Two houses colliding

22 February 2014 | Posted In: #120 Autumn 2014, Civil Society Issues, Parliamentary Process, Planning Campaigns, | Author: Craig Johnston

To help understand the Planning Bill amendments and the uncertainty at the time of writing below we have explained how legislation is made in the NSW parliament which is made up of The Legislative Assembly (the lower house) and The Legislative Council (the upper house).


An Act of parliament starts off as a Bill. A Bill may be introduced by a member of parliament in either of the two houses, but a money bill may only be introduced in the lower house. It’s normal for a bill to be introduced into the lower house, and most bills are introduced by someone from the governing party. The Bill goes through a number of phases, called readings, and there is often a session to consider amendments. The Bill is then sent to the other house for its consideration, where a similar process happens.

If the governing party (which normally has a majority of MPs in the lower house) does not also have a majority in the upper house, it would need to negotiate with the Opposition party and the minor parties to get that house’s support. Currently in NSW the Government needs 3 votes from among the two votes of the Christian Democrats and the two votes of the Shooters and Fishers Party, if the ALP and the Greens oppose a Bill.

The upper house may reject the Bill, pass it in the form they got notice of it from the lower house, or amend it. If the upper house doesn’t do what the governing party wants, the government has to decide what to do with the Bill. It could withdraw the Bill, or it could renew negotiations to get majority support from the upper house. With an amended Bill bounced back to the lower house, after a period of 3 months the lower house may reconsider the bill and pass it without any or all of the upper house’s amendments and resubmit it to the upper house. The upper house can compromise, back down altogether, or stand its ground.

Normally we would expect a negotiated result. Other procedural scenarios, like a joint sitting of the two houses and sending a Bill to a referendum, are uncommon.

When a Bill is agreed to by both houses it is sent over to the Governor for her approval, and at the time of assent the Bill is now called an Act. The commencement date of the Act is either specified in the Act itself or on a date to be proclaimed.

This article appeared with a companion article on Affordable housing and the planning law debate

Craig Johnston is the Principal Policy Officer at Shelter NSW. The views in this article do not necessarily represent those of Shelter NSW.

Originally published in Inner Sydney Voice Issue 119 Autumn 2014