About Bills

One of the functions of Parliament is to make laws. To make a law, Parliament enacts legislation (also known as Statutes or Acts of Parliament).

What is a Bill?

A Bill is a draft law - a proposed Act of Parliament. The majority of Bills deal with the management of public affairs, and are introduced into one of the Houses by the responsible Minister – however, any member is entitled to introduce a Bill, subject to the Bill conforming with the Standing Orders (rules of the House). A Bill introduced by a member other than a Minister is called a Private Member’s Bill.

A Bill can commence its passage through the Parliament in either House, though all money bills (bills that appropriate revenue - require expenditure of taxpayer’s money; refer to section 46 of the Constitutions Act Amendment Act 1899) must commence in the Legislative Assembly. Money Bills require a message from the Governor recommending appropriations be made before they can proceed past the completion of the second reading stage of the Bill.

Stages for the Passage of Legislation

To become an Act of Parliament, a Bill must pass through a number of formal stages in each House. It should be noted that each House has slightly different procedures for dealing with a Bill’s passage.

Notice of a Bill

Standing Orders provide that every Bill (other than those transmitted from the other House) must be introduced by way of a notice of motion. This alerts the members that the Minister/member in charge of the Bill will be seeking its introduction into the House.

Introduction and First Reading Stage

In almost every instance, the introduction and first reading of a Bill occurs on the sitting day after that on which notice of the Bill was given. The Minister/member in charge of the Bill will move for the Bill’s introduction and first reading, and present a copy of the Bill and an Explanatory Memorandum (an accompanying document which explains the Bill, usually in a “clause by clause” format).

Whilst there is scope for debate on the first reading of a Bill, this rarely occurs; therefore, the question is put immediately and, if passed, the Clerk reads the title of the Bill.

It is at the completion of this stage that the Bill and Explanatory Memorandum become public documents, and are released by the State Law Publisher and attached to the Parliament’s Internet site for public access.

Second Reading Stage

Immediately following completion of the first reading stage, motion for the second reading may be moved by the Minister/member in charge of the Bill, who then delivers his/her second reading speech, outlining the intended effect of the proposed legislation. After this speech, debate on the Bill is usually adjourned and the Bill is placed on the Notice Paper under “Orders of the Day”.

In the Legislative Assembly, Standing Orders prescribe that three weeks should pass before the Bill is further debated (unless the Bill is declared an urgent Bill). In the Legislative Council the convention is that a Bill is adjourned for a minimum of a week before it is brought on for debate. During this time, all members may study the Bill and its proposed effect, and may seek advice from relevant persons and community groups, and briefings from departmental/agency officers or the Minister’s staff (for a Government Bill).

When the debate on the second reading re-commences, all members are entitled to make one speech on the general principle of the Bill. These speeches tend to be wide ranging within the subject matter of the Bill, and members may pose questions to the Minister/member in charge of the Bill, seeking clarification of matters relevant to the Bill.

Advisers to the Minister/member in charge of the Bill usually locate themselves in the Speaker’s Gallery (in the Legislative Assembly) or the Ministerial Waiting Room (in the Legislative Council) when the second reading stage is progressing. From these positions, advisers are able to send messages via the Chamber assistants to the Minister/member in charge of the Bill – this particularly occurs when other members request specific information from the Minister/member in charge of the Bill during their second reading speeches.

Cognate Debate

In some instances, a Bill introduced to the House is part of a package of Bills – that is, there are two or more bills which complement each other. An example of this is where a “principal” Bill is introduced at the same time as another Bill that seeks to make consequential changes to other Acts as a result of the “principal” Bill.

Standing Orders specify that the Minister/member in charge of a Bill, where two or more Bills are complementary, may seek leave of the House to have the second reading stages of the Bills dealt with cognately (at the same time) in the second reading stage of the “principal” Bill (which is nominated by the Minister/member in charge of the Bills). When leave is sought and granted for this to occur, members will make their second reading speeches for all the Bills when the second reading stage of the “principal” Bill is being debated – when the question for the second reading of the remaining complementary Bill(s) is put, no further debate is permitted.

The second reading debate is closed when the Minister/member in charge of the Bill makes his/her second reading speech in reply, which will normally include responses to any queries raised by other members. After this speech, the main vote on the second reading of the Bill is taken. By agreeing to the second reading the Houses have agreed to the principle reflected in the Bill.

After the Second Reading Stage

If a Bill successfully passes the second reading stage, there are a number of options available to the House. Having agreed to the principle of a Bill, the House may choose then to consider it in detail, to ensure that the Bill will in fact adhere to this agreed principle. Whilst members may agree with the principle, they may also wish to make amendments to the Bill in order (in their view) to improve the Bill’s capacity to conform with that principle.

The options available are –

  1. Proceeding straight to the third reading stage;
  2. Consideration in Detail/Committee of the Whole stage; or
  3. Referral to a committee.

Proceeding straight to the Third Reading Stage

Many Bills are non-controversial, making minor and/or simple changes to existing statutes. For these Bills, when members on both sides of the House are confident that the agreed principle of the Bill will be applied into law by the Bill, the House may proceed straight to the third reading stage immediately after the second reading stage has been completed. In the Assembly, approximately 40% of the Bills are progressed in this manner.

