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Last week we discussed the special adjournment motion agreed to by the Legislative Council in March.
The purpose of this motion was to bypass the 2020 sitting calendar to instead schedule the Legislative Council to next meet on 15 September, consistent with health advice. However, in last week’s post we promised to address an important question: How do members force an early recall of the House?
Well, there’s a procedure for that! Standing Order 36 contains provisions for recalling the House if urgent business arises during longer breaks between sittings: Where a request is made to the President via the Clerk by an absolute majority of members, the President must fix a meeting in accordance with the request, and notify all members. A request made by a leader or deputy leader of a party is deemed to be a request by all members of that party.
The provisions for the House to be recalled on the request of an absolute majority of members originated in an amendment to the special adjournment motion agreed to before the Winter break in 1990. It was moved by the Honourable Michael Egan who argued that the House must be able to perform its legislative and scrutiny functions should significant issues arise during a break, and referred to the Parliament’s sovereignty and the role of the Legislative Council to hold the government to account:
“… it needs to be emphasised that this House is the master of its own destiny, and that the Government is answerable to the Parliament and to the House. We are not the property of the Government; the Parliament is supreme.”
It is important to note that there must be an “absolute majority” of members to activate the recall provisions. In the Council, where the Government has not had a majority since 1988, Standing Order 36 provides for the House to be recalled against the wishes of the Government, including against the wishes of the President who is usually a Government member.
For a recall to occur, at least 22 out of the 42 members must agree. A recent example occurred in 2014 when members recalled the House to pass urgent legislation to reduce alcohol related violence in Sydney.
To return to the procedural motions moved on the last sitting day, eagle eyed readers may have noticed that a motion was passed to vary Standing Order 36 to include the words “designated representative of a party”, so that all members of crossbench parties need not make individual requests to recall the House. This is particularly pertinent as there are now 11 crossbench members in the House.
If you’d like to read more on the recall procedure, check out chapter 36 of the Annotated Standing Orders.
With the standing orders and parliamentary practice relating to the special adjournment and the recall of the House already well established, the House remains the master of its own destiny in responding as it sees fit to the COVID-19 pandemic, showing that like 90’s action films, good procedure stands the test of time.