POP 34-Representation and Institutional Change: 50 Years of Proportional Representation in the Senate


Papers on Parliament No. 34
December 1999


Edited by Marian Sawer and Sarah Miskin


Papers from a conference arranged by The Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, and The Department of the Senate.

Published and printed by the Department of the Senate, 1999

Papers on Parliament is managed by the Research Section, Department of the Senate.

All inquiries should be made to:

The Director of Research
Procedure Office
Department of the Senate
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Telephone: (02) 6277 3078

ISSN 1031–976X
ISBN 0 642 71061 9

This edition revised for Internet publication, February 2000



1 Overview: Institutional Design and the Role of the Senate

Marian Sawer

2 Why We Chose Proportional Representation

John Uhr

3 The Senate and Representative Democracy

Elaine Thompson

4 Australian Democracy: Modifying Majoritarianism?

Arend Lijphart

5 Accountability Versus Government Control:/the Effect of Proportional Representation

Harry Evans

6 Can the Senate Claim a Mandate?

Murray Goot

7 Dilemmas of Representation

Marian Sawer

8 ‘Survival of the Fittest’: Future Directions of the Senate

Helen Coonan

9 A Squeeze on the Balance of Power: Using Senate ‘Reform’ to Dilute Democracy

Andrew Bartlett

10 A Labor Perspective on Senate Reform

John Faulkner

11 Should Parliament be Abolished?

Fred Chaney

12 The Contribution of The Greens (WA) to the Australian Senate

Dee Margetts

13 The Representation of Small Parties and Independents

Campbell Sharman

14 Reporting the Senate: Three Perspectives

Paul Bongiorno

Michelle Grattan

Melissa Langerman

15 Lobbying the Senate: Two Perspectives

Peter Sekuless

Francis Sullivan

16 Personalities versus Structure: the Fragmentation of the Senate Committee System

Anne Lynch

17 Opening Up the Policy Process

Ian Marsh

18 Cyberdemocracy and the Future of the Australian Senate

Kate Lundy

19 The Senate and Proportional Representation: Some Concluding Observations

Geoffrey Brennan

Tables, Figures and Illustrations

p. 3 Table 1.1 Milestones in Senate history since 1949

p. 4 Table 1.2 Milestones in Senate reform since 1949

p. 7 Illustration Tanner cartoon, Age (Melbourne), 6 November 1992, with permission from Les Tanner

p. 47 Table 3.1 Senate party composition since 1949

p. 49 Table 3.2 Executive and party leadership in the Australian Parliament—positions first achieved by women senators

p. 61 Table 4.1 Average electoral disproportionality and type of electoral system in 36 democracies, 1945–1996

p. 67 Table 4.2 Bivariate regression analyses of the effect of electoral proportionality on 16 macro-economic performance variable

p. 69 Table 4.3 Bivariate regression analyses of the effect of electoral proportionality on 10 indicators of the quality of democracy

p. 103 Table 7.1 Meanings of political representation

p. 125 Illustration National Times, October 27–November 1, 1975, p. 2, State Library of New South Wales

p. 147 Illustration Jenny Coopes cartoon, with permission from Jenny Coopes

p. 158 Graph Senate, minor party and independent vote, 1949–1998

p. 172 Illustration Pryor cartoon, Canberra Times, 27 June 1992, p. 4, with permission from Geoff Pryor


John Uhr is a Reader in Public Policy at the Australian National University. He is the author of Deliberative Democracy in Australia (1998) and the editor of The Australian Republic: the Case for Yes (1999).

Elaine Thompson is Associate Professor of Politics at the University of NSW. Her books include Fair Enough: Egalitarianism in Australia (1994).

Arend Lijphart is Research Professor in Political Science, University of California, San Diego. His books include Electoral Systems and Party Systems (1994) and Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in ThirtySix Countries (1999).

Harry Evans has been Clerk of the Senate since 1988. His publications include Constitutionalism and Party Government in Australia (1988) and Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice (7th, 8th and 9th editions).

Murray Goot is Professor of Politics at Macquarie University, and author of many works on voting and opinion polls.

Marian Sawer is convenor of the governance strand of the Reshaping Australian Institutions Project in the Research School of Social Sciences at the ANU. Her books include Representation: Theory and Practice in Australian Politics, forthcoming, co-edited with Gianni Zappal.

