Australian senators and state resources: Ethical questions of usage

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Faculty of Education and Arts


School of Education and Arts / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts,Technology, Education and Communications




Van Onselen, P., & Errington, W. (2006). Australian Senators and State Resources: Ethical Questions of Usage. In Proceedings of the Australian Association for Professional and Applied Ethics Conference. Sydney, Australasia: University of New South Wales.


The Australian Senate is a unique upper house. Its powers are commensurate to those of the House of Representatives, with the exception of originating money bills. Members are elected according to a ticket based proportional representation (PR) system. It is this electoral system which gives major political parties certainty of representation. Major party Senators are largely made up of former central party operatives, the same end of the major parties predominantly responsible for Senators' preselections. The party experience of Senate candidates combined with dependence on their political party for election, builds significant partisanship. Major party Senators' perform an important campaign role, largely operating out of marginal House of Representatives electorates. They overwhelmingly locate their electorate offices in marginal seats or seats held by the opposing major party. Their electorate staff and parliamentary entitlements are devoted towards the election or re-election of their party's candidates and MPs in marginal seats. Both of Australia's major political parties term such party prescribed activity 'duty senatorship'. Duty Senator activities personify electoral-professionalism by Australian major parties. This paper outlines the resources available to major party Senators to perform partisan campaigning roles as well as their role within major party organizations when campaigning. The ethical justifiability of taxpayer funded state resources being used for partisan advantage is questionable given that partisan advantage does not usually serve the public interest. The use of major party Senators for House of Representatives campaigning also entrenches major party dominance of the lower house, contributing to the exclusion of diversity in Australian government.