Voting in the Chambers
In the Senate and the House of Representatives, members of parliament are often engaged in making decisions, including debating bills (proposed laws) and issues of national importance. In order for a question to be resolved, it must be voted on and agreed to by a majority in the chamber.
There are two types of voting in the chambers: a 'vote on the voices' and a 'division'.
Vote on the voices
When a decision needs to be made, it is first put to a vote on the voices. This means that the Speaker or President asks members of parliament to cast their vote by saying 'aye' or 'no'. The Speaker or President 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 their chamber to show how they are voting.
Prior to a division, the Speaker or President instructs the Clerk to 'ring the bells'. The Clerk presses a button on the table in front of them, which activates a bell inside over 2700 clocks throughout Parliament House. The clocks also include two small lights that signal in which chamber the division is being called. A green light flashes to indicate a vote in the House of Representatives; a red light flashes when a vote is to occur in the Senate. This is done to alert members of parliament who are not in the chamber that a division is about to occur in the chamber.
Usually the division bells are rung for four minutes. If another division is called immediately after, the bells only ring for one minute between each division.
Once the bells have stopped ringing, the chamber doors are locked. Members of parliament who have not made it to the chamber before the bells stop are not allowed to enter. The Speaker or President then conducts the division by asking all those members of parliament voting in the affirmative (yes) to move to the right side of the chamber 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 provision was included in the Constitution to ensure that all 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 reached.