House of Representatives Committees

House Standing Committee on Procedure

Committee activities (inquiries and reports)

History of the Procedure Committee on its 20th anniversary

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October 2005

© Commonwealth of Australia 2005
ISBN 0 642 78719 0 (printed version)
ISBN 0 642 78720 4 (HTML version)


Standing terms of reference
Reference guide
Chapter 1 First reading
Chapter 2 Practices and procedures
Chapter 3 Development of practices and procedures in the House of Representatives
Chapter 4 Procedure Committee: Establishment and composition
Chapter 5 Procedural reform: The objectives of the Procedure Committee
Chapter 6 Consideration in detail: The work of the Procedure Committee
Chapter 7 Reflections
Chapter 8 Summing up
Chapter 9 Third reading

Appendix A—Establishment and membership
Appendix B—Chairs and members roll
Appendix C—Reports and responses
Appendix D—Annual committee activity
Appendix E—Who’s who



Although the Standing Orders Committees of the House of Representatives and Senate have, from time to time, recommended valuable reforms to the procedures of the Houses there has not been any effective ongoing consideration of procedure and practice. … There have been few notable achievements made by either Standing Orders Committee.

JCPCS (1976), 72

The above quotation was the judgment on the effectiveness of the standing orders committees which the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System delivered in its report of May 1976. In surveying all existing parliamentary committees, the joint committee examined the record of the standing orders committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives and noted systemic impediments to procedural reform in both Houses.

As if to confirm a suggestion of institutional inertia, the Houses were slow to respond. Almost nine years were to pass before the House, in 1985, appointed its first Standing Committee on Procedure. The Senate appointed its Procedure Committee in 1987.

The House did not follow the joint committee’s proposal that a newly established procedure committee coexist with the Standing Orders Committee, each having a distinct but complementary role. Rather, exercising its habitual caution in approaching procedural reform, the House appointed its Procedure Committee in lieu of the Standing Orders Committee. Nonetheless, explicit standing terms of reference and a less exclusive membership prevented any suggestion that a change of name was change enough.

The committee was first appointed early in the 34th Parliament by resolution of the House on 27 February 1985. It was reappointed by sessional order at the beginning of the 35th and 36th Parliaments (1987 and 1990). It became a lasting feature of the parliamentary landscape when, on 15 October 1992, its appointment at the start of each subsequent Parliament became entrenched in the standing orders.

This report celebrates the 20th anniversary of the appointment of the first House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure.1 The committee, now in its 8th formation, has taken this opportunity to look broadly at procedural reform in the House of Representatives since 1985 and to allow the committee’s role in the process to emerge from that wider canvas.

The House did not devise the rules and orders which governed the conduct of its business when it commenced proceedings in 1901. It started with a set of provisional standing orders drafted by a former clerk of a colonial legislature which mixed colonial experience with a Westminster inheritance. This makeshift set of rules, shaped more by the past than by new circumstances, was to serve the House for fifty years.

Generally speaking, when the House’s rules and operating procedures were amended during the first eight decades of the Commonwealth Parliament, the emphasis was on allowing the Government to govern. But while passing laws may be paramount, a House of Parliament should be much more than a processor of legislation. It has other functions, not least scrutiny of government and representation of constituents. At the time the Procedure Committee was established, there were many Members who believed that the existing practices and procedures of the House did not allow them to perform those functions properly.

At its inception, the Procedure Committee was expected to make the conduct of business more efficient by renovating the House’s practices and procedures after decades of neglect; to enable backbenchers to participate more fully in the House’s proceedings; and to assist the Speaker in resolving ambiguities and inconsistencies in the standing orders.

Twenty years later, it can be claimed that the committee has met each of these expectations. Five major accomplishments, in particular, bear witness to this assertion:

These are the more obvious achievements. However, its continuing responsiveness to emerging problems and its ability to recommend practicable solutions should also be noted. There are many examples.

A detailed examination of the committee’s activities over twenty years reveals a development based on growing confidence and effectiveness. The committee has extended and refined its own operating procedures and has increasingly cultivated working relationships with the major players in the conduct of House business.

