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Procedures and Processes of the Houses

Procedures and Processes of the Houses

Bells - Electronic bells sound throughout the Parliament to indicate that the day's proceedings are about to commence or resume; that a division (vote) has been called; or that more Members are required to form a quorum. The Council and Assembly Bells have a different sound and the period of ringing varies, eg usually 4 minutes in the case of a call to a division.

Divisions and Voting -
Most votes in either House are taken "on the voices". Members say "aye" or "no" and the Presiding Officer says which side is in the majority. If a Member disagrees with the Presiding Officer's determination, a division may be called for. Bells are rung, at the end of which the doors to the House are locked and Members present divide, those in favour moving to the side of the Chamber to the right of the Presiding Officer's chair, and those opposing to the left. The Presiding Officer appoints tellers to count on each side and the results are collated by the Clerks and announced by the Presiding Officer. The way Members vote in a division is also recorded in Hansard. This is why Members sometimes call for a division, so that on a controversial issue the way individual Members voted is actually on record.

The Presiding Officer normally does not vote unless there is the same number of votes for both sides, in which case they have a casting vote.

Pairs -
When Members have approved business that they know will keep them away from the Chamber, the major parties arrange pairs whereby if a Member from one party is absent, then one Member from the other party will also be absent for a division. This is to avoid votes which do not reflect the true state of the parties in the House. However, if a Member is simply late or absent for an unapproved reason, the party simply loses their vote in that division. Missing a vote is not taken kindly by party leaders.

Tabling of Reports and Papers -
Tabling papers is an important method of making information available to the House and the public. Generally, once a paper is tabled in the House it becomes a public document and when ordered to be printed, attracts parliamentary privilege and becomes part of the permanent Parliamentary record. Some papers, for various legal, security or other reasons, may be restricted to Members only.

Parliamentary Privilege -
The Houses of Parliament and the members within them have certain rights which the rest of the community does not always have. These privileges include freedom of speech; control over legislation, discussion and procedures Parliament adopts; and the right to exclude the jurisdiction of the courts.

For example, a statement may be made under privilege in Parliament by a Member which, if it was made outside the Parliament, could become subject to a defamation action in court. This right to free speech is essential to allowing free and full debate of the matters before Parliament - for example, if discussion about a bill to change an existing law was restricted by that law, then it would not be possible to properly and openly discuss the implications of the proposed new law.

This does not mean that Members can say whatever they like while in Parliament. Debate is subject to many rules and restraints developed by the Houses themselves over the years and which are enforced by the Presiding Officers. A breach of privilege by a Member can be regarded as contempt of Parliament. The Legislative Council also has a Parliamentary Privileges and Ethics Committee before which such breaches may be put.

The privileges allowed to the NSW Parliament are only those which common law has established for any similar legislative body.