Chapter 7: Rules of debate
A Member may only speak: on a matter being debated; when moving a motion; when moving an amendment; when making a point of order or raising a matter of privilege suddenly arising; to make a personal explanation; or to explain what they have said when misunderstood or misquoted (SO 61).
In addition, a Member may speak only once on each question (SO 64). However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule: the Member in charge of the order of the day is entitled to pre-audience when the matter is brought on for debate; a Member may speak in explanation or in reply; and a Member may speak more than once during consideration in detail of any matter.
- Section 11.1.1 New South Wales Legislative Assembly Practice, Procedure and Privilege;
Seeking the call
A Member wishing to speak will not be recognised by the Chair unless the Member rises and seeks the call. To do this a Member calls “Mr Speaker or “Madam Speaker” as soon as the preceding speaker in the debate concludes their speech. After being recognised the Member may then speak at the Table, or from their seat if they are ill or disabled (S.O. 55 and 56).
If a Member does not seek the call they will not be entitled to speak, even if there is an item of business standing in their name.
The Speaker exercises discretion over which Member shall be given the call. However, the convention has been for the Chair to alternate between government and non-government Members during debate.
- Standing Order 55 and 56.
Time limits for debates and speeches are set out in standing order 85. Many debates have specific time limits, although there are a number that allow certain Members to speak for an unlimited time.
The time limits that apply to a Member’s speech include any time taken up by interruptions such as points of order, quorum calls and divisions.
- Section 11.9 New South Wales Legislative Assembly Practice, Procedure and Privilege;
- Standing Order 85 (as amended by sessional order).
Content of speeches
The content of speeches is regulated by the standing orders. Members are not permitted to quarrel; anticipate discussion of a matter on the Business Paper; reflect on a previous decision; use the name of the Governor or Sovereign disrespectfully or to influence the House; or use offensive words against the judiciary or a statute.
Members’ comments in the House must be relevant to the subject matter of the debate (S.O. 76). When a bill is being considered in detail discussion must be confined to the clause or clauses under consideration. However, reference is usually permitted to other clauses or the explanatory notes attached to the bill when this is necessary to elucidate the meaning of the speaker.
Offensive words/ unparliamentary language
Members cannot use offensive words against either House or its Members, a Member of the judiciary or a statute, unless moving for its repeal (S.O. 72). If Members wish to criticise other Members (in either House) they must do so by way of a specific and distinct substantive motion (S.O. 73).
Objections that any particular words or language used are offensive must be taken immediately and the standing orders require the Speaker to intervene (S.O. 74). If a Member takes exception to a remark on the ground that it is personally offensive, the Chair will ask the Member if the Member will withdraw the remark. Members may be required to apologise if the words used are extremely distasteful, and if a Member refuses to withdraw certain words when ordered by the Chair to do so, the Speaker may name the Member.
Members may be directed to cease speaking if they persist with tedious repetition in their speech (S.O. 59). Tedious repetition has not been precisely defined but Speakers’ rulings have taken it to mean repeating something within the same debate.
Sub judice convention
The general rule is that matters still under adjudication by the courts should not be debated in such a way as to prejudice court proceedings. The rule only applies to debate and as such notices of motions cannot be ruled out of order on the basis of the sub judice convention.
Whether discussion on a matter purportedly sub judice is allowed is at the discretion of the Chair. The convention is much stricter in relation to criminal matters than civil cases.
- Chapter 11 of New South Wales Legislative Assembly Practice, Procedure and Privilege;
- Standing Orders – Chapter 7: Rules of debate and privilege.
Points of order
A Member has the right at any time to raise a point of order relating to a breach of the standing orders or the practice of the House (S.O. 93). The point of order must be clearly stated to the Chair who may make a decision immediately or hear argument on the point of order and then make a ruling. Until the point is determined all other proceedings are suspended. Only one point of order may be raised and considered at one time, and unless taken immediately on an alleged breach, will not be considered later by the Chair.
Members cannot take a point of order claiming that a Member’s statement is inaccurate or misleading as such alleged offences do not necessarily constitute breaches of the standing orders. It is an abuse of the forms of the House to take spurious points of order and Members may be placed on calls to order when such points are raised as a means for interrupting debate.
- Section 11.11.1 New South Wales Legislative Assembly Practice, Procedure and Privilege;
- Standing Orders 93 and 94.
Interrupting a Member
There are a number of circumstances in which a Member is able to interrupt another Member speaking (S.O. 79). They are to:
- Raise a matter of privilege or contempt suddenly arising;
- Call attention to a point of order;
- Call attention to the want of a quorum;
- Call attention to the presence of visitors (i.e. non Members or authorised staff on the floor of the House);
- Move a closure motion;
- Move “That the Member for … be now heard”; and
- Move “That the Member for … be not further heard”.
Reading of speeches
The convention of the House is that Members are not allowed to read speeches. This is due to the fact that a speech may be prepared by someone other than the Member and as such would provide a voice for someone who is not entitled to speak in the Parliament.
The Chair has shown leniency when Members are referring to complex matters such as economic figures, statistics or other complicated conceptual matters so as to ensure accuracy or when time limits for speeches are heavily restricted. It has also become accepted practice for Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition (or other Member leading in debate for the Opposition) to read prepared speeches at the second reading stage of a bill and for inaugural speeches to be read.
Members are able to refer to copious notes but are discouraged from reading lengthy quotes.
- Section 11.1.3 New South Wales Legislative Assembly Practice, Procedure and Privilege.
Quoting of documents
Members may read extracts from debates of the current session or newspaper reports of such debate or proceeding provided the reference or quotation is brief and relevant to the matter under discussion or the subject of a personal explanation (S.O. 70).
Members may also read extracts from documents other than newspapers or Hansard during a speech provided that the quote is brief and the source of the document is properly identified before the Member quotes from it. For example, Members are able to read from letters so long as they identify the person who wrote the letter.
- Section 11.1.3 New South Wales Legislative Assembly Practice, Procedure and Privilege;
- Standing Order 70.
A Member may make a personal explanation to the House with the leave of the Speaker (S.O. 62). A Member is not entitled to seek the call to make an explanation if there is a question before the Chair. A personal explanation cannot be debated.
Rulings of the Speaker provide that a personal explanation allows a Member to briefly explain any matter which reflects upon the honour, character or integrity of that Member, or reflects upon the Member in a personal way including the refuting of accusations made against them by other Members in the House.
In practice, a Member should confine remarks to “this is what was said; these are the facts.” The Speaker may withdraw leave at any time if the Member strays too far from the rules regarding a personal explanation.
- Section 11.4 New South Wales Legislative Assembly Practice, Procedure and Privilege;
- Standing Order 62.
Speech in explanation
A Member, who has already spoken to a question, may briefly explain some material part of their speech that has been misunderstood or misinterpreted (S.O. 65).
In making an explanation the Member cannot interrupt another Member already speaking, introduce new material into the debate, debate the matter or invoke this right after the question before the Chair has been determined. Leave is not required to make a speech in explanation unless a different question is before the Chair, in which case the leave of the House is required.
- Section 11.5 New South Wales Legislative Assembly Practice, Procedure and Privilege;
- Standing Order 65.