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Senate FAQs

  1. 1. How many senators are there and how long do they serve?

    There are seventy-six senators—twelve for each state and two each for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Senators are elected by a system of proportional representation for a period of six years. A system of rotation, however, ensures that half the Senate retires every three years. The four senators who represent the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are elected concurrently with members of the House of Representatives and the duration of their terms of office coincide with those for that House (a maximum of three years).
    [ Senate Brief No. 1, Electing Australia's Senators ]

  2. 2. Why are the minor parties more successful in having candidates elected to the Senate than the House of Representative?

    Independents and members of minority parties have a better chance of election to the Senate than the House of Representatives because a different electoral system is used. In Senate elections, a system called proportional representation voting secures the election of a number of candidates, each of whom has obtained a required quota or proportion of votes necessary for election. The quota is worked out by dividing the total number of formal votes in the election by one more than the number of places available for election No one candidate needs to obtain a majority of votes, as is the case in House of Representative elections.

    Votes received in excess of the quota by successful candidates are redistributed to those candidates who have been ranked second by the voters on the excess ballot papers. If insufficient candidates reach a quota after this distribution, the preferences of voters for the least successful candidates are progressively distributed until enough candidates reach a quota to fill the available seats. Independents and members of minority parties, who would not hope to receive enough first votes to achieve a quota, are usually elected on the preferences of voters who gave their first vote to another candidate.

    This method of electing senators to the Australian Parliament results in a representation which more closely reflects the wishes of voters than that used by the House of Representatives. In the 1996 election for example, the Australian Democrats received 10.8% of the vote and secured 12.5% (or 5 ) of the 40 available seats in the Senate. They received 6.8% of the vote for the House of Representatives, but were not successful in having a candidate elected. Proportional representation is designed to ensure that the number of seats won is in proportion to the number of votes received.
    [Senate Brief No. 1, Electing Australia's Senators]

  3. 3. What happens if a senator resigns or dies before his or her term expires?

    When a casual vacancy occurs in the Senate, on the resignation or death of a senator, a new senator is appointed by the parliament of the state which the former senator represented. If the state or territory parliament is not sitting, an appointment can be made by the Governor of the state ( or in the case of an Australian Capital Territory senator, the Governor-General, or the Administrator in the case of the Northern Territory) and the appointment is confirmed by the parliament when next it assembles.

    In order that the Senate continue to preserve the representation of parties in the Senate as determined by the electors, the new senator must be of the same political party or group as the senator he is replacing. It is a matter of contention whether this means that the appointee must be the nominee of the political party or whether it suffices that he or she is a member of that party.
    [Senate Brief No. 1, Electing Australia's Senators]

  4. 4. How is the President of the Senate elected?

    When the position of President of the Senate becomes vacant, the election of a President is given priority over other Senate business. It begins with a senator proposing to the Clerk, who acts as chairman, that a senator who is present be President of the Senate. If no other senator is proposed, that Senator is called to the chair and becomes President. When two or more senators are proposed as President, a secret ballot is conducted. Each senator is provided with a ballot paper on which to write the name of a candidate, and if one candidate receives a majority of the votes of the senators present he or she is declared elected.

    If, in the case of two candidates, the vote is tied, the vote is taken again; and if they are still tied, the Clerk determines by lot which candidate should be withdrawn. Where there are more than two candidates and no-one receives a majority of votes on the first count, the candidate having the smallest number of votes withdraws and a fresh vote is taken.

    The office of President of the Senate is conventionally taken by a member of the party which holds a majority in the House of Representatives (the government), while the Deputy President is a member of the largest opposition party. [Senate Brief No. 6, The President of the Senate].

House of Representatives FAQs

  1. How can I contact my local Member?

    The Contacting Senators and Members website provides information on elected parliamentarians, including their contact details.

  2. How do I find out about the work of the House?

    Infosheet No. 12 Finding out about the House is a good place to start when looking for information about the work of the House.

  3. How do I get my petition before the House and what will happen to it after it is presented?

    See Infosheet No. 11 Petitions to find out more on this subject

  4. What are the sitting times of the House?

    The sitting times of the House of Representatives are set out in its standing orders. See also the order of business.

  5. What are the standing and sessional orders?

    The standing orders are the formal rules of procedure adopted by the House to regulate its proceedings. The sessional orders are formal temporary rules of procedure which in most cases expire at the end of a session, usually when the House is dissolved for a general election.

  6. What is a quorum?

    A quorum is the minimum number of Members who must be present to constitute a meeting of the House. See Infosheet No. 24 Glossary of procedural terms for the current quorum requirements.

  7. What is the House doing?

    Infosheet No. 12 Finding out about the House provides information on where to go to find out what the House is doing.

  8. When is the House sitting?

    To see when the House is scheduled to sit, check the sitting calendar.

