'That's it, you're out': disorderly conduct in the House of Representatives from 1901 to 2013

11 Dec 2013

Executive summary: Of the 1,093 members who have served in the House of Representatives from 1901 to the end of the 43rd Parliament in August 2013, 300 (27.4%) have been named and/or suspended or ‘sin binned’ for disorderly behaviour in the Chamber. This study outlines the bases of the House’s authority to deal with disorderly behaviour, and the procedures available to the Speaker to act on such behaviour. It then analyses the 1,352 instances of disorderly behaviour identified in the official Hansard record with a view to identifying patterns over time, and the extent and degree of such behaviour. It does not attempt to identify the reasons why disorderly behaviour occurs as they are quite complex and beyond the scope of this paper.
• The authority for the rules of conduct in the House of Representatives is derived from the Australian Constitution. The members themselves have broad responsibility for their behaviour in the House. However, it is the role of the Speaker or the occupier of the Chair to ensure that order is maintained during parliamentary proceedings. This responsibility is derived from the standing orders. Since its introduction in 1994, the ‘sin bin’ has become the disciplinary action of choice for Speakers.
• With the number of namings and suspensions decreasing in recent years, the ‘sin bin’ (being ordered from the chamber for one hour) appears to have been successful in avoiding the disruption caused by the naming and suspension procedure. However, as the number of ‘sin bin’ sanctions has increased, it may be that this penalty has contributed to greater disorder because members may view it as little more than a slap on the wrist and of little deterrent value.
• Most disorderly behavior (90%) occurs during Question Time and in the parliamentary proceedings which often take place during or just after it. Such behaviour also tends to increase daily as the sitting week progresses.
• Front benchers and parliamentary office holders account for about 57% of instances of disorderly behaviour. Opposition members are sanctioned 90% of the time no matter which party occupies that role. No prime minister has been sanctioned for disorderly behaviour but two deputy prime ministers and seven opposition leaders have, although not all have been ordered from the House. Christopher Pyne leads the list of members most disciplined on 45 followed by Anthony Albanese on 34. Women members have accounted for 15% of disciplinary actions since they first entered Parliament in 1943.
• Members were disciplined most frequently under the Speakership of Peter Slipper followed by Anna Burke, David Hawker and Harry Jenkins.
• On four measures of disorderly behaviour (number of disciplinary actions, number of sitting weeks in which a member was disciplined, number of days when four or more members were disciplined, number of different members disciplined), the Rudd/Gillard Parliaments (42nd and 43rd, 2008–2013) were more disorderly than the Howard Parliaments (38th to 41st, 1996–2007). The most disorderly Parliament was the 43rd.

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