In 2017-18, the office provided legislative support to senators by drafting amendments to bills and drafting private senators’ bills, primarily for non-government senators.
The office prepared and circulated 30 second reading amendments (a decrease on the previous year, when 43 second reading amendments were circulated). The office also drafted and circulated 177 sets of committee of the whole amendments, comprising 1,011 individual amendments to 61 bills debated in 2017-18. This represented a significant increase on the 667 amendments circulated on 142 sheets in the previous year which included an election period.
A further 129 sets of amendments to 65 different bills were requested and drafted, but not circulated. Reasons that amendment sheets may not be circulated in the chamber include the bill not being listed for debate, the sponsoring senator deciding not to proceed with the amendments, or amendments being drafted to inform negotiations between parties or as an alternative position to circulated amendments.
In accordance with section 53 of the Constitution, three sets of amendments were framed as requests to the House of Representatives. For these requests, the office also produced statements of reasons for their being framed as requests (as required under the Senate’s procedures).
Senators continued to use private senators’ bills as a means of furthering policy debate and, in some cases, influencing the government to pursue legislative action. In 2017-18, the office received requests for 50 private senators’ bills, and 31 private senators’ bills were introduced. Five private senators’ bills were passed by the Senate during 2017-18 and one, the Marriage Amendment (Definitions and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, was subsequently agreed to by the House of Representatives.
Table 1 summarises legislative drafting and procedural services provided to senators over the last four years.
Feedback from senators and their staff confirmed the quality of the advice provided by the office. In particular, 20 responses were received to an electronic survey seeking feedback regarding the legislative drafting and procedural advice services provided by the office. Survey responses continued to reveal very high levels of overall satisfaction with the timeliness and quality of those services (all respondents considered those services to be either excellent or good). As was the case in 2016-17, a few respondents considered that it would desirable for additional resources to be available to support the drafting of private senators’ bills. In response to this feedback, the duties of several staff have been realigned to increase their focus on procedural and legislative support.
During 2017-18, the Office of Parliamentary Counsel provided legislative drafting training to Procedure Office staff in order to enhance the drafting skills of the office. This training will help the office to respond to the increased demand for these services, particularly as staff consolidate the training through practical application of these skills.