The following pages will allow readers to form their own opinions on whether procedural reform continues to occur to facilitate the passage of government business. The committee believes the evidence reveals an agent for change unmatched by its predecessors and a contribution which the House has ample reason to celebrate.

Margaret May MP

31 October 2005

Membership of the Committee


Mrs M A May MP


Deputy Chair

Mr D Melham MP



Hon B K Bishop MP



Mrs P Draper MP



Mr L Hartsuyker MP

(from 31 May 2005)


Ms K J Hoare MP



Mr P C Neville MP

(to 31 May 2005)


Hon L R S Price MP





Committee Secretariat


Ms Judy Middlebrook;
Ms Robyn McClelland (from 24 August 2005)

Research Officers

John Craig, Samantha Mannette

Administrative Officer

Penelope Branson



Standing terms of reference


To inquire into and report on the practices and procedures of the House and its committees.

[Standing order 221]


To inquire into and report on the practices and procedures of the House generally with a view to making recommendations for their improvement or change and for the development of new procedures.

[Standing order 330: 1998–2004]

[Sessional order 28C: 1987–1998]

[Resolution of appointment—1985–1987]


Parliamentary time

This report uses parliamentary terms in the same sense as they are used in House of Representatives Practice. Some terms relating to the parliamentary calendar are used frequently in the following pages and, because they are often used elsewhere informally, their formal definitions2 are reproduced here.


A Parliament commences upon the first sitting day following a general election and concludes either at dissolution or at the expiration of three years from the first meeting of the House—whichever occurs first.


A session commences upon the first sitting day following a general election or prorogation and concludes either by prorogation (the formal ending of a session), dissolution or at the expiration of three years from the first meeting of the House.

Sitting period

Sitting periods occur within a session. Sittings of the House in each calendar year are usually divided into distinct periods—the Autumn, Budget and Spring sittings.


A sitting commences pursuant to the standing or sessional orders, or in accordance with a resolution of the House at a previous sitting, and concludes with the adjournment of the same sitting. The same sitting may extend over more than one day.


A recess is a period between sessions of the Parliament or the period between the close of a session by prorogation and the dissolution or expiry of the House.


An adjournment is said to occur when the House stands adjourned, by its own resolution or in accordance with the standing orders, for any period of time. Thus the term covers the period between the end of one sitting day and the commencement of the next, the gap (usually of two weeks) between sitting weeks within a sitting period, and also the periods of time between the main sitting periods each year, which are technically not recesses, although they are often colloquially referred to as such.

Suspension of sitting

Sittings are suspended, that is, temporarily interrupted, with the Speaker or Member presiding leaving the Chair, for a variety of reasons.


For chronological ease, the text makes frequent reference to specific Parliaments. Parliaments, as defined above, are numbered sequentially from the first, which commenced in 1901, to the 41st which commenced on 16 November 2004. The table on the facing page, adapted from the fifth edition of House of Representatives Practice, sets out the Parliaments during which most of the events in this report occurred.

Chronology of recent Parliaments


General elections


House’s last sitting day



29th Parliament






First Session












30th Parliament






First Session






Second Session












31st Parliament






First Session












32nd Parliament






First Session












33rd Parliament






First Session












34th Parliament






First Session












35th Parliament






First Session












36th Parliament






First Session












37th Parliament






First Session












38th Parliament






First Session












39th Parliament






First Session












40th Parliament






First Session












41st Parliament






First Session













Reference guide



Bach, Stanley, Platypus and parliament: The Australian Senate in theory and practice, Canberra: Department of the Senate, 2003


Boulton, C. J., ‘The Select Committee on Procedure, 1967’ in The Table, The Journal of the Society of Clerks-at-the-Table in Commonwealth Parliaments, Vol XXXVI (1967), 58–62


Department of the House of Representatives, Annual report

Griffith & Ryle

Griffith, J. A. G. and Ryle, Michael, Parliament: Functions, practice and procedures, London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1989


Hatsell, John, Precedents of proceedings in the House of Commons, Vols I-IV, Luke Hansard & Sons, 1818 reprinted Shannon, Ireland: Irish University Press, 1971

HR Deb

House of Representatives Debates (Hansard). references are to date and page

HR Practice (1st edn)

Pettifer, J. A. (ed), House of Representatives Practice, 1st edn, Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1981

