On the last sitting day, the Council debated the Gas Legislation Amendment (Medical Gas Systems) Bill 2020. Immediately before moving into the committee of the whole stage to consider amendments, Mr Buttigieg, an Opposition member moved a special motion called an ‘instruction’. It looked like this:

What is an instruction?

Instructions are the mechanism by which the House gives permission for the committee of the whole to do something that it ordinarily would not have the power to do. They are a well-established, if not routinely utilised procedure, used by convention since the earliest days of the Council and formalised in the 2004 Standing Orders.

Specifically, the House may give the committee of the whole authority to consider matters not otherwise referred to it, or to extend the committee’s authority, for example to:

  • consider amendments that are outside the leave of the bill
  • divide a bill into two or more bills
  • consolidate several bills into one.

So what happened last week?

The instruction that Mr Buttigieg moved last week related to the first point – the consideration of amendments that were outside the leave of the bill. When a bill is first introduced, the member seeks the ‘leave’ of the House (that is, permission) for the bill to legislate particular matters. This is set out in the long title, which is usually found on the second page of the bill. When the House reaches the stage of considering amendments to a bill, the amendments must fall within the parameters of the long title to be admissible. The long title of the Gas Legislation Amendment (Medical Gas Systems) Bill is below:

Mr Buttigieg wanted to move amendments to amend the Home Building Act 1989 to require that all medical gas work be carried out only by qualified workers. A narrow reading of the long title may have prevented those amendments from being considered, so Mr Buttigieg sought the House’s agreement to his instruction to committee to make clear that the House supported the consideration of the amendments. The amendments were subsequently moved and agreed to during the committee of the whole stage. Here’s the debate on the amendments, which explains their effect:

What else can the committee of the whole be instructed to do?

For the nerds out there, as we noted above, instructions can also permit the division of a bill into two bills (or even more bills!), or to consolidate two bills into one under SO 179. Instructions to divide a bill have only been used on two occasions. In both cases, the House agreed to split sections out of bills on the basis that the content was significant enough to merit standalone Acts.

The Council has not yet used its power to consolidate bills, preferring instead to debate bills that relate to similar matters as cognate bills. You can read more about cognate bills in chapter 139 of the Annotated Standing Orders.

We hope you’ve found this week’s post… instructive! The Legislative Council has been recalled to sit next Tuesday 25 August, so keep an eye out for next week’s post for our update on all the business considered that day.

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