Chapter 13 | Double dissolutions and joint sittings

Apart from placing restrictions on the Senate’s ability to initiate or amend certain types of financial legislation or to amend other legislation so as to increase a charge or burden on the people,[1] the Constitution gives the two Houses of the Commonwealth Parliament equal legislative powers. The Senate has the full power to reject any bill. In addition, where the Senate has the power to amend a bill it can insist on its amendments.[2]

There have been many instances where the Senate has rejected or made amendments regarded as unacceptable to legislation initiated in the House, some of which have related to major policy proposals. Not all disagreements between the Houses are finally resolved. In many instances the House has not proceeded with bills not passed by the Senate. In other cases the Senate has not insisted on its amendments. In such cases the political forces in each House have compromised and acted as a check on each other or other factors have been taken into account. The following text describes the processes followed and the problems which arise when no compromise can be reached between the Houses by the usual process of considering amendments or requests and communicating by message, or by conferences between the two Houses.[3] The resolution of such conflicts may be ultimately by way of the procedure specified in section 57 of the Constitution, leading to a double dissolution and an election for both Houses. The disagreement may then be resolved by the government party or coalition being re-elected with a majority in both Houses, enabling it to win a vote on the issue, by it reaching a political compromise, or by it losing office. If, following a double dissolution, the disagreement persists—that is, in cases where the Government is re-elected but continues to fail to obtain Senate agreement on the issue—the matter may be determined by a joint sitting of members of both Houses.

Section 57 of the Constitution

Double dissolutions

The 1914 double dissolution

The 1951 double dissolution

The 1974 double dissolution

The 1975 double dissolution

Significance of the constitutional crisis of 1975

Tensions in the system of Cabinet government in a State-represented federal system

Impact of the ‘supply’ provisions

The 1983 double dissolution

The 1987 double dissolution

The 2016 double dissolution

Joint sitting

The 1974 joint sitting

High Court cases relating to the joint sitting

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