HR Practice (2nd edn)

Browning, A. R. (ed), House of Representatives Practice, 2nd edn, Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1989

HR Practice (3rd edn)

Barlin, L. M. (ed), House of Representatives Practice, 3rd edn, Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1997

HR Practice (4th edn)

Harris, I. C. (ed), House of Representatives Practice, 4th edn, Canberra: Department of the House of Representatives, 2001

HR Practice (5th edn)

Harris, I. C. (ed), House of Representatives Practice, 5th edn, Canberra: Department of the House of Representatives, 2005


Hughes, W. M., ‘The tribute of a contemporary’ in Fitzhardinge, L. F., Nation building in Australia, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1941


Ilbert, Sir Courtney, Preface to Redlich, Joseph, The Procedure of the House of Commons: A study of its history and present form, London: Constable, 1908, Volume I

JCPCS (1975)

Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System, A proposed system of committees for the Australian Parliament, Interim report, 15 October 1975, PP 275 (1975)

JCPCS (1976)

Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System, A new parliamentary committee system, 26 May 1976, PP 128 (1976)


McKay, Sir William (ed), Erskine May’s Treatise on the law, privileges proceedings and usage of Parliament, 23rd edn, London: LexisNexis UK, 2004


Norton, Philip, ‘Playing by the rules: The constraining hand of parliamentary procedure’ in Journal of Legislative Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, Autumn 2001, 13–33


House of Representatives Notice Paper

Quick & Garran

Quick, J. and Garran, R. R., The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1901


Reid, G., The politics of financial control: The role of the House of Commons, London.: Hutchison University Library, 1966

Reid & Forrest

Reid, G. S. and Forrest, Martyn, Australia’s Commonwealth Parliament 1901–1988: Ten perspectives, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1989

Scholes (1981)

Speech by the Hon. G. G. D. Scholes, HR Deb (19.8.1981) 420–2


Journals of the Senate

SOC (1949)

House of Representatives Standing Orders Committee, Report and proposed standing orders, 7 October 1949

SOC (1950)

House of Representatives Standing Orders Committee, Report and proposed standing orders, 16 March 1950

SOC (1962)

House of Representatives Standing Orders Committee, Report together with proposed revised standing orders of the House of Representatives, 28 August 1962, H of R 1 [Group I]


Souter, Gavin, Acts of Parliament: a narrative history of the Senate and House of Representatives, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1988


Society of Clerks-at-the-Table, Table, London: Butterworth (published annually)


Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives


Weller, P., ‘Parliamentary democracy in Australia’ in Parliamentary Affairs, Vol. 57 No. 3, 630–45


Reports of the Standing Committee on Procedure(to March 2005)

About time

About time: Bills, questions and working hours—Report of the inquiry into reform of the House of Representatives , October 1993, PP 194 (1993)

Additional tellers

Trial of additional tellers , December 2003, PP 408 (2003)

Alternative opportunities

Alternative opportunities for Members to concisely address the House , 13 May 1985, PP 207 (1985)

Anticipation rule

The anticipation rule: Aspects of the application of the rule , March 2005, PP 82 (2005)

Application of technology to committees

Application of modern technology to committee proceedings , November 1994, PP 364 (1994)

Balancing tradition and progress

Balancing tradition and progress: Procedures for the opening of Parliament , August 2001, PP 165 (2001)

Conduct of business and opening of Parliament

The standing orders governing: General rule for the conduct of business; Procedures for the opening of Parliament , June 1991, PP 167 (1991)

Conduct of committees

The standing orders governing the conduct of committees of the House , November 1989, PP 458 (1989)

Conduct of divisions

Conduct of divisions , November 1996, PP 290 (1996)

Conduct of Question Time

The standing orders and practices which govern the conduct of Question Time , November 1986, PP 354 (1986)

Days and hours

Days and hours of sitting and the effective use of the time of the House , May 1986, PP 108 (1986)

Dealing with witnesses

Committee procedures for dealing with witnesses , April 1989, PP 100 (1989)

Debate on reports

Greater opportunities for debate on reports from parliamentary committees , September 1990, PP 176 (1990)

Disclosure of in camera evidence

Disclosure of in camera evidence , November 1991, PP 295 (1991)

