House of Representatives Factsheet No. 12

Revised June 1996

This Factsheet describes a range of documents which are produced by the House of Representatives or which are in some way linked to its work. Publicly available documents mentioned in this Factsheet are available from the Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, or from Australian Government Bookshops. They are also held by major libraries. A selection of documents has also been made accessible on the Internet, on a trial basis, via

Hansard (what did Members say?)

Hansard is the best known parliamentary publication. Its official title is 'Parliamentary Debates' but the term 'Hansard', used in Australia and elsewhere, comes from the surname of a father and son who, for many years in the 19th century published a record of the House of Commons debates in the United Kingdom.

The House of Representatives Hansard contains the transcript of the debates in the House and the Main Committee, that is, the words of Members' speeches.

The Hansard text is edited to some extent, for example, to remove repetitions and to correct grammatical mistakes, however the editing is not permitted to affect the meaning of what is said.

Although Hansard is essentially a record of the spoken word, it contains other information relating to the proceedings, including details of how Members voted in divisions, the text of petitions presented and the titles of papers tabled.

In addition, with the permission of the House and the approval of the Chair, material of various kinds may be incorporated into the text. The rules restrict incorporation to documents, such as maps and statistical tables or graphs, which need to be seen in visual form for comprehension and cannot easily be read into the record. Members are not permitted to incorporate the text of speeches they have not delivered in the House.

At the front of each issue are lists of the names of persons involved in the parliamentary process—the Governor-General; House office holders; party leaders; Members of the House, Ministers and Shadow Ministers. At the end of each issue are details of notices given, papers deemed to have been presented, and answers to questions on notice which have been received and circulated that day. The full text of both the question and the answer to it are published. Occasionally, when many answers are received on the same day, it is necessary to hold over the publication of some to a later issue.

The House of Representatives Hansard is published in two editions—a daily proof issue and a final weekly issue, from which bound volumes are later prepared. These volumes contain a comprehensive index to the debates. The production of Hansard is one of the principal responsibilities of the Department of the Parliamentary Reporting Staff. A typical daily Hansard runs to between 100 and 150 pages.

Votes and Proceedings (what did the House do?)

The Votes and Proceedings is the official record of the proceedings of the House of Representatives, in effect the minutes of its meetings. An issue of the Votes and Proceedings is published for each sitting.

The Votes and Proceedings records what is done (or deemed to be done) by the House as a collective body, and not the words of individual Members.

For each item of business the Votes and Proceedings records all action taken by the House, for example the words of motions and amendments moved and the name of the Member who moved them; whether debate occurred (or was adjourned to a future day or resumed from an earlier occasion); the questions put from the Chair and the decision taken by the House on each question. If a formal vote (division) takes place the record lists the Members voting for and against the question.

A typical day's Votes and Proceedings records:

An average edition of the Votes and Proceedings runs to about 14 pages, but an issue can be considerably longer if lengthy amendments have been moved to bills. Bound volumes are produced for each session and these include an index to the Votes and Proceedings as well as a separate index to the titles of the papers presented.

Notice Paper (what's on the agenda?)

A Notice Paper is published for each day of sitting, apart from the first sitting day of a session of Parliament. The Notice Paper contains the following information:

Business section

The business section lists all items of business that are currently under consideration by the House. Items of business are grouped under the headings 'Government Business', 'Main Committee', 'Committee and Delegation Reports', 'Private Members' Business', or (rarely), when the Speaker has sponsored an item of business, under the heading 'Business of the House'.

Items are listed as either 'Notices'—signifying that a Member or Minister has given notice of his or her intention to introduce a matter for consideration, or as 'Orders of the day'—signifying that the matter has already been introduced and that the House has ordered it to be considered, or further considered, on a later day. Notices and orders of the day normally remain on the Notice Paper until the House has dealt with them fully. Notices not fully dealt with on the day of their introduction become orders of the day for a later sitting.

