Members’ bill ballot
Every now and then, a ballot is held to select one or more new members’ bills for the House to consider.
Most bills considered by the House of Representatives are government bills. However, members who are not Ministers can introduce their own bills, which are called “members’ bills” (until 1996 such bills were known as 'private members’ bills'). Debating time for members’ bills takes precedence on alternate Wednesdays that the House sits (often described as “Members’ days”), but there is not enough time to consider all the bills members would like to introduce. Therefore, the House has limited the number of members’ bills that can be introduced.
A new member's bill can be introduced whenever fewer than four members’ bills are shown on the Order Paper as available for their first reading (sessional order 17 February 2010 changed this to six members' bills). This may happen after the House has considered members’ bills on a Members’ day. When a ballot is to take place, members are notified of the number of new members’ bills that can be introduced and are invited to enter bills in the ballot. They have until 10.00 am on the day of the ballot to notify the Clerk of their intention to enter. Bills for the ballot must already be drafted and in a form suitable for introduction. Members may enter no more than one bill each, and there can be as many as 40 bills competing for one or two available places on the Order Paper.
The ballot takes place in an office at Parliament House at noon on the day notified. The method is a simple draw of numbered tokens from a container, with one token drawn for each available place. If two bills are the same in substance, a preliminary ballot is held to determine which of them proceeds to the main ballot.
A bill that is successful in a ballot is introduced when it is announced in the House, usually on the same day that the ballot has taken place, and most bills are published and publicly available within two working days after that. The bill then becomes available for the House to consider on the next Members’ day.
When the House considers members’ bills, it gives greater priority to bills that have made the most progress through the legislative process. On Members’ days, the House also deals with other types of bills called local bills and private bills before it reaches members’ bills. For these reasons, first readings of members’ bills are not always reached, and sometimes there can be long periods between ballots.
The members’ bill ballot has occasionally resulted in the introduction of bills that have been of historic significance, yet the procedure itself was established as part of the House’s regular procedures only as recently as 1992. Prior to then, “private members’ bills” were not restricted in number, but were considered by the House in the order in which they were received by the Clerk. This meant that members sometimes felt compelled to queue outside the Clerk’s office into the night to ensure their bills had priority, and so the ballot was introduced.