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Exercise of the Casting Vote of the Chair

Exercise of the Casting Vote of the Chair

Section 32 (2) of the Constitution Act provides the constitutional authority for the exercise by the Member presiding in the Chair of a casting vote.

Standing Order 184 (as amended by sessional order) states that in the event of an equality of votes, the Member presiding shall give a casting vote and that any reasons given may be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

In practice this means that the Member presiding is not obliged to give reasons for casting a vote one way or the other and even if the Member does, the reasons do not have to be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

New South Wales Legislative Assembly practice
The following precedents in respect of the casting vote have been recorded:

    Motion to suspend standing and sessional orders to allow consideration of a motion that the prayer of a petition on the Public Service (Salaries Reduction) Bill be granted and that the President of the Public Service Association be heard at the Bar of the House
      Carried on casting vote. Mr Speaker Levy stated that as the House had already agreed to the urgency motion he would vote for the motion in order not to prevent a discussion of the substantive resolution. (V&P 20 May 1930, p. 386).

    Substantive motion (above)
      Negatived on casting vote. Mr Speaker Levy stated that it was his duty not to cast his vote in such a way as to take the business of the House out of the hands of the Government. (V&P 20 May 1930, p. 387).

    Motion for the adoption of a Report from the Select Committee on the Employment of Youth in Industry
      Negatived on casting vote. The Deputy Speaker Hedges said that he would follow the usual practice and leave the position as it was. (V&P 4 and 5 December 1940, p. 178).

    Disallowance of regulations under Transport Act
      Negatived on casting vote. Speaker Lamb - no reasons given. (V&P 9 November 1950, p. 102).

    Rescission of resolution disallowing by laws under Government Railways Act
      Carried on casting vote. Mr Speaker Lamb stated that he was guided by the principles in May and that it was his duty to give his casting vote in such a manner as would not preclude the House at some future date from resolving the matter. The Leader of the Opposition could give a fresh notice of motion to disallow. (V&P 9 November 1950, p. 105).

    Amendment to motion for second reading of Anti-Discrimination Bill to provide for second reading "this day three months"
      Question that the word proposed to be left out (now) stand part of the question, carried on casting vote of Speaker Kelly. Bill was read a second time (V&P 24 November 1976, p. 205).

    Urgency - consideration of certain notice of motion of General Business or other motions
      Negatived on casting vote (V&P 25 November 1976, p. 210; 23 March 1977, p. 315; 2 June 1977, p. 370; 9 November 1977, p. 537).

    Question "That the question be now put" under SO 175
      Carried on casting vote (V&P 17 August 1977, p. 408; 8 November 1977, p. 529; 9 November 1977, p. 538; 25 January 1978, p. 619)

    Special Adjournment
      Carried on casting vote of Speaker Kelly (V&P 16 March 1978, p. 732)

    In committee - closure under former SO 175B
      Carried on casting vote of Chairman Cahill (Report of Divisions - 30 March 1977, p. 891

    In committee - Question that words proposed to be inserted be so inserted
      Carried on casting vote (Report of Divisions - 30 March 1977, p. 892

    In committee - Question that the remaining amendments as printed and circulated by the Minister be agreed to
      Carried on casting vote (Report of Divisions - 30 March 1977, p. 893).

    In committee - Question that the clause as read stand a part of the bill
      Carried on casting vote (Report of Divisions - 7 June 1977, p. 895).

    In committee - Question that the words proposed to be left out stand
      Carried on casting vote (Report of Divisions - 23 August 1977, p. 904; 24 November 1977, p. 936).

    Motion moved that member be not further heard on motion of dissent against Speaker's ruling
      The Speaker gave casting vote with the "noes" - "to ensure that freedom of speech in this House is not infringed". (V&P - 1 June 1995, p. 109-110)

    Motion for urgent consideration to consider forthwith three notices given this day for tomorrow proposing a new sessional order and amendments to two others
      Carried on casting vote. (V&P - 1 June 1995, p. 113)

    On the question 'That the amendment [to a vote of censure of the Minister for Transport and for Tourism] be agreed to'
      Carried on casting vote. (V&P - 25 October 1995, 346-7)

    On the question 'That a motion for urgent consideration be proceeded with'
      Carried on casting vote. (V&P - 14 November 1995, p. 371-2)

    On the question 'That standing orders be suspended to allow Government Business to have precedence of all other business at this sitting'
      Carried on casting vote. (V&P - 12 December 1995, p. 537-8)

    On the question 'That the debate be now adjourned'
      Carried on casting vote. (V&P, 16 September 1997)

Imperial Practice
As Standing Order 184 does not elaborate on the exercise of the casting vote by the Speaker, reference may be made to the principles set out in the 23rd edition of May's Parliamentary Practice at pages 413-17.

