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FOR – Business - Standing and sessional orders - Change the procedural rules

This is the first division (recorded vote) in the 47th Parliament.

The majority voted in favour of a Government motion, as amended by Warringah MP Zali Steggall (Independent), to change the rules of proceedings in the House of Representatives. The changes were proposed mainly to reflect the increased proportion of crossbenchers (minor party and independent MPs) that were elected in the 2022 federal election, and to improve the flow of debates in the House.

What were the changes?

The main changes, as outlined by Leader of the House and Watson MP Tony Burke (Labor), are as follows:

Sitting timetable, statements on significant matters, quorum calls and divisions (standing orders 29, 50A, 55 & 133)

The meeting time of the House on Wednesdays and Thursdays was moved from 9:30 am to 9:00 am, and the daily schedule rearranged. If a division (recorded vote) is required or a quorum call (request to the Speaker to count the MPs in the chamber so as to ensure that the minimum number of MPs are present to continue the sitting) is made between 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, it is postponed to the start of the next meeting of the House.

In explaining the changes, Tony Burke said:

Every time we come together after an election, the incoming government reviews the standing orders. This time the context is different. This time, we have all had to deal with the issues that were raised in Set the standard, the report from Kate Jenkins. […] The first is a recommendation about the sitting calendar, asking that school holidays be avoided at all times. With the different states, that's a complex thing to do, but we have done that with the sitting plan that was adopted yesterday. The second issue is how we get through the business we need to get through without doing the absurdly late nights, including the really extreme late nights, that we have sometimes had. How do we sort that out? People, including the people we work with, not just each other, have had to be here in working conditions that are neither healthy nor safe. How do we manage to sort that out but still get through all the business and minimise the number of times that we're gagging debate? All of that has been weighed up in what is in front of you. Change is always controversial—I'm not expecting anything different—but I want to explain how we've got to the recommendations that are in front of you.

The first thing is that, if the House agrees—and I reckon I'll do okay on this one particularly—each day from 6.30 pm there will be no further divisions or quorums. This has come principally from caucus members who've brought young families to parliament. Effectively, what they've had to do every afternoon until now is, when it's time for the child to get to bed, check with the whip as to whether or not they could get a pair on that particular day. I think we can be more decent than that, and the 6.30 pm rule means that, obviously, if you're on duty for your party or you're intending to make a speech, you can't make that unless you're here. But, if people have reason to leave at 6.30 pm, there will be no quorums and no divisions each day after that. And we will plan the program to be able to deal with that. […] That's in response to recommendation 27 of the Jenkins review.

The other thing is that today will be the last day on which we start at 9.30. On Wednesdays and Thursdays we will now have 9 am starts. One of the things that has gradually crept up is that there are often times where there are speeches that ought be given the dignity of the House, and the start of question time is the only avenue we have to be able to do that at the moment. So there'll be a new procedure, and we'll see how it goes. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, ministers can put forward an issue—it may be that someone notable has passed away, for example, and you wouldn't normally have speeches at the beginning of question time, but, for the dignity of the House, it's appropriate that a reference be made. There would be a speech from each side, and then there would be the normal resolution sending it to the Federation Chamber, if more people want to be able to speak on that issue. These statements won't always happen, but when they happen they'll be on Wednesdays and Thursdays. And at all times from now on we will start at 9 am rather than 9.30 am on Wednesdays and Thursdays. So those are the statements on significant matters and the changes to sitting times.

Urgent bills (standing orders 1, 2 & 82–85)

The procedure for dealing with urgent bills was replaced entirely. After a motion to consider a bill urgent is passed, the previous procedure allowed a government minister to specify the times and time limits for each stage of consideration of the bill. When the time limit is reached, any question being considered at the time, any government amendments and all remaining stages on the bill must be voted on immediately.

The new procedure that was accepted by the House codifies a specific method of consideration. After a motion to consider a bill urgent is passed:

  1. The speaking times for each MP on the second reading stage (to agree with the main ideas of the bill) is shortened from the usual 15 minutes to 10 minutes;
  2. Debate on the second reading continues until 10 pm that day (or until no further MP wishes to speak), at which point the Speaker will immediately end proceedings for the day;
  3. As the first item of the agenda on the next sitting day, any amendments to the question of the second reading will be voted on, followed by the second reading question itself;
  4. Any proposed amendments to the bill itself are then voted on in the consideration in detail stage, with all government amendments voted on as one set, all opposition amendments voted on as one set, and all amendments by minor parties and independent MPs voted on as one set per member; and finally,
  5. The third reading of the bill (to agree to and pass the bill with any amendments) is voted on.

