Federal Parliament and making laws

There are three main steps required for a new law to be made in Australia.  The general path for a new law to be made is that it is introduced in the House of Representatives, where a majority of those have to vote for it to pass there. It is then passed on to the Senate where a majority of Senators have to vote for it to pass there. Once it has passed both houses the final step is that the Governor General must approve it before it becomes law.

Australia’s Federal parliament has two chambers as defined by our constitution. The House of Representatives was created to be the peoples house and divides Australia into 150 electorates which have roughly the same number of people. To keep each electorate equal the Australian Electoral Commission periodically changes electorate details, changing boundaries or occasionally removing and adding electorates.

When the constitution was created we had two states (New South Wales and Victoria) where most of the people lived and people feared that federal laws could be dominated by the states for their benefit. The creators of the constitution created another house to protect the states interest.

The Senate consists of 76 senators. The seven states elect 12 senators each and the two territories elect two senators each. The House of Representatives and Senate both have different methods for electing politicians and elections for both are generally held on the same weekend but this is not always the case.

The Senate has been described as the house of review and both houses operate largely independently of each other and although a government may have a clear majority in the House of Representatives it may have to negotiate with other parties to make sure that legislation can pass both houses. If the Senate makes amendments to  legislation, it had to be presented back to the House of Representatives so both houses are in agreement of the final wording of any new laws. Senators are also able to introduce new laws although there are some limits in the constitution about this. I believe budget bills have to be introduced in the House of Representatives.

For legislation to pass a place (either the House or Senate), it has to be “read” three times. The first reading is the introduction of the bill, a motion that a bill be read a first time is the place committing to considering it. The second reading is where most debate on the bill is conducted and gives other people in the place a chance to ammend the bill. Assuming a majority agree it is worthy of being a new law and the final wording a new law should take, the bill is read a third time and if this motion passes is the legislation has passed the place

Both houses can form committees so issues can be examined in detail and experts can be asked to contribute to committee proceedings. A law may unanimously pass the House on the same day as it gets introduced, but the Senate may take time and consider proposed legislation in detail and it is under no compulsion to pass legislation  and vice-versa.

This page has come about because I took it as a writing exercise and felt a quick guide to how our federal government passes laws would be useful for some people.

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