Supporting information for teachers

Use these brief notes to prepare for the Make a law: Senate classroom activity.

This information covers how a bill is debated and agreed to in the Senate. Your class will be exploring a simplified version of the process.


  • At an election, the party—or coalition of parties—with the support of the majority of members elected to the House of Representatives becomes the government.
  • Non-government senators scrutinise – closely examine – the work of the government. They can make speeches pointing out aspects of the bill with which they disagree. They can also suggest amendments – changes – to improve the bill.
  • Senators speak for and make decisions on behalf of the people in their state or territory. In making decisions, the Parliament considers what is best for all Australians.
  • The Senate can take as much time to pass a bill as they like. Most bills are debated over weeks while more complicated bills may take months.
  • Generally senators may speak for no more than 15 minutes during the debate.
  • The Parliament debates well over 100 bills each year.
  • Senators are not required to stay in the Senate all day. They often work in other parts of the building, having meetings, conducting research and preparing speeches. When they need to be in the Senate, the Clerk rings a bell (like a school bell) to call them there.
  • The President uses the vote on the voices—the 'ayes' and the 'noes'—to find out whether there is overwhelming support for a bill. If all senators agree with the bill it passes on the voices and there is no need for a division vote. Most government bills are supported by the opposition and pass on the voices.
  • Senators should be in the Senate when a division vote is held. If they do not attend, they cannot vote. The door is locked for the count.
  • The Clerk reads the title of the bill—first reading—to announce that the bill can be debated. After the vote the Clerk reads the title of the bill a second time—second reading—to show that senators support this bill so far. Before the third reading the senators may debate and vote on small changes to the bill. Once any changes have been considered there would be a final vote, and the Clerk would read the bill for a third time—third reading.