Fred Chaney was a member of the Senate from 1974 to 1990 and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1983 to 1990. He was a minister in the Fraser Government.

Helen Coonan is a senator for NSW and Government Deputy Whip in the Senate, a position she has held since November 1998. She is a lawyer by profession.

Andrew Bartlett is a senator for Queensland and Australian Democrats spokesman for Electoral Matters, Immigration, Social Security, Environment, Gay and Lesbian Issues, Veterans’ Affairs and Housing. He has been president of the Queensland branch of the Australian Democrats, and was the national campaign manager for the 1998 election.

John Faulkner is a senator for NSW and is Shadow Minister for Public Administration and Government Services and Shadow Minister for Olympic Coordination and the Centenary of Federation. He has been Leader of the Opposition in the Senate since 1996.

Dee Margetts was a Greens senator for Western Australia from 1993 to 1999. She is currently researching for a Master’s degree in Economics.

Campbell Sharman is a member of the Political Science Department at the University of Western Australia. He has a longstanding interest in the Australian federal system and the effect of constitutional and electoral rules on the political process.

Paul Bongiorno is Network Ten’s political editor and Canberra bureau chief. He has been a journalist for 25 years, and has covered federal politics for the past 11 years. He is currently president of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Michelle Grattan is Chief Political Correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former editor of the Canberra Times and a former Chief Political Correspondent for the Age.

Melissa Langerman has worked for the Australian Associated Press since 1987, and was responsible for co-ordinating AAP coverage of the Senate for seven years. AAP is the only media organisation to cover both the House of Representatives and the Senate in detail.

Peter Sekuless founded the government relations firm Canberra Liaison with Jonathan Gaul in 1978, and has been a professional lobbyist for more than 20 years. He has written several books, including two on lobbying.

Francis Sullivan is the executive director of Catholic Health Australia, which represents 60 Catholic private and public hospitals and more than 500 Catholic aged-care services in Australia. Previously, he was a senior adviser to West Australia’s Minister of Health.

Anne Lynch is the Deputy Clerk of the Senate and secretary to the Privileges Committee, positions she has held since 1988. She has written several articles dealing with parliamentary topics, especially the accountability of public entities to Parliament.

Ian Marsh is Associate Professor at the Australian Graduate School of Management. His books include Beyond the Two-Party System: Political Representation, Economic Competitiveness and Australian Politics (1995).

Kate Lundy is a senator for the ACT, and is Shadow Minister Assisting on New Technology and Shadow Minister for Sport and Youth Affairs. She is a member of several parliamentary committees, including the Senate Legislation and References Committees on Finance and Public Administration as well as the Senate Legislation and References Committees on Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts.

Geoffrey Brennan is a former Director of the Research School of Social Sciences, ANU, and is coordinator of the Reshaping Australian Institutions Project.


In light of the extent and significance of the institutional changes that have flowed from the adoption of proportional representation, the Political Science Program in the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, in conjunction with the Department of the Senate, organised a conference to mark the jubilee of its first use for the Senate. The conference, from which this volume takes its name, was held in Parliament House, on 5 and 6 August 1999. Present and former senators, political scientists, political observers and enthusiasts for PR gathered in the Main Committee Room to present papers and debate the past, present and future of the Senate. The conference opened with a welcome to Ngunnawal land by Matilda House.

All of the conference papers are published in this volume and three of them (Goot, Lijphart, Sharman) are also being published in the Australian Journal of Political Science. The papers have been revised to incorporate the comments offered by conference participants, many of whom themselves made substantive contributions from the floor. One such contribution from the floor has led to an additional paper being included in the volume, Anne Lynch’s paper on the growth of partisanship within the Senate committee system.

The Research Section of the Department of the Senate, headed by Wayne Hooper, provided invaluable assistance throughout. The Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, was an inspiration in his dedication to the Senate and its history. Professors Geoff Brennan and Frank Castles of the Reshaping Australian Institutions Project at the Research School of Social Sciences also lent every support and Mary Hapel of RAI did most of the day-to-day administration. Professor Arend Lijphart, the leading international authority on the institutional impact of PR, flew from California to be the keynote speaker at the conference. He did much to make the event a success. Our thanks to all of these and Gillian Evans, Ben Miskin and David Sullivan.