Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Here's a more stable and balanced way to improve the Australian Senate

By Brian Harradine - posted Tuesday, 14 October 2003

The Australian Parliament is in need of reform. But the options in the Prime Minister's discussion paper on resolving deadlocks between the two houses of parliament are not the way to achieve that reform. They would undermine the important role of the Senate.

The reform debate has focused on claims that the Senate is obstructionist and unrepresentative. Those claims just don't stand up. Despite the government's difficulty getting a number of high-profile bills through the Senate, the fact remains that the Senate has passed more than 95 per cent of the government's bills since the last election.

The Senate gives a voice to the people of the smaller states, helping to balance their relative lack of representation in the House of Representatives. The system of proportional representation used to elect the Senate also accurately reflects people's votes, giving those who vote for independents and minor parties a voice. They have great difficulty getting that voice through the House of Representatives.


The reason the government does not control the Senate is because it hasn't managed to get the majority of votes in Senate elections.

But I do think we can improve the constitutional arrangements defining our parliament without damaging the Senate. The aim of reform should be to improve the processes and accountability of parliament, not to force the passage of all government legislation.

The Prime Minister's discussion paper offers two options for reform - a joint sitting without an election and a joint sitting following an ordinary election.

The first provides that if a bill is rejected twice by the Senate, the government could then call a joint sitting of both houses to decide on the bill without first calling an election. It is clearly unacceptable.

Such a system would effectively end the Senate's power to reject objectionable legislation as governments by definition control the larger House of Representatives. Without an election, controversial legislation would generally be easily passed through a joint sitting using those numbers.

Under this option the Senate would join the House as a rubber stamp to the legislative agenda of the executive.


The second option is based on a proposal by former commonwealth attorney-general Michael Lavarch. The major difference is that Lavarch proposed that it be combined with fixed four-year terms for both the House and the Senate. The discussion paper does not canvass fixed-term elections.

The Lavarch-like option is better. It proposes that legislation could be put to a joint sitting after it is rejected twice by the Senate, an election is held and the legislation is rejected by the Senate one more time after the election. It has the virtue of putting the issues to the people. But it would again change the balance of power between the executive and the parliament.

I propose a system which would have fixed three-year terms for the House of Representatives, with half-Senate elections every election.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This article was first published in The Australian on 13 October 2003.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Senator Brian Harradine was an independent Senator for Tasmania.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Brian Harradine
Related Links
The Australian Senate
The Prime Minister's discussion paper
Photo of Brian Harradine
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy