Voting in Parliament

Learn about voting in Australian Parliament with this fact sheet. It explores the two types of voting used to make decisions and what happens when a vote is tied.

What will I learn?

  • The Australian Parliament makes decisions on proposed laws and other issues by a majority vote.
  • Two types of voting are used to make these choices.
  • Most decisions of the Parliament are made by voting ‘on the voices’.

Why is there voting in Parliament?

The Australian Parliament makes decisions on proposed laws and other issues. Decisions in Parliament are made by a majority vote. Proposals – called motions – are debated and voted on. Two methods are used to vote in Parliament – ‘on the voices’ and a ‘division’.

On the voices

A clock at Parliament House.

A clock at Parliament House.

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)

A clock at Parliament House.

A clock at Parliament House.

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)

Description

This photograph of a clock at Parliament House shows the red and green lights that indicate that the Senate and the House of Representatives bells are ringing.

When a decision needs to be made in either the Senate or House of Representatives, it is first put to a vote ‘on the voices'. Most decisions of the Parliament are made this way. This is a spoken vote with no record taken of individual votes. 

After debate on the motion has finished, the Presiding Officer – the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives:

  • 'puts' – asks – the question
  • directs members of parliament who want to vote for the proposal to say ‘aye’ and those against it to say ‘no’ 
  • declares the result based on which response had the majority of voices.

If no-one challenges the result, the matter is decided. If the result is challenged by more than one member of parliament, a division is called.

Division

A division is a formal recorded vote where members of Parliament divide into two groups to vote for or against a proposal.

If a division is called:

The House of Representatives during a division.

The House of Representatives during a division.

DPS Auspic

The House of Representatives during a division.

The House of Representatives during a division.

DPS Auspic

Description

This image is of a large room with green furnishings. The seats are arranged around a large central table. There is a large chair at the open end of the U-shaped seats that is elevated above the other chairs. There are people milling around, especially at the end of the central table.

  • The Clerk presses a button on their table, which activates bells inside the 2700 clocks in Parliament House.
  • Lights flash on the clocks to show where the division is being called – a red light for the Senate and a green light for the House of Representatives. This tells members of parliament who are not present that a division is about to happen.
  • The division bells usually ring for 4 minutes. If divisions are held one after another, the bells can ring for one minute. Once the bells have stopped, the doors are locked. 
  • Members of parliament who arrive after the bells stop are not allowed to enter.
  • The Presiding Officer asks members of parliament who want to vote for the proposal to move to the right side of their chair and those voting against to move to the left. Votes are counted and the names of those voting are recorded. 
  • The result is announced by the Presiding Officer.

Tied votes

The President of the Senate may always vote along with other senators. This ensures all the states have equal representation when votes are taken in the Senate. If there is a tied vote in the Senate, the question is not agreed to because a majority vote has not been achieved.

In contrast, the Speaker of the House of Representatives does not vote unless the result is a tie, in which case the Speaker has the casting vote to decide the matter.