About Parliament – The Senate
Video duration: 3 min 43
Narrator: The main work of the federal Parliament is shared between two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Senators at work in the Senate chamber.
This is the Senate.
A member of the public places their vote in the Senate ballot box. Map showing Australian states and territories.
Narrator: Senators are elected as representatives of Australia’s states and territories. The Senate chamber is arranged in a horseshoe shape with the President of the Senate sitting at the front.
President of the Senate, Senator the Hon John Hogg, in the Senate chamber.
Narrator: There are 76 senators in total: 12 for each state and 2 for each territory. Government senators sit to the right of the President and Opposition senators sit to the left.
Senator Doug Cameron in the Senate chamber speaks from the government side and Senator the Hon Eric Abetz speaks from the Opposition side.
Narrator: But it’s not just the major parties that are represented. The voting system used for the Senate means that senators are often elected from minor parties or as independent senators. These senators sit in the middle area known as the crossbench.
Senate votes being counted after an election. Australian Greens Senator Christine Milne, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, and Family First Senator Steve Fielding speaking from the crossbench in the Senate chamber.
Narrator: Because of the voting system used to elect senators, there is often a broad range of views represented in the Senate. A government majority in the Senate is unusual, which means the government must negotiate with senators from the opposition and crossbench to pass laws.
Narrator: Senators look at new laws proposed by the government and often suggest changes. They debate these laws in the Senate chamber, and examine them closely in Senate committees. Committees also help senators find out how new laws affect people in the community.
In the Senate chamber, Senator Sue Boyce proposes amendments and Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion debates laws. Senator Judith Adams and a witness in a public hearing of the Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs.
Narrator: As proposed laws must be agreed to by both houses of Parliament, senators can shape how new laws are made, on behalf of the people they represent.
Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Senator Bob Brown and Senator the Hon Penny Wong debating various laws in the Senate chamber.
Narrator: One of the most important functions of the Senate is to keep an eye on what the government is doing. This helps to ensure that the government makes good decisions when running the country.
Narrator: At Senate estimates hearings, senators can question ministers and public servants about their decisions and the spending of public money.
Senator the Hon Eric Abetz questions Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and senior public servants, at a Senate estimates hearing.
Narrator: Senators also review the work of the government during Question Time by asking ministers to explain their actions. This helps to keep the government accountable to the Parliament and to the people of Australia.
Senator Barnaby Joyce questions Senator the Hon Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research during Question Time.
Narrator: A variety of views and ideas are discussed both in the chamber and through the work of Senate committees. This allows Senators to consider a range of opinions before making decisions on policy and law-making.
Narrator: In the chamber, Senators debate important national issues and talk about matters that affect the people in their state or territory.
Senator the Hon Don Farrell debating in the Senate chamber.
Narrator: Senators also spend considerable time working in committees, investigating issues in detail and listening to the views of the community.
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young questions witnesses at a public hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, Inquiry into the Social Security and Other legislation Amendment (Income Support for Students) Bill 2009.
Narrator: To learn more about this process or to find out how to get involved visit the Parliamentary Education Office website.