  9. Where can I find information on the parliamentary international program?

    Information about the Parliament’s international work is on the International Program page.

  10. Where can I find more information about the House of Representatives and the Parliament?

    The House has a series of infosheets that provide information on the House.

    The website’s search engine may be more useful for locating specific items of information.

    Seminars are conducted on the operations of the House, which are open to anyone on payment of a fee.

  11. Where can I get a copy of legislation?

    The text of most bills before the Parliament is available on the bills website. See also Infosheet No. 7 Making laws and the Federal Register of Legislation.

  12. Where can I look at a copy of the Constitution?

    The text of the Australian Constitution is available at several websites including:


    See also Infosheet No 13. The Constitution.

  13. Who is my local Member?

    If you know the name of federal electoral division in which you live, you can use it to find your local Member on the Contacting Senators and Members website.

    If you do not know the name of the electoral division in which you live, you can find it, and the name of your local Member, on the Australian Electoral Commission website.

  14. Who is the Clerk and what do they do?

    Information on the Clerk is in Infosheet No. 21 The Clerk and other officials.

  15. Why is the House of Representatives Chamber green?

    Green is the colour traditionally used by the British House of Commons, and the Australian House of Representatives followed that tradition when the old Parliament House was being built and furnished in 1926-7. The shades of green selected in the present Chamber represent the grey-green tones of native eucalypts.

Other FAQs

  1. Does the Governor-General have a home page?

    For information about the Governor-General of Australia

    • Biographical information on the current Governor-General, information on the role of the Governor-General, the Vice-Regal News, and selected speeches and media releases are available on the web-site.
      Information is also available regarding the official residences and previous Governors-General since 1901.

    • General information about the Australian Honours Secretariat is available - this website provides comprehensive information.

    • The website also hosts information for the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General which provides the Governor-General with the necessary support to enable constitutional, statutory, ceremonial and public duties to be carried out.

  2. How can I contact the Prime Minister

    The Prime Ministers Website contact page includes a form for you to ask the Prime Minister a question, give advice and pass on well-wishes.

    If you wish to send invitations, meeting requests or correspondence requiring supporting attachments such as photos or documents, please send them via Australia Post mail to:

    Prime Minister
    Parliament House



  3. How can I find subject information on politics or on political issues

    From the Parliamentary Library's page there is a link to Browse by Topic which brings together the Parliamentary Library’s Research Publications, Bills Digests and other resources related to this topic. Senators, members and their staff are encouraged to contact the Library for further information on these or other resources.

    Guides are available from the Library on the following topics:

    Indigenous affairs: a quick guide to key internet links

    Key internet links on Communications and Media

    Key internet links on Calendars of Events

    Community grants: a quick guide to key Internet links

    Key internet links on Family Law

    The arts and culture: a quick guide to key internet links

    Key internet links on Sport and Recreation

    Crime and law enforcement: a quick guide to key Internet links

    Defence: a quick guide to key internet links

    National security: a quick guide to key internet links

    Key internet links on Economics

    School education: a quick guide to key internet links

    Tertiary education: a quick guide to key internet links

    Key internet links on Employment Law

    Key internet links on Health

    Humanitarian entrants and asylum seekers: a quick guide to key internet links

    Key internet links on International Relations

    Key internet links on Law

    Parliament: a quick guide to key internet links

    Australian and selected overseas governments: a quick guide to key internet links

    Elections and electoral systems: a quick guide to key internet links

    Key internet links on Political Parties

    Key internet links on Population

    Key internet links on Ageing

    Key internet links on Religion

    Key internet links on Statistics

    Key internet links on Social Security

  4. How do I address a member of Parliament

    Prime Minister


    The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, MP Prime Minister of Australia


    Dear Prime Minister


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Prime Minister or Mr Turnbull


    President of the Senate (when writing formally)


    Senator the Hon. Stephen Parry President of the Senate


    Dear Mr President


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Mr President or Senator Parry


    President of the Senate (when writing to the President in their electoral capacity)


    Senator the Hon. Stephen Parry


    Dear Senator or Senator Parry


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally



    Speaker of the House of Representatives (when writing formally)


    The Hon Mr Smith, MP Speaker of the House of Representatives


    Dear Mr Speaker


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Mr Speaker


    Speaker of the House of Representatives (when writing to the Speaker in their electoral capacity)


    The Hon Mr Smith, MP Speaker of the House of Representatives


    Dear Mr Smith


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Mr Speaker


    Minister (Senate)


    Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance


    Dear Minister


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Minister or Senator


    Minister (House of Representatives)


    The Hon Julie Bishop MP, MP Minister for Foreign Affairs


    Dear Minister


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Minister or Ms Bishop


    Assistant Minister (Senate)


    Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources


    Dear Assistant Minister


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Minister or Senator


    Assistant Minister (House of Representatives)


    The Hon Alex Hawke, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection


    Dear Assistant Minister


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Minister or Mr Hawke




    Senator Richard Di Natale, Senator for Victoria


    Dear Senator


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally



    Member (House of Representatives)


    Mr Andrew Broad, MP


    Dear Sir


    Yours faithfully

    How to address orally

    Mr Broad

    Who can use the title Honourable?

