As discussed in a prior post sessional orders are temporary rules used to override, vary or supplement the standing orders. They are also used to trial new procedures before potentially being adopted as permanent rules. Sessional orders are typically adopted at the commencement of a new session of parliament.
In previous parliaments, almost all of the sessional orders have come from the Government. Yesterday’s debate on the sessional orders, however, was a significant departure from the status quo with the Opposition and a larger cross-bench using their opportunity to secure a variety of reforms.
For the first time parliamentary secretaries will be required to answer questions during Question Time relating to their portfolio responsibilities. Parliamentary secretaries may also be required to give evidence during Budget Estimates. Meanwhile the estimates process has been expanded and will now be held twice per year rather than annually.
Another significant measure was the House agreeing to a motion that affirmed the power of Council committees to order the production of documents. The motion also set out a process for the production of documents under calls for papers by committees.
Procedures for questions during the new parliament have also changed. Immediately after question time, a mechanism now exists for the House to ‘take note’ of answers to questions. In effect, the Opposition and Cross-bench will have the ability to comment on answers provided by the Government.
Additionally answers to questions must now be directly relevant and there will be greater opportunity for the asking of supplementary questions. In responding to written questions, ministers now have to provide an answer within 21 days having previously had 35 days to do so.
Debate on private members’ business will take precedence over all other business, except for question time, on Thursdays. The adjournment for Thursday has been pushed back until 10 pm. This means that the time allocated to debate on private members’ motions has doubled.
To help the House move through general business more quickly, a private member may move that their motion (excluding bills) be debated in a ‘short-form’ format with overall debate being limited to 30 minutes. Through a new members’ statements procedure, private members will also be able to give short three minute speeches on matters they choose to address without there being a question before the House.
With respect to committee reports, the House adopted a new procedure through which government responses to committee recommendations can be debated. Previously discussions on committee reports have largely been limited to take note debates.
The House also agreed to a variety of other sessional orders which were an update of the existing sessional orders in place at the end of the previous parliament.
It is shaping up to be a very interesting 57th Parliament with a number of new ways for the Council to perform its role as a house of review. Stay tuned for future posts where we will delve deeper into the operation of some of these new sessional orders and what their impact will be moving forward.