Standing orders are the rules used to manage the work of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Along with the Australian Constitution and customs that have developed over many years, standing orders guide the way the chambers operate each day.
Content and use of standing orders
Section 50 of the Constitution gives each chamber the power to make and change its own standing orders. The House of Representatives' and the Senate's standing orders are similar but not the same. Each chamber has over 200 standing orders, which include details about:
- the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate (known as Presiding Officers), who run chamber meetings
- the conduct of parliamentary business
- procedures for debates
- the definition of disorderly behaviour and how it will be dealt with methods for voting.
If a member of parliament disagrees with something that has happened in the chamber, 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 chair 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.
A vote of members of parliament in their chamber can change a standing order at any time or suspend standing orders for a period of time.
The House of Representatives or the Senate may choose to adopt sessional orders, which are 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.