Federal Parliament resumes this week, starting on Tuesday.  The Senate sits for three days before going next week into Additional Estimates Committee hearings.

Once again, the Senate sitting days are fairly light on this year – just  fifty-two days.  This is supplemented by sixteen days of Estimates Committee hearings and plenty of other Committee inquiries, but it’s still not a great deal of time committed to debate and consideration of all the proposed laws that get put before the Parliament.

At the end of this first sitting week, old Parliament House in Canberra will play host to a Citizens’ Parliament.  150 randomly selected citizens will deliberate on and attempt to answer the very important question:

“How can Australia’s political system be strengthened to serve us better?”

According to their website, the mission of deliberative processes like the Australian Citizens’ Parliament is to change the way we talk about politics and make political decisions.

One aspect of our Parliamentary system which I believe is given far too little attention is the adequacy of the process used to deliberate on and pass legislation.  Almost all the media focus is on the political contest and the mostly empty and meaningless theatre of Question Time.  But it is the legislation which directly affects our lives, not the political point scoring and insults.

Last year also saw just 52 sitting days for the Senate.  According to statistics on the Senate’s website, exactly 50 per cent of the Senate’s time – equating to a bit over 224 hours – was spent debating government business (which is mostly legislation, but also includes some procedural matters). So perhaps little more than 200 hours was spent debating and voting on the 164 Bills were passed by the Senate and another 15 that were either negatived or discharged.

In the time spent debating all these Bills, there were also 667 amendments moved, 18 amendments to amendments and 104 motions to oppose specific items within a Bill.  Of course many of these are moved as a block, rather than a whole series of individual amendments.  None the less, it is a lot to fit into around 200 hours.

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