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Monday, 28 October 1996
Page: 5853

Mrs SULLIVAN(12.31 p.m.) —On behalf of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Procedure, I present the committee's report entitled Bills—Consideration in detail: review of the operation of standing order 226 together with the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mrs SULLIVAN —This is the Procedure Committee's second report of the 38th parliament. It addresses an issue which is probably not in the forefront of members' thoughts but, nonetheless, is fundamental to their rights and responsibilities as members of the House of Representatives. In July this year, Mr Speaker, you wrote to the Procedure Committee drawing its attention to changes in standard drafting practice which have been adopted by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. You asked the committee to consider and, if appropriate, report on the consideration in detail of bills by the House in the light of the varying format of bills presented to it.

The issue arises from the fact that in 1995 the OPC altered its standard drafting practice so that proposed amendments to existing acts became items in schedules attached to amending bills. Previously they would have been contained within the clauses of the bills, other than minor or machinery amendments which were usually placed in schedules. Bills for new acts still contain the principle provisions within the clauses.

This means that there are now two basic types of bills, each type having different structures. New bills are structured in the traditional way with all the substantive matters in the clauses, but amending bills contain the substantive provisions in one or more schedules to the bill. The new format of amending bills raises the question as to whether the House's traditional method of considering the provisions of a bill is still the most appropriate.

Standing order 226, which prescribes the order in which the House will consider a bill in detail, provides for clauses to be considered individually, but for each schedule to be taken as a whole. Previously, amendments to laws were drafted as several clauses of an amending bill and each clause could be considered and voted on separately. Under the new format they may comprise many varying items within a schedule which are considered and voted on as one.

The committee was unanimous in its view that the right of the House to examine amending legislation in the detail traditionally enjoyed by the House should be maintained. Thus the standing orders should reflect and protect the right of the House to examine each significant part of an amending bill in the same way as it can for a new bill.

The committee has therefore recommended an amendment to standing order 226 which will have the effect of ensuring that the House has the right to consider individually each item within a schedule attached to an amending bill, unless the House grants leave for certain items—or the entire schedule—to be considered together. This would be consistent with the procedures currently followed in respect of the consideration of clauses of bills and the consideration of schedules attached to appropriation bills. Most importantly, it would ensure that the House enjoys the same rights in respect of amendments contained in the schedules to amending bills as it does in relation to the clauses of new bills—whilst, of course, retaining the right to streamline the process by agreement of all members present.

As I said at the beginning, this is probably not the sort of provision that moves members very much. In fact, the change to presenting amendments in schedules is one that even long-serving members of the House probably had not noticed or at least they may well not have realised the import of the change. I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for having written to me to ask the committee to consider this matter. The right of members to consider amendments is very important. I personally have always been rather disturbed by the statute law amendment bills which come into this House from time to time, usually a couple of times a year, listing under one heading amendments to a very wide range of bills. The breaking down of any such bill into individual bills is to be welcomed, although I do recognise there would be an additional cost and an amount of work involved in that.

It is important that members have placed before them individual amendments to bills to draw their attention to the changes proposed. The recommendation that the committee has made will extend members' rights to consider proposed amendments in the sort of detail that those amendments ought to attract. The Leader of the House (Mr Reith) is presently waiting on some further advice from the Procedure Committee in relation to a range of previous recommendations that the committee has made over the years to various governments. I hope that, when he considers all the reports that the committee hopes to bring in by the end of this session, this amendment is one that will be included in any proposed changes next year. I commend the report to the House.

Mr SPEAKER —I thank the member for Moncrieff for her very valuable contribution.

Mrs SULLIVAN —I move:

That the House take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

Mr SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 102B, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.