THE AUSTRALIAN SENATE
The Senate is regarded as a chamber which reviews the activities of the Government.
I - COMPOSITION
The 76 members, representing the federal structure of the country, are elected directly :
- 12 senators for each of the 6 states,
- 4 senators representing the 2 territories.
* Members of the Government are senators (or representatives).
II - ELECTORAL SYSTEM
6 plurinominal divisions (12 seats) formed by the 6 states.
2 plurinominal divisions (2 seats) formed by the federal territories.
Method of Voting:
proportional single transferable vote (each voter indicates his order of preferences between the candidates on the ballot sheet).
Term of office : 6 years, with half the senators being elected at 3-year intervals : however, the 4 senators from the federal territories are elected for 3-year terms.
Most recent election : 10 November 2001.
Age of eligibility : 18.
III - ORGANISATION OF SESSIONS
On the request of the Government or the majority of senators.
IV - RELATIONS WITH THE OTHER ASSEMBLY AND THE EXECUTIVE
A - LEGISLATIVE POWERS
1) Powers to initiate legislation
Yes, except for budgetary and fiscal matters.
2) Amendment Rights
Yes, except for budgetary and fiscal matters.
Apart from this, amendments must not embody any increase in the charges borne by individual tax payers. But the Senate may request the Chamber of Representatives to modify a clause in a bill bearing on budgetary and fiscal matters. The Chamber of Representatives may, if it deems it appropriate, accept such a proposal either in full or in modified form.
3) Legislative Procedure
In the course of their passage to the Senate bills are considered on three occasions and there is also a general debate preceding the consideration of the clauses.
The preliminary examination is carried out by one of the permanent committees, whichever is appropriate. In addition, one of the permanent committees is specifically assigned to verify that no bills submitted to the Senate prejudice individual freedoms or civil rights.
If the Chamber of Representatives passes a text of a law and the Senate rejects it or fails to vote on it, or passes it with amendments that are not accepted by the representatives, and if after a period of 3 months the Chamber of Representatives again passes the text with or without amendments which were not proposed or passed by the Senate and the Senate rejects or fails to vote on the text being considered , or votes it through with amendments not accepted by the Chamber of Representatives, the Governor General may dissolve the two chambers, except in the 6 months preceding a new election of the Chamber of Representatives.
If, after the dissolution, the conflict persists, the Governor General may propose a meeting of a joint committee combining representatives and senators.
If the text, modified or not, receives the support of an absolute majority of the members of both chambers, it may be submitted to the Governor General for promulgation.
4) Delegated legislation
In many cases, the details for the legislation on the implementation of laws are delegated. Parliament consigns this power to the Governor General, a minister or a responsible member of an official body.
Acts consigned as above have the force of law and are submitted to the Senate (and to the Chamber of Representatives) which may reject them (the acts are subject to a preliminary consideration by a Senate committee).
B - REVIEW POWERS
1) Select committees
The Senate may create committees of enquiries (select committees) to deal with a particular aspect of governmental activities. These committees have to deliver a report to the Senate within a set period ; when the report is tabled, the committee is dissolved.
On each day when the chamber is in session, an occasion is reserved for the senators to be questioned. Ministers who have seats in the Senate (and those representing ministers sitting in the Chamber of Representatives) may be questioned on any aspect of the activities of their ministerial department.
Questions may also may also be asked at other times, for example during general debates.
3) Budgetary audits
Committees which are to consider bills having an effect on the annual budgets of various ministries and agencies, verify that the expenditure estimates are appropriate and efficient. Committees also examine the annual reports of ministries and agencies.
4) Review Committees
Permanent committees play an important role with regard to overseeing and assessing government policy. They hold frequent hearings and conclude their review work by making a report, containing recommendations, to the Senate.
V - SPECIAL PROVISIONS
A - REVISION OF THE CONSTITUTION
Either a senator or a representative may propose a constitutional revision.
The proposed revision must be adopted by an absolute majority in each of the two chambers of Parliament ; then, within a period of 2 to 6 months after the vote of the chambers, it is submitted to the vote of the electors of the representatives of each state or territory.
In the case of disagreement between the two chambers (for example if one of them passes a proposal which the other rejects, or passes it with amendments which do not gain approval in the first assembly concerned and after a period of three months, the latter, in the course of the same session or the following session passes the proposal, modified or not, which the other chamber then rejects or passes with amendments not accepted by the first assembly) the Governor General may propose a revision - with or without the amendments passed by the two chambers - and submit it to the vote of the electors of the representatives of each state or territory.
In both cases the proposal must be adopted by the absolute majority of electors and by an absolute majority of the states.
B - WITH RESPECT TO THE FEDERAL STATES
1) Authorisation by Parliament is required:
- in certain cases with respect to the budget of the federal states,
- to raise and maintain military and naval forces.
2) Adhesion or creation of new territories governed by the Parliament, which similarly has competence over modifying the limits of the federal states.
C - JUDICIAL
Magistrates may be dismissed by the Governor General, following a resolution passed by both chambers, for bad conduct or incompetence.