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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2754


Senator COLSTON —Mr President, I direct my question to you. I ask whether you have had the opportunity to give further consideration to your ruling of last Thursday night during the debate on the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1993, in light of the considerable controversy which that decision generated?


The PRESIDENT —I thank Senator Colston for giving me some notice of this question. I have been approached by a number of senators from both sides of the chamber—


Senator Crichton-Browne —Give me their names.


The PRESIDENT —Some of them are sitting quite close to you. I have been approached by a number of senators from both sides of the chamber to clarify some of the issues raised last Thursday night during the debate. I do not intend to do so at this stage, but I have had a paper prepared. With the concurrence of the Senate I will incorporate it in the Hansard. I think that will give all senators an opportunity to examine some of the issues that were involved.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows

Since the proceedings in the Senate on 21 and 22 October, I have further considered my ruling and the matters which were raised in debate, and I have concluded that the ruling was completely correct and appropriate.

The rationale of the ruling is that a clear majority is required to make an amendment or request to a bill when the bill is first considered, and therefore a clear majority should be required to insist on an amendment or request which has been disagreed to by the House of Representatives. If the majority which was required to make the amendment or request in the first instance is no longer in existence, clearly the amendment or request is lost. Much of the debate was not directed to this fundamental logical proposition.

Much attention was given in the debate to the last phrase of section 23 of the Constitution: "when the votes are equal the question shall pass in the negative"; but insufficient attention was given to the first sentence of the section: "Questions arising in the Senate shall be determined by a majority of votes". The procedures of the Senate are designed, and should be interpreted, to ensure that positive decisions, such as amending or passing a bill, are made only by a majority.

I circulated to party leaders and to independent senators on 18 October, 3 days before the ruling was given, the advice which I had received in anticipation of the situation which eventually arose and the ruling which I proposed to make in that situation. Senators therefore had the opportunity to consider the ruling in advance. There was nothing different about the situation which arose on 21 October which affected the logic of the ruling or which required any change to the ruling.

I take this opportunity to respond to the following points which were raised during the debate:

It was stated during the debate that my ruling was predicated on both questions, that the requests be pressed and that the requests not be pressed, having been negatived in committee of the whole. On the contrary, the ruling was not predicated on both questions being negatived, but clearly indicated that the conclusion must be the same regardless of which question was put and negatived. The voting on either question indicated that there was no longer a majority in favour of the requests. As I indicated, I gave the ruling on the substantive question of the effect of the committee's votes before the vote had been taken on the second motion in committee, in response to invitations from Senator Evans and in response to canvassing of the issue by Senator Hill and other senators.

Reference was made to the fact that the passage in Odgers' Australian Senate Practice which I quoted in my ruling refers to amendments and not requests. I acknowledged this in my ruling. The point is that the statement which is made there must as a matter of logic apply to both requests and amendments. Both require a majority to be carried.

Reference was made to the ruling by President Young, also referred to in Odgers' Australian Senate Practice, that if the question that requests not be pressed is negatived the requests are pressed. That ruling, however, clearly refers to a situation in which the motion is negatived by a majority. That result would not be changed if the question were put in the alternative form, that the requests be pressed. As I pointed out in my ruling, with equally divided votes the situation is quite different, and the effect of the Senate's vote cannot be held to depend on which motion is moved.