    A Member or Senator who becomes a Minister is appointed to the Executive Council and thus has the title ‘Honourable’ while they remain Executive Councillors. It rests with the Governor-General to continue or terminate membership of the Executive Council and consequently the right to the title. With one exception, Ministers appointed to the Executive Council have not in the past had their appointment to the Council terminated upon termination of their commission and hence have retained the title ‘Honourable’ for life. Parliamentary Secretaries also have the title ‘Honourable’ when, as has been the recent practice, they have been appointed to the Executive Council. It is established custom for a Member who is elected Speaker to use the title ‘Honourable’ during his or her period of office and to be granted the privilege of retaining the title for life if he or she serves in the office for three or more years. Source: House of Representatives Practice (5th edition)

  5. How do I find the names of Opposition Leaders or Ministers or Prime Ministers since 1901?

    This information can be found in the historical Parliamentary information contained in the Parliamentary Handbook.

    As well as Opposition Leaders since 1901, from this page you will also find information such as Governors-General since 1901, Senators and Members since 1901, Prime Ministers since 1901, Ministries since 1901, and much more.

  6. How do I make a reference to a second reading speech?

    An example of how to reference a second reading speech is shown below:

    Mr Billson, Second Reading speech: Competition and Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, 7 July 2011, accessible in ParlInfo Search .

  7. How do I request a copy of Parliamentary proceedings?

    The proceedings of the House of Representatives, the Senate, parliamentary committees and parliamentary events are recorded and available to Members, Senators, general public, media and other organisations upon request.

    You can request a copy of parliamentary proceedings by contacting the DPS Broadcasting Content section, providing the following information:

    Name of event, chamber or committee
    Start and end time
    Your contact details
    Tape/file format

    Then email, fax or mail your request to

    DPS Broadcasting Content
    c/o Production Office, SB011
    PO Box 6000, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600
    Fax 02 6277 8389

    Please note not all committee hearings are televised.

    Stock and dubbing charges apply and are available upon request.

    Many different formats are available such as VHS, DVD, media files and broadcast quality media.

    For more information please contact Client Support on 02 6277 2020.

  8. How to contact Senators and Members of Parliament

    You can contact a Senator or Member in a number of ways:
    • by phone
    • by fax
    • by post
    • by email (if a Senator or Member has an email address) or by using the contact form which some Senators and Members prefer to use.

    The Parliament site provides a number of contact lists for both Senators and Members which you can print out, download or quickly browse.

    For contact information on Senators.

    For contact information on Members.

    If you would like to email messages to either a Senator or Member, click on the Home Pages option where you will find an email address or a feedback form.

    Please do not send mail for Senators or Members of Parliament to the Web Manager's mail box . This Web Manager's mailbox is for problems or comments regarding the site and the mail sent here does not reach Senators or Members.

  9. How to I find out information about Committees or get Committee transcripts?

    There are links to all current Committees from the list of Committees.

    Committee transcripts are found by searching Hansard under the name of the Committee. Please note that there are sometimes delays in making transcripts available as they are proofed.

  10. Is Hansard up on the Internet?

    Yes, Hansard is available on the Internet.

    You can also search Hansard by using the search facility on the Parliament site.

    The daily Hansard is available on the Internet by 9am of the next working day.

  11. Is there an overview of Parliament

    OurAbout Parliament pages provides you with a variety of information.

  12. Some Hansard information and bills information is in PDF format.

    Hansard is the name given to transcripts of parliamentary proceedings. The Senate and House of Representatives Hansards are available on the Internet each morning following a sitting day. Hansards of Committee hearings are also available online. These transcripts are published shortly after the committee meets.

    To view the current transcript production status of Senate legislation committees considering estimates see the estimates transcript schedule

    Hansards are available online from 8 May 1901, the day of the first sitting of the parliament. They can be accessed here

  13. What Australian and overseas political parties have home pages?

    A list of political parties which have homepages can be found from the Key Internet links on Political Parties page. Under Political Parties you will find links to parties arranged by country.

  14. What election and referendum information is available?

    Election information on this site is primarily Australian. From the Key Internet links on elections link on the Parliamentary Library's home page various election statistics can be found, such as election dates since 1901, the origins of present electoral names, and a comparison of electoral divisions, by area, and by number of electors.

    The Australian Electoral Commission's website has a wealth of information.

    Information on referendums on alterations to the Constitution of the Commonwealth is also available from the Parliamentary Handbook.

