Investigate the function, use and history of standing orders—the rules used to manage the work of the Senate and the House of Representatives—with this fact sheet.
Content and use of standing orders
Section 50 of the Constitution gives the Senate and House the power to make and change their own standing orders. The rules of both are similar but not the same. Each has over 200 standing orders, which include details about:
- the election of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives—the Presiding Officers
- the conduct of parliamentary business
- procedures for debates
- the definition of disorderly behaviour and how it will be dealt with
- methods of voting.
If a member of parliament disagrees with something that has happened in the Senate or House, they can call a 'point of order'. This means drawing a specific standing order to the attention of the Presiding Officer (or deputy), who chairs the meeting. The Presiding Officer then has to interpret the point of order, to decide if it is valid. The Clerk sometimes assists with this because they have a detailed knowledge of the standing orders.
Members of parliament can change a standing order at any time or suspend standing orders for a period of time by taking a vote in the Senate or House.
The House of Representatives or the Senate may choose to adopt sessional orders—temporary rules. This allows members of parliament to experiment with new practices before deciding whether to make a permanent change to the rules.
When the Australian Parliament was established in 1901, temporary standing orders were adopted, largely based on rules which had governed colonial parliaments. Over the years, both the Senate and the House of Representatives have adopted permanent standing orders and have made regular changes to these.
Standing orders of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
This image shows the front covers of the Standing Orders of the Senate and the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives.