Chapter 4 - Elections for the Senate

Division of the Senate

After a general election for the Senate, following simultaneous dissolutions of both Houses, it is necessary for the Senate to divide senators into two classes for the purpose of restoring the rotation of members (Constitution, s. 13).

On the seven occasions that it has been necessary to divide the Senate for the purposes of rotation, the practice has been to allocate senators according to the order of their election. An example of the effective part of the resolution passed is that used following simultaneous dissolutions in 1974: “the name of the Senator first elected shall be placed first on the Senators’ Roll for each State and the name of the Senator next elected shall be placed next, and so on in rotation”.

In its report of September 1983 the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform proposed that “following a double dissolution election, the Australian Electoral Commission conduct a second count of Senate votes, using the half Senate quota, in order to establish the order of election to the Senate, and therefore the terms of election” (PP 227/1983, para 3.39). The committee also recommended that there should be a constitutional referendum on “the practice of ranking senators in accordance with their relative success at the election” so that “the issue is placed beyond doubt and removed from the political arena” (ibid.). The Commonwealth Electoral Act was subsequently amended to authorise a recount of the Senate vote in each state after a dissolution of the Senate to determine who would have been elected in the event of a periodical election for half the Senate (s. 282).

Following the 1987 dissolution of the Senate, the then Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator John Button, successfully proposed that the method used following previous elections for the full Senate should again be used in determining senators in the first and second classes respectively (SD, 14/9/1987, p. 17).

The Opposition on that occasion unsuccessfully moved an amendment to utilise section 282 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act for the purpose of determining the two classes of senators, in accordance with the September 1983 recommendation of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. According to the leading Opposition speaker, Senator Short, the effect of using the historical rather than the proposed new method was that two National Party senators would be senators in the first (three-year) class rather than the second (six-year) class, whilst two Australian Democrat senators would be senators in the second rather than the first class (SD, 15/9/1987, p. 97).

On 29 June 1998 the Senate agreed to a motion, moved by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Faulkner, indicating support for the use of section 282 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act in a future division of the Senate (29/6/1998, J.4095). The stated reason for the motion was that the new method should not be adopted without the Senate indicating its intention in advance of a simultaneous dissolution, but it was pointed out that the motion could not bind the Senate for the future (SD, 13/5/1998, pp 2649-51, 29/6/1998, pp 4326-7). (See Supplement)

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