Orders of the day on the Notice Paper are regarded as the property of the House and cannot be withdrawn or removed without the permission of the House. (A notice may be withdrawn before it is moved by the Member sponsoring it).

Items listed under private Members' business are removed from the Notice Paper automatically if they have not been considered within eight sitting Mondays. In the case of items of government business on which no further debate is desired, it is now customary for the House periodically to agree to a motion to 'discharge' these from the Notice Paper.

At the end of a session all business on the Notice Paper lapses and the next session starts with a clean sheet.

The House is required by its standing orders to consider matters in the order they appear on the day's Notice Paper. However, Ministers may change the order of government business before each issue of the Notice Paper goes to press and the Selection Committee similarly arranges the order of private Members' business to be considered on Mondays. (During a sitting it is also possible for notices and orders of the day to be postponed).

Questions on notice

Questions on notice are listed on the Notice Paper in the order in which they are received by the Clerk and remain there until written replies are received by the Clerk. The first Notice Paper to be published for each sitting week includes all unanswered questions while Notice Paper for subsequent sittings in a week only include questions which have appeared for the first time that week.

Questions may be withdrawn by the Member asking them.

Answers to questions are sent to the Member concerned and published in Hansard. Copies are also sent to the Press Gallery.

Information section

The final section of the Notice Paper contains general information. It lists members of the Speaker's panel (i.e. Members who can assist the Speaker and his or her deputies in the Chair); House and joint committees, their membership and inquiries being undertaken; and the appointment of Members to statutory bodies by the House.

Daily Program (what's on today?)

The Daily Program, or the 'Blue Program' or 'Blue' as it is also called after the colour of the paper it is printed on, provides a guide to each day's expected proceedings. Unlike the Notice Paper, the Daily Program is not a formal document and does not fix the order of business or limit its scope. If circumstances require it a supplementary program is published on Budget day just prior to the presentation of the Budget on which items of business related to the Budget are listed. On other rare occasions, a supplementary 'Blue' may also be published.

Some matters appear on the Daily Program which do not appear on the day's Notice Paper, for example: prayers; the listing of a ministerial statement; the subject of a matter of public importance; the presentation of a major government paper or a committee report; and business which may be introduced without notice, such as taxation measures.



A bill is a proposal for a law or a change to the law—a formal document prepared in the form of a draft Act of Parliament. Factsheet No. 7 — Making laws describes the processes involved in the passage of bills through the House.

Accompanying each government bill is an explanatory memorandum. This is a separate document explaining the reasons for the bill, and giving a general outline of its contents and notes explaining the intention of each clause.

The first publicly circulated copy of a bill is its 'first reading print', available immediately after introduction. Copies of each bill are available to Members with the explanatory memorandum as soon as the bill is introduced.

If a bill is amended by the House in which it has been initiated it is reprinted, with the amendments incorporated, before its passage to the other House (a 'third reading print'). If it is amended again by the second House a schedule setting out those amendments is published.

The Bills and Papers Office issues a Daily Bills List showing bills currently before the Parliament and the stage reached by each bill.

Form of a bill

The parts of a bill appear in the following sequence. Not all parts are present in every bill.


A bill becomes an Act when it has been passed in identical form by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and been assented to by the Governor-General. What were the clauses of the bill are then known as sections of the Act. Acts are numbered on an annual basis in the order of assent.

Acts are published individually (pamphlet copies) as soon as possible after they are passed, and are later republished in bound volumes for each year. Acts which have been amended by subsequent legislation are periodically reprinted, consolidating amendments. A set containing all Acts reprinted in consolidated form is produced in a series of binders which can be updated as Acts are reprinted. A cumulative index of Acts is published periodically and there is also a monthly index listing Acts published or reprinted during the current year. Reprinting and binding of Acts is the responsibility of the Attorney-General's Department.

Notifications of Acts assented to and proclamations of commencing dates of Acts are reported to the House and recorded in the Votes and Proceedings and in Hansard. This information can also be found in the Government Notices issue of the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.

Parliamentary Papers

Many documents are presented to the House or Senate, that is, 'tabled', for the information of Members of Parliament and the public. These documents include reports, returns and statements of all kinds from government departments and authorities, parliamentary committee reports, reports of royal commissions and other government inquiries and a wide variety of other papers. By being tabled in the House, the contents of such documents become public.

The Daily Papers List

The Daily Papers List (also called the 'Green List' after the colour of its paper) is a list of all major papers tabled in the Parliament on a particular day. It is circulated for the information of Members, who can request copies of papers on the list which interest them.

The Parliamentary Papers Series

The Parliamentary Papers Series contains all documents presented to the House or the Senate which have been 'ordered to be printed'. As most papers of a substantial nature are ordered to be printed the series is a major reference source for information on the role and activities of the Parliament and Government.

Papers made part of the Parliamentary Papers Series are so labelled and numbered in annual order.

Papers not printed

Although not distributed as part of the Parliamentary Papers Series, papers not ordered to be printed are, in most instances, public documents. If no copies are available the originals may be inspected at any time by Members, and, with the permission of the Speaker, by other persons.

Deemed Papers

Some papers are not physically 'tabled' in the House but are 'deemed to be presented' if they have been delivered to the Clerk and recorded in the Votes and Proceedings. The majority of deemed papers are items of delegated legislation and other documents required by law to be presented to the House, such as regulations, by-laws, rules, determinations etc. This method of presentation is only intended to save the time of the House and deemed papers have the same status as papers tabled in the House.

Committee reports, etc

The purpose of all committee inquiries is to report to the House (or to both Houses in the case of joint committees). The processes involved in committee inquiries are discussed in Factsheet No. 4 — Committees. Committee reports are tabled in the House and ordered to be printed, thus becoming part of the Parliamentary Papers Series. Minutes of meetings and transcripts of published evidence are tabled at the same time as the report to which they relate but are usually not ordered to be printed.

The rules and practice of the House

Standing orders

The formal rules governing the proceedings of the House are known as the standing orders. Rules in force only for the current session of Parliament are called sessional orders. These rules are amended from time to time by the House and the booklet Standing and sessional orders as at . . . is reprinted periodically.

House of Representatives Practice

House of Representatives Practice is a comprehensive, detailed text on the law and practice of the House of Representatives. This work presents a degree of historical perspective and includes appendices containing extensive statistical information about the proceedings of the House. The current (2nd) edition was published in 1989. House of Representatives Practice also contains the text of the Constitution, the standing and sessional orders, the Parliamentary Privileges Act and the Parliamentary Precincts Act.

Other House publications

The Department of the House of Representatives' Annual Report, tabled in August or September each year, provides information about the operation of the department for the previous financial year. The Work of the Session, published at the conclusion of each major sitting period, contains detail on the work of the House and its committees for the period.

The List of Members, giving Members' addresses and phone and facsimile numbers, and the Seating plan of the House of Representatives Chamber are updated and published regularly. The Department also publishes a pamphlet on the House, in a number of languages and a large print edition, which is available to visitors.

From time to time a committee may issue a discussion paper on a topic relating to an inquiry and some committees issue newsletters giving information on their current activities. These are available direct from the committee secretariat.


Documents ordered to be printed (that is, Parliamentary Papers) or authorised to be published by a House of the Parliament or a parliamentary committee are covered by absolute parliamentary privilege. This means that no legal action (e.g. for defamation) can be taken against those who publish them pursuant to such an order. The Hansard record of the debates is also protected by absolute privilege. For a more detailed discussion of this subject see Factsheet No. 5 — Parliamentary privilege.

Suggestions for further reading

House of Representatives Practice, 2nd edn. A.G.P.S., Canberra, 1989. pp 555–582.

Last updated: 5 July 1996