Senators

A person elected to the Senate is called a senator. This fact sheet explores their role in the Parliament and in their states and territories, as well as their working hours, period of service and history.

There are 76 senators elected to the Senate. Each senator represents a whole state or territory. The duties of a senator are conducted both within the Australian Parliament and their state or territory.

Parliamentary role

During sitting weeks—about 18 to 20 weeks a year—senators are engaged in parliamentary duties, including:

  • debating and voting on bills—proposed laws
  • representing state/territory views in Parliament
  • working on committees that examine important issues
  • attending parliamentary party meetings to decide on party policy
  • scrutinising—closely examining—the work of the government
  • discussing issues of national and international importance.

State/territory role

When Parliament is not sitting, senators are engaged in duties in their states or territories, including:

  • working on committees to collect information from community organisations and lobby groups that want to present their views to Parliament
  • helping constituents who may be having difficulties with issues such as taxes, immigration, health or pensions
  • speaking with community groups such as pensioner associations and sporting clubs
  • visiting schools and making presentations
  • meeting with constituents and taking their views back to Parliament.

Working hours

Senators work long hours, both in Parliament and in their states or territories. Parliament meets for an average of 11 hours a day. However, senators may begin their day in Parliament House at about 7am and end their day at 10pm or later. Senators also spend many hours travelling, both between their state or territory and Parliament House and throughout their state or territory.

Period of service

State senators are elected for a period of 6 years using a system of rotation that ensures that only half the state senators retire every 3 years. Half-Senate elections are usually held at the same time as elections for the House of Representatives.

Territory senators are elected for a period of 3 years at the same time as the members of the House of Representatives and half the Senate.

Senators can stand for re-election as many times as they like.

Addressing a senator

Along with members of the House of Representatives, senators may also be referred to as members of parliament.

In the Senate, senators are referred to by:

  • their last name—for example, Senator Jones, or
  • if applicable, their title as minister or shadow minister—for example, the Minister for Education.

Some senators who are or have been ministers or Presiding Officers may also use the title of 'the Honourable', abbreviated to 'the Hon'.

History

Section 24 of the Australian Constitution states that the number of members of the House of Representatives shall be, as near as possible, 'twice the number of senators'. The first Senate in 1901 had 36 senators, as set out in the Constitution. This number has steadily increased since then.

The longest-serving senator was Senator Sir George Pearce, who was a senator from 1901 to 1938.

The Senate chamber from behind the President of the Senate's chair

The red Senate chamber. There are people sitting in seats which are arranged in a U-shape around a large central table.

David Foote/DPS Auspic

Description

This image is of a large room with red furnishings. The seats are arranged in a horse-shoe shape around a large central table. There are people sitting in the seats and papers on the desks.

What do Senators do in Parliament

Senators undertake many jobs while representing their state or territory in the Australian Parliament.

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)

Description

This diagram illustrates what senators do in the Australian Parliament. Senators: debate and vote on bills (proposed laws); represent the views of people in their state/territory; work on parliamentary committees examining important issues; attend parliamentary party meetings to decide on party policy; scrutinise—closely examine—the work of the government; and discuss issues of national and international importance.

Role of the Senate

The role of the Senate is to represent states and territories, debate bills, decide national matters and scrutinise government.

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au)

Description

This diagram illustrates the role of the Australian Senate. The Senate: decides matters of national interest; represents the interests of people in their states or territories; proposes, debates and votes on bills and amendments; examines issues in committees; and scrutinises—closely examines—executive government.