Explainer: Motions

The Senate agreed to a motion about the dangers and prevalence of ovarian cancer, but what is a motion?

Feb 4, 2021

What is a ‘motion’?

In the Australian Parliament a motion is a proposal that Parliament votes on. Many of the motions that Parliament considers are about bills – proposals to make or change laws.

Motions can also ask Parliament to take note of an event or to make a statement of opinion. When the Senate or House of Representatives ‘notes’ something, they are showing that they believe it is important and that it has their support. This support is ‘in principle’ support and does not mean that Parliament or government has to take any action.

Senator Anne Urquhart moved that the Senate note the prevalence, impact and obstacles to diagnosing ovarian cancer and urged the Australian Government to do more about the issue.

Who can move a motion?

Any senator can move a motion, including motion to take note, to take notice in the Senate, and any member can move a motion, including a motion to take note, in the House of Representatives. The member of parliament who moves the motion is considered to ‘own’ that motion until it is moved. A motion can be withdrawn before it is moved, but not after. Motions can be moved by more than one member of parliament.

Senator Urquhart’s motion about ovarian cancer was moved on behalf of senators from the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the Nationals, the Australian Greens and the Centre Alliance.

Why would a senator or member want the Parliament to note something if it doesn’t lead to any action?

Through moving notices of motion senators and members can raise awareness of issues which they believe are important, and have other senators or members indicate what they think of the issue when the motion is put to a vote. Successful motions become part of the records of the Parliament which are available to the public and can lead to the Parliament inquiring or legislating on the issue.