Member’s bill has also been passed by the House and is
currently before the Senate.
The question arises as to whether there is adequate time to deal with government
business. Although the allocation of time for private Members’ business is
generous compared to earlier parliaments, initial indications are that this does
not appear to have compromised the ability to deal effectively with government
business. This may be due to a number of factors, including the increased
sitting hours (considered in Chapter 5), and reduced speaking times for debate during
the second reading stage of bills. There may be potential for greater efficiencies,
particularly if the Selection Committee reduces speaking times when
opportunities arise, however, having not observed this in practice, the
Committee is not in a position to comment.
With regard to time limits for speeches, the Committee acknowledges the following
comments made on 21 October 2010 by the Selection Committee, noting apparent
inconsistencies in standing orders:
The [Selection] Committee reports that, in setting times for
the second reading and debate on the two private Members’ bills, the committee
was constrained, by standing order 222 (a) (iv) and standing order 1, from
setting speaking times of 10 minutes per speaker for all speakers on the bill,
including the mover and the Member representing the Prime Minister. The
committee notes, however, that, under standing order 222 (c), the committee may
determine the times allotted for each member speaking in private Members’
The [Selection] Committee suggests that the Procedure
Committee, in monitoring and reviewing the procedural reforms implemented for
the 43rd Parliament, consider proposing amendment of the standing orders to
enable the Selection Committee the flexibility to set lesser speaking times for
the mover of the second reading and the lead speaker for the Government or the
Opposition, for private Members’ bills.
This is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5 which considers early
observations on the need to fine-tune standing orders to address anomalies and to
enhance the implementation of reforms to better meet the objectives of the
While there is scope for greater efficiencies, based on initial
observations, the Committee is cautiously optimistic that reduced speaking
times and increased opportunities for committee scrutiny of bills (discussed
further in Chapter 4) have improved the House’s capacity to effectively manage the
legislative process. However, the Committee is less optimistic about the
changes intended to encourage more interactive debate. No Members have yet relied
on sessional order 142A and asked
questions at the end of second reading speeches. The Committee encourages Members
to take up this opportunity to enliven debate.