Consideration in Detail/Committee of the Whole House Stage

When members wish to discuss the specific details of a Bill on a “clause by clause” basis, the House will move to the Consideration in Detail Stage (in the Legislative Assembly) or the Committee of the Whole House Stage (in the Legislative Council).

During this stage, the Minister/member in charge of the Bill will come to the Table of the House, and (after permission is granted by the Chair) often is joined there by one or more advisers. The Bill is considered on a “clause by clause” basis, with members asking specific questions regarding the precise impact of certain clauses, and potentially moving amendments to these clauses (including the insertion of new clauses).

Debate is strictly confined by the Chair to the subject matter of the clause under consideration. Advisers sit at the Table to assist the Minister/member in charge of the Bill in responding to these queries, or to provide advice in relation to amendments moved by other members. However, advisers cannot directly address the House.

Referral to a Committee

On occasions (particularly in the Legislative Council), a Bill is referred to a Standing Committee (or more rarely a Select Committee) comprising members of the House to consider the Bill and report its findings and any recommendations back to the House. This Committee can meet separately from the House, and has the power to call witnesses to comment on the Bill and subpoena documents and other records. The Standing Orders of the Legislative Council also grant Standing Committees the power to travel to locations outside Perth to facilitate this process. If the Committee recommends amendments, these can be contained in a Schedule to the Committee’s report. The Council during consideration of the Bill in the Committee of the Whole House stage may adopt one or more of these amendments.

The Legislative Assembly’s Standing Orders provide an option for the Assembly to refer a Bill to a Legislation Committee. The Assembly nominates a number of members to serve on the Legislation Committee (between 5 and 11 members, including the Minister). A Legislation Committee may operate at any time considered convenient and appropriate by its members, including when the Assembly is sitting. The procedure used in the Consideration in Detail stage is followed, though advisers are able to address the Committee with the approval of and in the presence of a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary.

The Standing Orders of both Houses provide for the Budget (appropriation) Bills to be referred to an Estimates Committee(s) {the Assembly currently uses two separate committees; the Council only establishes one}. These Committees are established for the sole purpose of considering the Budget Bills. The Committees debate the budget in accordance with a timetable, which specifies the times for considering the various divisions within the budget, and provide an opportunity for members to ask specific queries of Ministers.

When the budgets for individual departments and agencies are considered by these Committees, the Minister will ensure he/she is accompanied by relevant senior advisers and departmental/agency officers from these organisations. As with the Assembly Legislation Committees, these advisers and officers are able to address the Committee with the approval of and in the presence of their Minister.

After the Bill has progressed through the relevant process above, the next stage is the third reading.

Third Reading

The third reading stage commences with the Minister or member in charge of the Bill moving that the Bill be now read a third time and, on occasions, making a short third reading speech in support of the Bill (and often, if applicable, thanking members for their support).

Other members are then able to make one speech, though this only occurs when the Bill is particularly controversial and/or topical. Debate is not wide ranging and is restricted to the content of the Bill as agreed during the Consideration in Detail/Committee of the Whole House stage. The debate is closed when the Minister or member in charge of the Bill makes his/her speech in reply (this also occurs infrequently), and the final vote on the Bill is taken. If this vote is successful, the Bill has completed its passage through the House. If the Bill originated in that House it is then transmitted to the other House via message, seeking the concurrence of the other House where the same procedure for considering the Bill is undertaken.

Amendments made in the Other House

If, after receiving a Bill, the other House passes any amendments to the Bill, these amendments are communicated to the originating House by message. The amendments are then considered by the originating House, with the outcome of that consideration being communicated to the second House by message. This process may recur on several occasions, with one House potentially disagreeing to the amendments made by the other House and substituting new amendments, or not insisting on their amendments in order to progress the Bill.

Both Houses must agree on the final form of the Bill. To facilitate this outcome, informal negotiations between relevant members/Parties may occur external to the formal Parliamentary process. There also exists a formal process for the Houses to discuss their differences on a particular Bill – this is undertaken by a Conference of Managers, where each House appoints several members as “managers”, with the appointed members from the Houses conferencing to discuss their differing perspectives. The results of these deliberations are reported to each House. In contemporary times, the Conference of Managers has been rarely used.

If both Houses disagree as to the final form of a Bill, the Bill is defeated.

If the Houses do agree, the Bill is to be sent to the Governor for Royal Assent.

Royal Assent by the Governor and Proclamation

Once the Bill has passed both Houses of Parliament, it is presented to Her Excellency the Governor who, as the representative of the third part of the Parliament, is authorised to grant the Royal Assent on behalf of her Majesty the Queen. The Bill thereupon becomes an Act of Parliament. At this time, the Act is in force, unless there is a specified date (in the Act) when the Act becomes operational or a specific provision in the Act that it comes into operation upon proclamation. A proclamation is a public announcement with statutory authority published in the Government Gazette and made by the Governor in Executive Council. Both Houses are advised by message of the Governor’s Assent of the Bill.

Legislative Assembly Bills Flowchart

Legislative Council Bills Flowchart