Senate

This fact sheet explores the Senate, one of the two chambers of the Australian Parliament. It includes information about the role, appearance and history of the Senate.

The Senate is a part of the Australian Parliament which also consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor-General) and the House of Representatives. The Senate is also known as the upper house. Senators are elected to the Senate by the people of Australia.

Role

The Senate is made up of 76 senators. Twelve senators represent each state and 2 senators represent each territory.

In the Senate:

  • senators represent the views of Australians and discuss matters of national and international importance
  • national laws are made and changed, by debating and voting on bills—proposed laws. A bill must be agreed to in identical form in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and given Royal Assent by the Governor-General. It then becomes a law
  • the work of the government is scrutinised—closely examined—especially in Question Time and through committees.

Appearance

The Senate chamber is red. The tradition of a red upper house comes from the House of Lords in the British Parliament. The red ochre tones used in the Senate are softer shades, typical of the Australian landscape.

The seats in the Senate are arranged in rows to form a U-shape. The President of the Senate sits at the open end of the U-shape and is responsible for the orderly running of the chamber. Government senators sit to the right of the President and opposition senators sit to the left. The Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate sit in front of their respective teams at a central table. Minor parties and independents sit in the central curved part of the U-shape.

The Senate has 4 raised viewing galleries. One is directly above the President and is reserved for the press gallery. The other galleries on either side of the chamber are open to the public. Members of the press gallery and the public may visit the chamber at any time.

Reporting

Parliamentary proceedings are recorded and broadcast on ABC TV and radio, A-PAC (Australian Public Affairs Channel) and on the Parliament House website. Hansard reporters produce a daily record of what is said in the Senate.

History

The physical appearance of the Senate and some of its practices come from the British Parliament. The drafters of the Australian Constitution also looked to the United States (US) Congress when deciding on the form of the Australian Parliament. For example, the names 'Senate' and 'House of Representatives' were borrowed from the US system.

Although the Senate has links with both the British Parliament and the US Congress, it has developed its own unique style and procedures over the last century.

The Senate chamber

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 around a large central table. There are 3 large chairs at the open end of the U-shaped seats that are elevated above the other chairs. There are people sitting in the seats and papers on the desks.

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.

Senate current numbers

The current numbers in the Australian Senate: Government 35, Opposition 26, Minor Parties 14, Independent 1

Parliamentary Education Office (peo.gov.au), DPS AUSPIC

Description

The current numbers in the Australian Senate:

Government - 35 senators
(Liberal Party of Australia, The Nationals, Liberal National Party of Queensland and the Country Liberal Party)

Opposition - 26 senators
(Australian Labor Party)

Minor Parties
Australian Greens - 9 senators
Centre Alliance - 2 senators
Pauline Hanson's One Nation - 2 senators
Jacqui Lambie Network - 1 senator

Independent - 1 senator