The legislative process
As proposed laws follow a path through both houses sequentially, members of Parliament have many opportunities to influence their final form. The stages through which a bill must pass, and the way the debate is conducted and shared between senators and members, ensures that legislation follows a clear process and a predictable course. The procedures of Parliament ensure that plenty of opportunity is provided for:
- the proposed law to be understood;
- its workability to be tested;
- changes to be proposed and considered;
- the public to be consulted; and
- diverse opinions to be heard.
Parliament considers legislation in the form of bills, which are proposed new laws, or proposed changes to existing laws.
Most bills are drafted by public servants on behalf of a government minister and formally approved by the government before they are introduced into the Parliament. Bills may be first introduced in either the Senate or the House of Representatives, but most are first introduced into the House of Representatives, where a majority of ministers sit.
Parliament deliberates on proposed laws before making decisions about them.
This deliberation takes the form of debate conducted under written rules laid down in the standing orders of each house. Debate may be informed by the work of committees of parliamentarians delegated by the Parliament to look at legislation in detail and report on it. Bills can be referred to committees of the House of Representatives, but they are more frequently and systematically referred to committees of the Senate. Committees may provide valuable advice to the Parliament about bills, including recommending that they be amended.
Proposed legislation cannot become law until a majority in both houses of Parliament agree to it in identical form.
Some bills are not contentious and pass easily through the House of Representatives and the Senate. Others are the subject of lengthy consideration and negotiation, and may move back and forwards between the houses several times before the final wording is agreed to by a majority in each, and the bill is passed.
Approximately one third of bills are amended before being finally agreed. Sometimes agreement is not reached, and the bill does not become law.
Bills are dealt with in a similar fashion in both houses of Parliament.
Bills progress through the houses by means of motions, or proposals, that they be 'read'. Agreement by a majority present to the motion for a reading at each of three formal stages (first, second and third reading) results in the bill passing that formal stage and advancing to the next. This is signified by the Clerk reading out the long title of the bill.
In each of the houses, bills are presented, debated in principle, and if agreed to in principle, debated in detail if that is necessary, including debate on any proposed amendments. Then they are finally agreed to or otherwise.