BackupPlatypus and Parliament: The Australian Senate in Theory and Practice

BackupPlatypus and Parliament: The Australian Senate in Theory and Practice

“This is a very important book . . . an essential read for anyone who wants to be fully informed about the contemporary Senate. Dr Bach has produced an informed, outsider’s view of our system, uninfluenced by the partisan politics that affects much of the current debate about whether the Senate is 'obstructive’. His analysis of the idea of mandates will provide a useful corrective to much of the debate we are going to have about the Senate’s role.”
David Solomon

“As debates about the role and powers of the Senate unfold, this pioneering survey of its history and operations will prove a fundamental resource as well as a repository of shrewd judgement.”
Ian Marsh, Australian National University

“This is the best book written on an Australian political institution for a very long time. Written in a lively style, it combines a systematic examination of how the Senate actually operates with a lucid analysis of the literature on the federal parliament and a
presentation of detailed research on the way politics is played in the Senate. Best of all, it makes deft use of international comparison and the author’s skills as a political scientist to pursue its central theme that the role of the Senate has become a distinctively Australian contribution to the repertoire of representative democracy.”
Campbell Sharman, University of British Columbia

Front cover for Platypus and Parliament book

 "...the Australian polity does not lend itself to labels and capsule characterisations - 'a parliamentary system', 'the Westminster model' the Washminster mutation', and so on. I prefer my emblem:the platypus. It may be implausible, but it works." (p.353)

“It is not that I charge any individual prime minister with undemocratic ambitions, but I do charge that the government and the House in Canberra fail to offer a satisfactory answer to that core question of democratic governance: who guards the guardians?” (p. 347)

“What are the incentives for the Parliament to hold the government accountable after installing it in office? Where are those subordinate distributions of power to which Madison referred, ‘where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner that each may be a check on the other?” (p. 346)

“It is asking too much to think of the House of Representatives as a law-making place. But perhaps the problem is not with the House but with our expectations.” (p. 246)

The author, Dr Stanley Bach, has written extensively on the United States Congress and other legislatures and has worked as a consultant on parliamentary process in Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.

For more than 30 years he worked with and provided advice to Senators and Representatives on the operations of the US Congress. From 1988 to 2002 he held the office of Senior Specialist in the Legislative Process for the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress.

In 2002 Dr Bach was awarded a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award to study bicameralism in Australia. While in Canberra he was a Fellow in the Political Science Program of the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. He was also awarded a fellowship in the Department of the Senate which enabled him to observe the operations of the Commonwealth Parliament at first hand.


For me, the Senate is not the problem, it is the solution—or, perhaps I should say that the Senate is the potential solution for a problem that has not yet had the most dire consequences to which it could give rise.” (p. 334)

Published by the Department of the Senate, Canberra 2003


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Platypus and Parliament: The Australian Senate in Theory and Practice

(PDF 30KB)


 (PDF 37KB)

1. Introduction

(PDF 45KB)

2. The constitutional design

(PDF 157KB)

3. The electoral and party systems

(PDF 167KB)

4. The crisis of 1974-75

(PDF 164KB)

5. Original intent and expectations

(PDF 158KB)

6. Coalitions in the Chamber

(PDF 140KB)

7. Dividing the Senate

(PDF 224KB)

8. The Senate and the House of Representatives

(PDF 162KB)

9. Mandates and reforms

(PDF 215KB)

10. The Senate in the balance

(PDF 184 KB)


(PDF 74KB)