The Hung Parliament: procedural changes in the House of Representatives

Elections Political parties Local government Australia

Executive summary

This paper describes the key procedural changes that were effected in the 43rd Parliament following the 2010 federal election, which resulted in a hung parliament—the first hung parliament since the early 1940s. The paper focuses on the work of the House of Representatives, where the reforms introduced during the hung parliament had the greatest impact.

  • In order to secure a second term of Government after the 2010 election, Prime Minister Gillard entered into a series of agreements with three independent MPs and the Australian Greens. This resulted in a formalised Agreement for a better parliament (the Agreement) being adopted by the House of Representatives and implemented largely via amendments to standing orders in September and October 2010.
  • The first item listed in the Agreement was the re-establishment of a Selection Committee, chaired by the Speaker, to facilitate and enhance private members’ engagement across all parliamentary business—including allowing for debate and votes on Private Members’ bills during Government Business time in the Main Committee (renamed the Federation Chamber). The scrutiny of bills by parliamentary committees became a major aspect of private members’ work.
  • The role of the Speaker and the management of Question Time was an important element of the so-called ‘new paradigm’ of parliamentary conduct. The Speaker was required to take a firm line on the relevance of ministers’ answers to questions, and the use of argument in both questions and answers. The management of supplementary questions and points of order was also a key task for the Speaker. A provision was also introduced to allow for a vote to be repeated where a division had miscarried through misadventure.
  • The House committee system was restructured, reducing to nine the number of general purpose standing committees and reducing the number of members on each committee. It was also agreed that the Chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts and Audit would be a non-aligned member or drawn from a non-Government party. In September 2010, a six-month timeframe for government responses to committee reports was adopted, and the first Notice Paper of each sitting fortnight contained a list of those reports awaiting a response.
  • In December 2011, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) was established under the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Act 2011 and the Parliamentary Budget Officer was appointed in May 2012. The PBO’s task was to provide independent policy costings, fiscal analysis and research to parties and MPs. In 2013, an amending Act—the Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Act 2013—provided, among other things, for a post-election report to be prepared that set out, for each political party, costings of all its election commitments and their combined impact on the Commonwealth Budget and general government sector fiscal estimates.
  • The Agreement had also sought to establish a National Integrity Commissioner—and a bill to that effect had first been introduced in the Senate by the Australian Greens in June 2010 but it lapsed at the end of the 42nd Parliament. In May 2012 a near-identical bill was introduced into the House by Adam Bandt. The bill lapsed when the 43rd House of Representatives was dissolved on 5 August 2013.
  • As the 43rd Parliament drew to a close there was some commentary from both journalists and MPs assessing its legacy. The general observation was made by one writer that ‘Australians are unused to minority governments. They are uncomfortable with the obvious cattle-trading axiomatic in making minority governments work’. Notwithstanding a popular sense that the hung parliament had been problematic, there remained those who considered that such a view ignored the evidence of its effectiveness. While critical of some actions of the Gillard Government, the independent MPs who supported Gillard generally regarded the Parliament as a success, seeing it as ‘more triumph than tragedy’. They agreed that one of the Prime Minister's main achievements was her management of a parliament that, they said, had ‘delivered’.
Publication Details