  15. What is the Cabinet?

    The Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and senior Ministers, and decides on all major government policy matters.

  16. What legislation is before the current Parliament?

    For details on legislation, see:

    • Bills Page

    • Bills Digests produced by the Parliamentary Library. This is a brief, plain-language digest of the Bill produced as soon as possible after its introduction, which generally includes sections on the purpose, background and main provisions of the Bill.

  17. What time is Question Time?

    Question Time is held at 2pm in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

  18. When is Parliament sitting

    The sitting calendar shows when Parliament is sitting.

  19. Where can I find information about Inter-Parliamentary Relations?

    About the International and Parliamentary Relations Office

    The Australian Parliament’s international program includes parliamentary visits, development programs and participation in international parliamentary associations. The program is coordinated by the International and Parliamentary Relations Office (incoming and outgoing parliamentary delegations and membership of parliamentary associations) and the Parliamentary Skills Centre (parliamentary strengthening programs).

    The IPRO's objective is to support external relations for the Parliament with a view to achieving productive and amicable international and regional relationships with other parliaments and parliamentary bodies and organisations. 

  20. Where can I find information on government departments and agencies?

    The Parliament's site contains information pertaining to the Parliament. 

    For contact information and links to commonwealth government departments and agencies see the Australian Government Directory.

  21. Which other Parliaments are on the Internet?

    For a list of government sites, consult the Library's Key Internet links on Parliaments resources page.

    The Parliamentary Handbook contains a wealth of current and historical parliamentary information.


    Parliaments of Australian States and Territories

    Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly

    New South Wales Parliament

    Northern Territory Legislative Assembly

    Queensland Parliament

    South Australian Parliament

    Tasmanian Parliament

    Victorian Parliament

    Western Australian Parliament


    Selection of Links to Legislatures

    Islamic State of Afghanistan
    Brazil: Camara Dos Deputados | Senado Federal
    Cambodia: National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia | Senate of the Kingdom of Cambodia
    Canadian Parliament
    People's Republic of China: The National People's Congress
    Cook Island Parliament
    Denmark Folketinget
    Europarl: European Parliament
    Fiji. Parliament
    France: Assemblee Nationale | Senate
    Germany. Deutscher Bundestag
    Indian Parliament
    Indonesia: House of Peoples Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia (DPR) | People's Consultative Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia (MPR)
    Iran. Majlis ye-Shura-ye-Eslami (Islamic Consultative Assembly) Research Centre
    Iraq. Transitional National Assembly. See IPU listing
    Ireland Oireachtas
    Parlamento Italiano
    Japan: House of Councillors | House of Representatives
    Kiribati Parliament
    Lebanese Parliament
    New Zealand: Parliament | New Zealand Parliamentary Business: includes Hansard, parliamentary papers, select committee reports
    Northern Ireland Assembly
    National Parliament of Papua New Guinea
    Nauru Parliament
    Philippines Congress
    Russia: Duma | Council of Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation
    The Scottish Parliament
    Thailand. National Assembly of the Kingdom of Thailand: House of Representatives and Senate
    Tonga Parliament
    United Arab Emirates: Federal National Council
    United Kingdom | House of Lords | House of Commons | Hansard | Hansard Archive 1802-2004
    United States of America: House of Representatives | Senate | Congressional Record | THOMAS | Library of Congress
    Vanuatu Parliament
    Vietnam. National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam
    The National Assembly for Wales


    Use one of these directories to find national parliaments not listed above...

    Web Sites of National Parliaments: IPU
    Parline Database: IPU
    Worldlii: Parliaments database
    Parliaments: part of Gunnar Anzinger's Governments on the WWW
    World Parliaments: the Knesset

    Parliamentary Organisations

    Australasian Study of Parliament Group (ASPG): ASPG was formed "to encourage and stimulate research, writing and teaching about parliamentary institutions in Australia and the South Pacific"
    Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government (UK): independent educational charity "promoting effective parliamentary democracy"
    National Association of Parliamentarians: US based association with international membership
    Parliamentarians for Global Action
    Study of Parliament Group (Canada): "a non-profit organization that brings together individuals with an interest in the role, function and reform of parliamentary institutions"
    Study of Parliament Group (UK): "to study the working of Parliament and Parliamentary institutions, and other related aspects of Parliamentary government and political science, and to advance public knowledge of these subjects"
    United States Association of Former Members of Congress

    Inter-Parliamentary Assemblies, Associations, Organisations

    For other links see Useful links on the IPU site

    Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union
    Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF)
    Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)
    Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
    Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
    NATO Parliamentary Assembly: formerly North Atlantic Assembly
    Norden: Nordic Council and Nordic Council of Ministers
    OSCE Parliamentary Assembly: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
    Assembly of the Western European Union (WEU): the Inter-parliamentary European Security and Defence Assembly

  22. Who do I contact about art works in Parliament House?