Should Senate be Abolished?
Australian Senate should not be abolished because it is a very important role in holding the government
accountable on everything and ensuring that the legislation with the Parliament is correctly examined
Should Senate be Abolished?
Australian Senate should not be abolished because it has a very important role in holding
the government accountable on everything and ensuring that the legislation with the Parliament
is correctly examined. The senate plays the role of a house of advice, review, and consent.
Although the senate in Australia has limited control over the practice of the government, it is the
one mandated to pass any legislation introduced by the government before it can become a law
(Russell & Benton, 2010). Senate has to review all proposed legislation to ensure that the under-
represented groups are not completely excluded from the parliament’s attention. There are
instances in the past and recently when the senators from the minor parties and the independent
SHOULD SENATE BE ABOLISHED? 2
senators have held the balance of power in the senate (Browne, 2012). By teaming up with the
opposition to block passage of legislation, they are able to exert immense influence that ensures
proper debate of amendments to legislation. This paper champions the thesis that the Australian
senate is completely unalienable due to the mundane role it holds in the process of legislation,
representation, and monitoring the excesses of the government.
As Taylor (2014) notes, the senate committee system is the centre of review activity in
the Australian Federal Parliament. Committees offer in-depth scrutiny of proposed legislation.
They consider evidence and information from other sources by allowing people to give
testimony in person or organizations with special expertise to specific evidence. Consequently,
they take a long-term view of the public issues since committee members have the time to
become experts in the area of interest as well as to consider a broad array of issues. Committees
provide a transparent and open way for the parliament to conduct their policy debates and the
evidence is availed for the public to access (Russell & Benton, 2010).
The senator has great potential in informing the government and the parliament
concerning matters of public importance by the Parliamentary Inquiries. It is widely recognized
that checks and balances are a necessary prerequisite for fair running of any system of
government to ensure that power is not abused. The parliament to which the ministry is
responsible for its actions is one necessary where checks are required. Parliament being the law-
making arm of the government entails representation of interests, beliefs, and opinions of the
people (Taylor, 2014). As such, it is perceived as the foundation upon which the modern
democracy is built, and it is required to ensure that the government is answerable to the people.
However, in the federal parliament this is not the case. The opportunity for the House of
Representatives to assume its effective role of checking on the government are significantly
SHOULD SENATE BE ABOLISHED? 3
reduced since the coalition or parties forming the government in most cases forms the majority
seats and controls the House (Lee, 2013). However, the development of the system of
responsible government in Australia under which the federal government is now responsible to
the House of the Representatives as well as the Senate ensures that the federal Parliament is
capable of performing its role of checking on the government.
The Senate has the power to force the government to account for its practices by
withholding finance from it. This can occur through rejecting the appropriation bill for the
annual services of the government. The Constitution allows the Senate to fulfill this role in
relation to the government by scrutinizing and judging its legislation, activities, and policies
(Ghazarian, 2012). The Senate is able to check on the government through scrutinizing
government administration, delegated legislation, bills, and government policy in general.
The Senate is effective in its role to check the government and ensuring it is accountable since
the government unlike in the parliament case rarely possesses a Senate majority. The adoption by
the federal Parliament of a system of proportion representation for the Senate elections in 1948
made it possible for parties to gain representations in proportion to the vote’s share (Ghazarian,
2012). Moreover, independents and small parties have gain substantial representation in the
senate. As a result, the government has to win the support of non-government Senators before
the Senate can agree on passing a government bill. Contrastingly, if the opposition wins the
support of the independents and minor parties, the Senate has the ability to reject or amend
The Senate can also undertake activities which the government is not in support of such
as directing a Senate committee to look investigate an activity, legislation, or policy of the
SHOULD SENATE BE ABOLISHED? 4
government. For instance, a bill must be passed in identical terms by both the House of
Representatives and the Senate being enacted to become a law. Although most bills are initiated
by the government, the Senate scrutinizes all of them to ensure that they further the interest of
the public. Ultimately, senate can pass a bill with amendments, pass it without amendments, or
reject it. Bills are first read three times during their process of passage through the Senate. In this
phase, the broad policy of the bill is put under debate. The Senate then adopts the form of a
committee as a whole to examine the details of the bill. They also engage in debate with
ministries and move amendments (Bach, 2008). This whole procedure offers an opportunity to
ensure that all the aspects of the bill are examined in totality before the senate can vote to pass,
amend, or reject it.
