Second report of 2022

Hours of meeting and routine of business

1.1     The committee met by video conference on 15 and 29 August 2022 to discuss a proposal to vary the hours of meeting and routine of business of the Senate.

1.2     The matter was referred by the President at the request of the Manager of Government Business, and responds in part to recommendation 27 of Set the Standard, the report of the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces. That recommendation proposes a review of the sometimes long and irregular hours of meeting of the two Houses, with the intention of striking a better balance between wellbeing and parliamentary business.

1.3     The referral asked the committee to consider:

  • Commencement times on Wednesday and Thursdays
  • Adjournment debate commencement time, speaking times and conclusion time
  • Times at which no divisions may be held
  • Consideration of private senators' bills and general business
  • Consideration of documents and committee reports.

1.4     The committee agreed that significant improvements could be made by adjourning earlier on Monday night (currently 10.30 pm) and by providing that no divisions may be held after 6.30 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The current arrangement for no divisions after 4.30 pm on Thursdays would also be retained. These changes reduce the need for senators and staff to attend to the Senate unless they are directly involved in the matters being debated. The details of proposed changes are as follows:

Day No divisions Adjournment commences Individual
Total time
Monday from 6.30 pm 8 pm 5 minutes 30 minutes
Tuesday from 6.30 pm 7.30 pm 5 or 10 minutes n/a
Wednesday from 6.30 pm 7.30 pm 5 minutes 30 minutes
Thursday from 4.30 pm 5.30 pm 5 or 10 minutes 30 minutes

1.5     The committee also agreed that sittings should start at 9 am on Wednesdays and Thursdays, commencing with 1 hour and 10 minutes debate on private senators' bills on each day. Monday mornings would revert to government business time.

1.6     The committee agreed not to propose any changes to current arrangements for consideration of documents and committee reports.

Matters of public importance and urgency motions

1.7     The committee also considered and agreed to procedural changes for matters of public importance (MPIs) and urgency motions.

1.8     The committee agreed that two such matters may be proposed each day, to be discussed or debated for 30 minutes each, and that the opportunities to propose them should be allocated among non-government parties and independent senators on a proportional basis, rather than being subject to a daily ballot. The committee agreed that the allocation should be made by informal agreement between party whips and independent senators, rather than codified in the standing orders. Similar processes are used for the allocation of other time-limited debates. A change to the standing orders proposes to remove the ballot process so that, if more than two proposals are received, the President will select which proposals will proceed in consultation with the whips.

1.9     The standard speaking time for senators on MPIs and urgency motions will be set at 5 minutes each (currently 10 minutes), noting that informal arrangements are usually made, by leave. The committee accepted that there might be circumstances in which the whips would agree to allocate time to a matter proposed by a government senator.


1.10    The committee recommends that the Senate adopt the amendments to the standing orders shown in the appendix.

Senator Andrew McLachlan