Elective Bicameralism and Major Party Senators in Australia

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. (2006). Elective Bicameralism and Major Party Senators in Australia. In the proceedings of Australasian Political Studies Association Conference. Newcastle, NSW: Newcastle University.


Australia's strong elective bicameralism brings with it a set of major party Senate members whose roles are shaped more by electoral design and partisan interests than institutional expectations. The electoral system changes of 1949 and subsequently, particularly the 1984 changes, has had a profound effect on the behaviour of major party Senators. This paper highlights that changes to the Senate's electoral system have forced greater dependence by major party Senators on their paity for election. Party-dependent major party Senators, with a lack of Senate-based electoral demands on their time, are well placed to act as servants of their parties, maximising the electoral prospects of candidates for the House of Representatives. This functioning by major party Senators, known as 'duty senatorship’, has not always been practised. From federation to today the Australian Senate's electoral system has undergone significant changes, and those changes have created the possibility of roles for major party Senators in line with electoral-professionalism amongst major parties.