Voting in Parliament
Two types of voting are used in the Australian Parliament to make decisions on proposed laws and other issues—a 'vote on the voices' and a 'division'. This fact sheet explores both types of votes and what happens when a vote is tied.
Vote on the voices
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'. This means the Presiding Officer – the President of the Senate or Speaker of the House of Representatives – asks members of parliament to cast their vote by saying 'aye' or 'no'. The Presiding Officer announces the result after listening to the response. 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.
During a division, members of parliament move to either side of the Presiding Officer's chair to show how they are voting.
Prior to a division, the Presiding Officer instructs the Clerk to 'ring the bells'. The Clerk presses a button on the table in front of them, which activates bells inside the 2700 clocks throughout Parliament House. The clocks also include 2 small lights that signal where the division is being called. A green light flashes to indicate a vote in the House of Representatives and a red light flashes when a vote is to occur in the Senate. This is done to alert members of parliament who are not present that a division is about to occur.
Usually the division bells are rung for 4 minutes. If a second division is called immediately after the first, the bells only ring for 1 minute between each division.
Once the bells have stopped ringing, the doors are locked. Members of parliament who have not arrived before the bells stop are not allowed to enter. The President or Speaker then conducts the division by asking all those members of parliament voting in the affirmative – yes – to move to the right side of their chair and those voting against to move to the left. This allows the vote to be counted accurately and the names of those voting to be recorded.
In the House of Representatives, the Speaker does not vote unless the result is a tie, in which case the Speaker has the casting vote to decide the matter. In contrast, the President of the Senate may always vote along with other senators. This arrangement was included in the Constitution to make sure 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 resolved in the negative – lost – because a majority vote has not been achieved.
A clock at Parliament House.
Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)
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.
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The House of Representatives during a division.
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