Disorder and strangers

The standing orders governing disorder and strangers , October 1992, PP 243 (1992)

Election of Speaker

The election of Speaker , May 1989, PP 146 (1989)


e-motions: The electronic transaction of questions, answers and notices of motion and related matters , April 2000, PP 76 (2000)

House estimates

House estimates: Consideration of the annual estimates by the House of Representatives , October 2003, PP 211 (2003)

Improved opportunities

Improved opportunities for private Members: proposed sessional orders , November 1987, PP 219 (1987)

It’s your House

It’s your House: Community involvement in the procedures and practices of the House of Representatives and its committees , October 1999, PP 363 (1999)

Joint meetings

Arrangements for joint meetings with the Senate , June 2004, PP 151 (2004)

Media coverage

Media coverage of House proceedings: Including the Chamber, Main Committee and committees—Interim report, June 2004

Opening procedures

Procedures for the opening of Parliament , September 1995, PP 195 (1995)

Private Members’ business

Private Members’ business: Speech time limits for individual Members and priority to notices for private Members’ bills , March 1991, PP 51 (1991)

Promoting community involvement

Promoting community involvement in the work of committees: Conference of committee chairs, deputy chairs and secretaries, 6 March 2001 , May 2001, PP 114 (2001)

Publication of tabled papers

The publication of tabled papers , November 1988, PP 262 (1988)

Questions seeking information

The standing orders governing questions seeking information , June 1992, PP 179 (1992)

Renaming the Main Committee

Renaming the Main Committee—Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Main Committee , June 2004, PP 118 (2004)

Responses to petitions

Responses to petitions , November 1990, PP 267 (1990)

Review of conduct of divisions

Review of the conduct of divisions , August 2003, PP 163 (2003)

Review of reports

Review of reports of previous Procedure Committees which have not received a government response , November 1996, PP 350 (1996)

Revised standing orders

Revised standing orders: The standing orders of the House of Representatives as last amended on 6 February 2003, redrafted and reorganised , November 2003, PP 394 (2003)

Right of reply

A citizen’s right of reply , June 1991, PP 168 (1991)

Ringing of bells

The ringing of bells and the chamber precincts in the New Parliament House—Certification of petitions not in the English language , April 1988, PP 149 (1988)

Second chamber

The second chamber: Enhancing the Main Committee , July 2000, PP 158 (2001)

Second reading speeches

Arrangements for second reading speeches , December 2003, PP 407 (2003)

Seconding notices

Seconding of private Members’ notices of motions , March 1992, PP 102 (1992)

Short speeches in the Main Committee

Provision for Members to make short speeches in the Main Committee , September 1997, PP 184 (1997)

SO 143

The operation of standing order 143: Questions to Members other than Ministers , September 1996, PP 115 (1996)

SO 226

Bills—Consideration in detail: Review of the operation of standing order 226 , October 1996, PP 190 (1996)

SO 344

Sessional order 344 , June 2003, PP 119 (2003)

Speaker, Chairman etc.

The standing orders governing the Speaker, Chairman, Deputy Chairmen and officers , March 1992, PP 101 (1992)

Ten years on

Ten years on: A review of the House of Representatives committee system , May 1998, PP 91 (1998)

Time for review

Time for review: Bills, questions and working hours—Review of procedural changes operating since 21 February 1994 , June 1995, PP 108 (1995)


Discussion papers

Proposed revised standing orders

Discussion paper: Proposed revised standing orders , September 2002

Question Time

Question time in the House of Representatives: A discussion paper , June 1995


Minutes of the Standing Committee on Procedure

Committee minutes

Extracts from the minutes of committee meetings relating to a specific inquiry are tabled together with the report of that inquiry in accordance with standing order 247(a). Those extracts from the minutes are therefore public in accordance with standing order 203.

However, the confidentiality of the minutes of private meetings not concerned with inquiries is subject to standing order 242.





1 The report covers activities to the end of March 2005—while the committee was formally established on 27 February 1985, it did not meet for the first time until 20 March 1985. Back
2 House of Representatives Practice , 5th edn, 212—see the Reference guide below for a fuller bibliographic description of this publication. Back

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