What is the Senate?

The Senate is the upper house of Parliament of Australia, the lower house being the House of Representatives. Rather than being modelled solely after the House of Lords in the UK, the Australian Senate was in part modelled on the United States Senate by giving equal representation to each state regardless of population. Unlike the upper houses in other Westminster system governments, the Senate plays an active role in law making and shares the power to make laws with the House of Representatives.

What is the composition of the Senate?

The Senate consists of 76 senators, twelve from each of the six states and two from each of the mainland territories. State Senators usually serve fixed six-year terms; a system of rotation ensures that half the Senate is up for re-election every 3 years.

Today there are 31 Coalition Senators, 26 Labor Senators, 9 Greens Senators, 2 One Nation Senators, 2 Centre Alliance Senators (formerly Nick Xenophon Team), 1 Liberal Democratic Senator, 1 Senator from Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, 1 Australian Conservatives Senator, 1 Katter’s Australian Party, 1 United Australia Party Senator and 1 Independent Senator.

What role does the Senate play in Australian democracy?

The Senate is a house of review and a powerful check on the power of the government of the day. The Senate is elected by proportional representation. The membership of the Senate more closely reflects the first voting preference of the electorate as a whole than the House of Representatives. The proportional representation system of voting makes it easier for independents and smaller party candidates to be elected. In recent times, the Government of the day has not had a majority of votes in the Senate.

What powers does the Senate have?

The powers of both the Senate and the House of Representatives are defined by the Australian Constitution. All bills (proposed laws) must be passed by a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate before they become law. The Senate has rules which dictate how a bill is considered. The Senate can consider some bills in a single day, whilst other bills that are more complex or controversial may take months to pass through all stages of consideration.

What else does the Senate do?

In addition to the work of the main chamber, the Senate also has a large number of committees which deal with matters referred to them by the Senate. Senate Committees investigate matters of public policy and scrutinise proposed legislation and the details of government expenditure and administration.

About Senate Committees

Where can I find more information on the Senate?

The Parliamentary website has a wealth of information about the Parliament Senate.

Coat of Arms