One of the main roles of the Parliament is to consider and make new laws and change old ones. Laws are rules that help manage our society.
Some laws tell us how to play our part as responsible citizens, for example laws about voting and taxation. Other laws are made to look after people, such as laws providing money for health or education. Laws are often made in response to an issue, such as tackling cyberbullying.
A proposal for a new law is called a 'bill'. Most bills are introduced into the Parliament by the government, although any member of parliament can propose a bill. Bills introduced by non-government members of parliament are known as private members' or private senators' bills. Approximately 180 government and 20 private bills are introduced in Parliament each year. About 90 per cent of government bills become law.
Bills may begin in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, except for some bills that collect and spend taxpayers' money, which must be introduced in the House of Representatives. About 90 per cent of bills begin in the House of Representatives, where most ministers sit.
A bill must go through several stages before it can become a law. After a bill is introduced into Parliament, members of parliament have the opportunity to debate and vote on it.
A bill becomes a law if it is passed by both the House of Representatives and Senate in identical form (using exactly the same words) and has been assented to (signed) by the Governor-General.
A bill can only be passed if a majority in each chamber agrees. The stages a bill goes through in each chamber are set out in the diagram below.
After examining a bill in detail, the Senate or the House of Representatives may decide to make amendments (changes) to a bill to improve it. These amendments are also debated and voted on. Any member of parliament can suggest amendments. If the government does not have a majority in either chamber, it may have to negotiate with Independents, minor parties or the opposition and make amendments to the bill so it will be passed.
The usual path of a bill
The Senate may refer the text of the bill to a Senate committee for inquiry (this can happen while the bill is in the House).
- Royal Assent by the Governor-General
- Bill becomes an act of parliament
- Royal Assent—The Governor-General signs the bill.
- Bill becomes an Act of Parliament—a law for Australia.