For this week’s blog we’ve searched our conscience votes in order to discuss what happens when members of the Legislative Council aren’t required to vote on party lines!
A party’s position on legislation or other motions is usually determined at a party room meeting before debate commences in the House. The position is based on the party’s principles and policy, and in some cases members are required to vote along party lines. Occasionally, parties will allow a conscience vote, also known as a free vote.
A conscience vote is a political matter rather than a parliamentary procedure. The standing orders are silent on conscience votes and the procedure is exactly the same as for any other vote taken in the House.
Debates allowing conscience votes can be lengthy, as many members take the opportunity to speak during debate, stating their position, referring to their constituents, and providing context around their decision to vote in a particular way.
The last Parliament saw a number of conscience votes on bills addressing topics such as abortion and assisted dying, for example the Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018. The bill was developed and co-sponsored by members of the Labor Party and The Nationals, acting in their capacity as private members, and was one of only two private members’ bills assented to in the 56th Parliament.
The controversial nature of the legislation and the granting of conscience votes sparked significant interest from the media, and from members of the public, who attended the public gallery to follow the debate.
For readers interested in debates of this kind, they are of course recorded in Hansard and published on the Parliament’s website here.