previous
next

B. The Senate.

The principal character of the Senate may be gathered from the alternative names which were suggested for it— the House of the States, the States Assembly. Though it differs in many important respects from the Senate in the United States and in the Dominion of Canada, it stands like them for the federal principle in the Constitution.


  ― 98 ―
Every Original State has equal representation in the Senate (sec. 7), a condition which was vigorously assailed in the larger States. This equality can be varied only by an amendment of the Constitution, and then only with the consent of the electors of the State or States whose “proportionate representation” it is proposed to diminish (Section 128). In the first instance, each State has six members; but the Parliament may increase the number. There is no power to diminish the number, because it is part of the plan of the Constitution to set up a numerical proportion between the Houses, and an alteration of numbers might affect the balance of power.

As the Senate is to represent the States, it is fitly provided that each State shall constitute one electorate; though this is a provision which the Parliament may alter, and the Constitution itself makes special provision for Queensland (sec. 7). These provisions may also be regarded as a check upon localism in Commonwealth politics; it is a common complaint of popular assemblies that “they represent the nation too little and particular districts too much.” Large constituencies are in the colonies a feature of the Second Chamber, where that Chamber is elective. It is not impossible that, from the mode of its constitution, the Senate may be more “national” than the national Chamber itself.

Though federal in constitution, the Senate is, unlike the German Bundesrath, unitary in action. It may proceed to the despatch of business, notwithstanding the failure of any State to provide for its representation in the Senate (sec. 11). Until the Parliament otherwise provides, one third of the whole number of the Senators makes a quorum (sec. 22) without regard to the manner in which that quorum is composed. Questions arising in the Senate are determined by a majority of votes, and the voting is personal and not according to States (sec. 23).

A condition which the Senate shares with Second Chambers and Upper Houses in general is “perpetual existence.” Except in the event of deadlocks (sec. 57),


  ― 99 ―
it is not liable to dissolution. Its members retire by rotation after six years' service (sec. 7), the length of service of a Senator being double the term of the House of Representatives. The rotation of Senators is to be determined by the body itself as soon as practicable after its first meeting, and after every dissolution (sec. 13), so that half the Senators of each State in the first Senate and every new Senate will retire at the end of three years' service (sec. 13). Whenever the number of Senators for a State is increased or diminished, the Parliament may make such provision for the vacating of the places of Senators for the State as it deems necessary to maintain regularity in rotation (sec. 14).

The Senate is popular in the mode of its Constitution. The Bill of 1891 followed the United States Constitution in providing that Senators should be directly chosen by the Houses of the Parliament of the several States. There was nothing as to which there was more agreement than that this system should give way to one which secured immediate responsibility to the people. Senators are to be directly chosen by the people of the States (sec. 7), and the qualification of Senators and electors is not left to the States to determine, but is uniform with that of members and electors for the House of Representatives, “but in the choosing of Senators each elector shall vote only once” (sections 16, 8). Only in the case of casual vacancies is the scheme of 1891 resorted to (sec. 15). The provision for filling casual vacancies is curiously complex and minute. The person chosen holds the seat until the expiration of the term of the person whose seat he fills, or until the election of a successor, whichever first happens. If the State Parliament is not in session when the vacancy is notified (by the President, or, if there is no President, by the Governor-General, to the Governor of the State— sec. 21), the Governor of the State, with the advice of the Executive Council thereof, may appoint a person to hold the place until 14 days after the beginning of the next session of the State Parliament, or “until the election


  ― 100 ―
of a successor, whichever first happens.” The last-mentioned condition of tenure is explained by a provision that “at the next general election of members of the House of Representatives, or at the next election of Senators for the State, whichever first happens, a successor shall, if the term has not then expired, be chosen to hold the place until the expiration of the term” (sec. 15).

The Parliament may provide a uniform method of electing Senators throughtout the Commonwealth. Subject to any such law, the State Parliaments may make laws prescribing the method of choosing Senators (sec. 9).

The State Parliaments may make laws for determining the times and places of elections of State Senators (sec. 9). The Commonwealth Parliament may make laws regulating the conduct of the Senate elections, but in default of such provisions the State laws, for the “more numerous House of the Parliament of the State,” shall, subject to the Constitution, apply to Senate elections as nearly as practicable (sec. 10).

The Governor of a State may cause writs to be issued for the election of the State Senators; in case of the dissolution of the Senate, the writs shall be issued within ten days of the proclamation of the dissolution (sec. 12).

The Senate, before proceeding to the despatch of business, and thereafter as occasion arises, is to choose a Senator to be President (sec. 17). In the business of the Senate, as in the House of Lords, the President has a single ordinary vote, and no casting vote; and in the Senate, as in the Lords, when the votes are equal, the question passes in the negative (sec. 23). The President ceases to hold office (a) if he ceases to be a Senator, (b) by a vote of the Senate removing him, or (c) by resignation of his office or seat by writing addressed to the Governor-General (sec. 17).

A Senator may resign his seat (sec. 19), and if he be absent from the Senate without leave for two consecutive months of any session of the Parliament his seat becomes


  ― 101 ―
vacant (sec. 20). His seat may also become vacant under sections 44 and 45.

previous
next