May distils various principles from the way Speakers have exercised their casting votes in the House of Commons.

In summary, the principles are:
    1. The Chair should always vote for further discussion where this is possible (Speaker Addington 1796);
    2. Where no further discussion is possible, decisions should not be taken except by a majority (Speaker Denison 1867); and
    3. A casting vote on an amendment to a bill should leave the bill in its existing form (Speaker Denison 1860). Note: in the House of Commons bills as amended in Committee may then be considered in the House.

Bearing in mind that the abovementioned principles were first conceived in the House of Commons between 1796 and 1867 and that, because of the size of the House the Speaker has rarely had to exercise a casting vote, the relevance of these principles to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly today could be questioned.

It should also be noted that May at page 413 predicates his remarks with "In the performance of this duty to give a casting vote, the Speaker is at liberty to vote like any other Member, according to his conscience, without assigning a reason; but in order to avoid any imputation upon his impartiality, it is usual for him, when practicable, to vote in such a manner as not to make the decision of the House final". This is the proviso which governs the principles involved.

Some precedents from the House of Commons as related in the 23rd edition of May (pages 414-17) might be useful as a guide in our proceedings:
    • the Chair should always give its casting vote in favour of leave to bring in a bill (on the basis that the House should deal with the bill), its first and second readings and in favour of motions that the bill be considered in committee (or re-committed) on the basis that he should always vote for further discussion.
    • on the question of an amendment proposed to the question that a bill be read a second time a ruling in 1828 was made that to best discharge the Speaker's duty, a bill should be left open to further consideration - the Speaker would vote against the amendment.
    • on the question of the third reading of a bill, Speaker Addington in 1796 said -"...when the question turned upon the measure itself - for instance, that a bill do or so not pass - he should then vote for or against it, according to his best judgement of its merits...". In 1861 Speaker Denision voted against the third reading of a bill on the basis that "...he should best discharge his duty by leaving to the future judgement of the House to decide what change in the law should be made, rather than take the responsibility for the change on his single vote."
    • the previous question ("that that question be now put") was the subject of a casting vote in favour of the Ayes on the basis that in the Speaker's opinion, the original question was now fit to be submitted to the judgement of the House.

House of Representatives
House of Representative Practice also provides some examples on pages 182 - 185 of the fifth edition (2005)
    • an amendment to the second reading of a bill was negatived in order to enable a further decision of the House.
    • a motion for the closure of a debate has been negatived to enable debate to continue.
    • several examples are recorded where the Speaker has had to finally decide a matter before the House - a few examples will suffice - in favour of a member being suspended from the service of the House; against an amendment to add words to the Address in Reply; against a report being printed; against a motion for expulsion of a member from the press gallery on the basis that it was a matter for the House to decide; against an amendment to the Standing Orders in view of an undertaking that the matter would be referred to the Standing Orders Committee.
    • in respect of motions at the various stages in the passage of a bill, Speaker Johnson in 1914, in regard to the Government Preference Prohibition Bill, exercised his casting vote against an amendment to the motion for the first reading, and for the first, second and third readings.

New Zealand
With the move to the MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) voting system, which was enacted in the Electoral Act 1993 (NZ) following a referendum and subsequent changes to the standing orders, the Speaker in the New Zealand House of Representatives no longer has a casting vote. The Speaker has an ordinary vote, which is included in the collective vote of the party he or she was elected to represent. This ensures that the party proportionality determined at the general election is maintained.

However, past practice provides some examples of how the casting votes has been used:
    • On questions of confidence the Speaker should use the casting vote with the Government, as it should not be the Speaker's vote which precipitates the fall of a Government or the dissolution of Parliament;
    • The Speaker would vote in favour of motions for the first and second readings of a bill and for referral to a committee but would vote agaisnt the third reading unless this has been made a question of confidence by the Government or the bill was a conscience issue. On appropriation bills, the Speaker would vote to sustain the Government. (Parliamentary Practice in New Zealand, 2nd edition - pages 180 - 182)

The New South Wales Legislative Assembly has developed its own practice to a large extent in regard to the exercise of the casting vote. Although recourse may be had to House of Commons practice and particularly to the principles which evolved in the period between the late 1700's and late 1800's in that House, in the end, the member presiding is entitled to exercise a vote according to conscience. In modern times the Chair is entitled to exercise a casting vote in order to allow a Government to continue to govern effectively.

First Published: July, 1991
Updated: January, 2008