Here is the first of our politically-themed posts, in the lead up to the federal election. This is a post describing how a bill passes through Parliament in Australia. We will use a hypothetical example relevant to firearms owners. We’ve kept it simple to avoid boredom. Enjoy!
(This is our hypothetical bill) Members bill, Firearms act 1996 amendment (Semi-automatic genuine use).
Firstly a Bill needs to be prepared. Most of them originate in Government departments. The Parliamentary Business Committee of Cabinet determines the program of bills to be introduced for each parliamentary sitting period.
During its consideration by the House, a bill passes through successive stages, at which proposals are made (motions moved) and speeches may be made for and against such proposals (debate), and the proposals are voted on.
Usually a Minister who wishes to introduce a bill gives written notice of his or her intention, to the Clerk of the House, who arranges for the bill to be listed on the Notice Paper for the next sitting day.
For example :
” I Robert Borsak, give notice of my intention to present, at the next sitting, a Bill for an Act to amend the Firearms Act 1996 (Semi-automatic genuine use)”.
The next step is the first reading. The Minister hands a signed copy of the bill to the Clerk together with an explanatory memorandum. The Clerk stands and reads out the long title of the bill. Copies of the bill are then given to Members and made available to the public on the Parliament’s website at www.aph.gov.au/bills.
The next step usually happens immediately with the Minister moving that the bill “be now read a second time”. He or she then makes a speech explaining the purpose, general principles and effect of the bill. Afterwards, debate on the bill is adjourned and set down as an item of business for a future sitting. The purpose of this pause, is to give Members time to study the bill and its effects, before speaking and voting on it, and to provide the opportunity for public discussion and reaction.
The second reading debate is the discussion of the motion moved by the Minister. It is normally the most substantial debate that takes place on a bill. Its purpose is to consider the principles of the bill. At the end of the debate a vote is taken to decide the House’s view on the motion moved by the Minister. If this is agreed to, the House has agreed to the bill in principle, and the Clerk stands and reads out the long title of the bill to signify the completion of this stage.
The next step is “Consideration in detail “. This stage is to consider the text of the bill in detail, and to enable changes to be made. Members may speak briefly, an unlimited number of times on each proposal brought forward. Amendments are then made, and agreed to with or without changes.
The third reading is the final stage in considering a bill, and is usually a formality. Debate at this stage is relatively rare, and is restricted to the contents of the bill. When the motion has been agreed to, the Clerk again reads out the title of the bill. This signifies that the bill has passed the House.
After the bill has passed the House, it is then presented to the Senate. Here it again goes through 3 readings, and is sent back to the House, with or without amendments. Where there are disagreements, messages may pass between the 2 Houses, to reach an agreement as to the bill’s final form.
When a bill has finally passed both Houses in identical form, and been certified by the Clerk of the House, it is presented to the Governor-General for assent. The words used by the Governor-General are:
“In the name of Her Majesty, I assent to this Act”.
At this point the bill becomes an Act of Parliament, although the validity of the Act may be tested in court subsequently.
Acts come into effect almost immediately, however if no date is specified, it comes into effect within 28 days after it receives assent.
Now you understand the process involved of a bill becoming law!
(Top photo source: http://www.peo.gov.au/teaching/role-play-lesson-plans/law-making-house.html)