Tony Burke explains:

Up until now the only option that was available, realistically, when a government needed to get a bill across to the Senate was that the Leader of the House walked in here, having made a call, seconds before arriving, to the Manager of Opposition Business, and moved that the question be put. Then everybody who was on the speaking list from then on suddenly discovered their chance to speak had disappeared. Everybody who'd hoped to move an amendment found that their amendment wouldn't ever be moved and that the House wouldn't even get to determine it. That's been the only process that was available when a government needed to send something across to the Senate.

There have been arguments made back and forth, which I made when I was in a different job, as to whether a bill was, in fact, urgent, and no doubt those debates will still happen. But I want there to be another method that effectively allows us to acknowledge that there are times when something is urgent. I don't want the immediate cut-off of debate to be the only option in front of us.

Warringah MP Zali Steggall (Independent) later proposed a minor amendment to this procedure, seconded by Melbourne MP Adam Bandt (Greens), to permit the MPs proposing amendments to the bill to speak to them for up to five minutes. Steggall explains that:

In terms of the substance of this amendment, it addresses the concern that this decision to amend the standing orders for declaring bills urgent bills does in fact have the effect of curtailing the opportunity for consideration in detail amendments. That is not good. It goes against the purpose of this chamber to debate provisions of legislation. That consideration in detail stage is incredibly important. […]

This amendment provides that consideration in detail is not done away with when matters are considered urgent. Unlike the old procedure of suspending standing orders, it means we retain the ability to move consideration in detail amendments. Debate will simply be curtailed, and opposition members and members of the crossbench must move amendments as a block and have a limit of five minutes speaking time on those amendments. I think that is a fair compromise between urgency of a matter needing to proceed through the House to get to the other place and respecting the purpose of this place, which is that we debate legitimately the effect of a bill and are able to put consideration in detail amendments.

The amendment was unanimously agreed to by the House without a formal vote.

The previous mechanisms for urgent motions and motions for allotment of time (standing orders 83 & 84) were abolished.

Question time (standing orders 1, 47 & 100 and sessional order 65a)

Under the previous rules, crossbench MPs were given 45 seconds to ask their question during question time, while government and opposition MPs were given 30. The proposed changes reduced this to 30 seconds for all MPs. However, in recognition of the increased proportion of crossbench MPs in the new parliament, the changes provide that three question slots (specifically, the 5th, 13th and 21st questions) each day are prioritised for crossbench MPs.

Tony Burke explains:

We need a new way to be able to deal with the order of who gets to ask questions. The way that it has worked for the last 10 years presumes a much smaller crossbench than we now have. So what I am proposing to the House—and I know this is controversial, because I've read the media comments—is that we go back to the ordinary process of starting with a non-government question, going to a government question and then just going back and forth, but within that there will be three questions that are designated for the crossbench. If more than one crossbencher jumps at a time, it's for the Speaker to judge who jumps first, but if that's organised then obviously it will just be whoever jumps. The standing orders describe where those numbers for crossbench questions are in the total number of questions. I think it's the fifth, 13th and 21st questions in question time. In terms of non-government questions, that effectively means the third question, the seventh question and the 11th question on the non-government side. That's part of the reason why the crossbench question has been pulled back from 45 seconds to 30. It used to be that you had no chance to follow up, whereas now there are later chances. I think the argument for the 45-second question is sort of fixed by having more crossbench questions.

Additionally, in response to the disruptive use of motions to suspend standing orders during question time in previous parliaments, the changes allow a government minister to postpone consideration of such a motion until after question time has ended. Tony Burke said:

For question time, there is a new issue that we have to deal with, which is what happens when the opposition want—as from time to time they will—to be able to suspend standing orders during question time. Last term that never resulted in speeches being made. Certainly I can say it will sometimes now result in speeches being made, but not every time. You need to do the big dramatic build-up with production values to get that sense of urgency. But, if that happens, there will be times when we allow the debate to flow.

The problem has been that, even if the government of the day decides to not let the debate occur, that then results in a series of four or five divisions—on one occasion it was six or seven because it kept getting the procedure wrong—which effectively knocks out the rest of question time. If an opposition did that and knocked out only their own questions, it would be their own call, but now if they did that it would mean that the crossbench opportunity for later questions would also be knocked out. So I'm proposing a new procedure where there would be a third option. Instead of letting the debate flow or moving that the member be no longer heard, there will be a third option that simply says, 'I require that this motion be moved straight after question time, be moved at a later moment.' So the opportunity to make a speech will still happen, but it won't happen in a way that actually prevents the crossbench from being able to ask their questions. Although, from time to time, if we accept it and we move into the full debate, that will mean that other questions are lost, I want to make sure that that's not the only option in front of us.


Date and time: 10:34 AM on 2022-07-27
Allegra Spender's vote: Aye
Total number of "aye" votes: 89
Total number of "no" votes: 54
Total number of abstentions: 8

Adapted from information made available by

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