Platypus and Parliament: The Australian Senate in Theory and Practice

When Europeans first encountered the platypus they considered it to be an implausible bundle of contradictions. They acknowledged, however, that it was superbly adapted to its environment. In this book Stanley Bach argues that the Australian Parliament, with its borrowings from both the British and American experience, is a bundle of ‘seemingly inconsistent and even incompatible elements’ which, nevertheless, join together ‘to make a political system that works’.

Topics covered in this book include: the design and operation of Australia’s system of government, an analysis of the confrontation between the Senate and the House of Representatives in 1975, proposals for parliamentary reform, the republic debate, minority parties and the balance of power, mandate theory, accountability and responsible government.

“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

Written by Dr Stanley Bach
Published by the Department of the Senate, Canberra 2003
Length: 391 pages
ISBN: 0-642-71291-3

View the publication as separate downloadable parts:

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)

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About the Author

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.

The Senate remembers Stanley Bach