The role of the Senate
The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, or the federal Parliament, is made up of two houses—the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Both are directly elected by the people of Australia. The functions of the Senate are to represent the states equally and to review the proposals and decisions of the House of Representatives and the executive government. Equal representation of the states was intended by the framers of the Constitution to protect the less-populous states, Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland, against the possible domination of the more prosperous and more populous states of Victoria and New South Wales.
Thus section 7 of the Australian Constitution reads in part:
The Senate shall be composed of senators for each State, directly chosen by the people of the State, voting, until the Parliament otherwise provides, as one electorate....
Until the Parliament otherwise provides there shall be six senators for each Original State. The Parliament may make laws increasing or diminishing the number of senators for each State, but so that equal representation of the several Original States shall be maintained and that no Original State shall have less than six senators.
Today there are twelve senators from each of the six states, and, since 1975, two from each of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, making in all 76 senators.
The Australian Constitution provides the Senate with virtually the same power to legislate as the House of Representatives. The Senate has also developed a vigorous committee system, which scrutinises legislation and the decision-making processes of the government. Apart from the Senate of the United States of America, the Australian Senate is now generally considered to be the most powerful legislative upper house in the world.
While issues of importance to particular states still arise, the increasing importance of national issues and the growth of national political parties, reflecting the development of a strong national identity in Australia, have meant that the reviewing role of the Senate has become its principal function. This role has been strengthened by the method of electing senators.