The senate committee system significantly enhances the ability of the senate to review
bills and bills that are considered to require more and detailed examination are then referred to
the appropriate Legislative Standing Committees for further inquiry (Olivier, 2012). The inquiry
process concludes with a presentation of their report to the senate. The report can recommend
amendments or passing of a bill without amendments. Notably, the committee on the scrutiny of
bills informs the senate of any bill that could trespass on individual liberties or a failure to
observe the required legislative safeguards, for instance, the right of appeal. All delegated
legislation must also be tabled in the senate. To enhance the effectiveness of the senate function
of oversight, the Standing Committee on Regulation and Ordinances scrutinizes all delegated
legislation. It then follows up on any problems with the minister in charge while any unresolved
problems may result in disallowance of the regulation by senate (Olivier, 2012). Other times that
the senate plays a critical role of scrutinizing the government is during for instance, time set
aside for raising matters of public importance as well as during debates of a general nature.
SHOULD SENATE BE ABOLISHED? 5
The senate through the Estimates Committee is able to review the operations of the
agencies and government departments, which are mandated in developing and implementing the
policies of the government (Tsang, 2013). For instance, they review the estimates of the annual
expenditure of the government agencies and department in detail to establish if revenue is being
spent efficiently and appropriately. The estimates are presented in parliament in May in
appropriation bills as part of the Budget. There are six committees with each having the
responsibility for a given number of departments (Bach, 2008). The Senate minister concerned
and other senior department officials have to appear before the senate examining their
department to explain expenditure proposals and answer questions in regard to the efficiency and
effectiveness of the various programs. The estimates committees then report to the senate
following completion of their inquiries.
Although the senate has been faulted for numerous reasons, the big question would be
directed towards strengthening it, so that is capable of conducting its crucial duties more
effectively instead of efforts to abolish the senate. For instance, mechanisms could be put in
place to abolish the likelihood of governments to weaken the powers of senate as happened
during the Howard government. The role and powers of the senate should also be enhanced so
that it is able to inform the nation by broadening of its investigative powers. It should also be
provided with resources and staffing to effectively carry out its roles.
The democratic election process and strategic political function coupled with its
extensive constitutional powers have provided the senate with the foundation on the role to check
on the government. Although the Senate is faced with numerous challenges and limitations as
has been established in the discussion, it is still to a great extent performing its role and function
as envisaged in the Constitution; of ensuring that laws are supported by the majority and are
SHOULD SENATE BE ABOLISHED? 6
properly representative of the entire country, and ensuring that ministries are accountable of their
activities and conduct to the people of Australia.
Bach, S. (2008). Senate Amendments and Legislative Outcomes in Australia, 1996-
2007. Australian Journal Of Political Science,43(3), 395-423.
Browne, E. (2012). Reflections on Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices: Report of the
Senate Community Affairs References Committee, 2012. ISAA Review: Journal Of The
Independent Scholars Association Of Australia, (2), 57.
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Ghazarian, Z. (2012). The Changing Type of Minor Party Elected to Parliament: The Case of the
Australian Senate from 1949 to 2010. Australian Journal of Political Science, 47(3), 441-
Lee, A. (2013). How Senate report changes Australia FDI. International Financial Law
Review, 32(6), 61.
Olivier, E. (2012). Proroguing the Parliament of Australia: The Effects on the Senate and the
Conventions That Constrain the Prerogative Power. Federal Law Review, 40(1), -88.
Russell, M., & Benton, M. (2010). (Re)assessing Parliamentary Policy Impact: The Case of the
Australian Senate. Australian Journal Of Political Science, 45(2), 159-174.
Taylor, M. (2014). 2014 – A Year of Policy Challenges. Money Management, 28(6), 12-15.
Tsang, A. (2013). Colourful Outlook for Australia’s Senate. The Financial Times.