The Representation Function Of Parliament

Representation is an important function of the parliament.

This is achieved in Australia through a bicameral legislature, comprising a House of Representatives (lower house) and a Senate (upper house).

The House is also known as the people’s house. The 150 members of the House represent electorates of approximately equal numbers of voters.

The essence of the Westminster parliamentary system is that the government is drawn from the party or parties that control the lower house. An Australian government holds office for so long as it is able to retain the support – confidence of the House of Representatives.

The Senate is also known as a states house. Each state has the same number of senators.

The use of proportional voting in the Senate also means that minority groups are able to gain representation. Over the years, minor parties such the Democratic Labor Party, the Australian Democrats and the Australian Greens have gained the balance of power in the Senate.

Representation of the Australian nation is thus achieved in a number of ways through the Federal Parliament.

Representation of the people in the lower house may conflict with representation of the states and minorities in the upper house. providing for a dynamism in the political process. This can result in conflict or compromise between the houses.

The House – Direct Representation of the Population

At present there are 150 members of the House of Representatives, each representing a single member electorate. Each electorate contains approximately 90,000-100,000 voters. The states are represented in the House in accordance with their population, hence NSW has 48 seats, whilst Western Australia has 15. Tasmania is over-represented with 5 seats because the Constitution guarantees 5 seats to each of the original states of the federation.

The use of single-member electorates in the House of Representatives means that every person in the country is represented by one member of parliament. These electorates are defined geographical areas, arranged according to population.

As of 2012, each state is represented as shown in the table:

Representation in the House of Representatives
State/Territory Number of Seats
New South Wales
48
Victoria
37
Queensland
30
Western Australia
15
South Australia
11
Tasmania
5
Australian Capital Territory
2
Northern Territory
2
Total
150

 

The Senate – Representation of the States and Minorities

The States are represented equally in the Senate, regardless of size or population, in accordance with Section 7 of the Constitution. Originally, in 1901, each State had six senators. This was increased to 10 in 1949, and then to 12 in 1984. Senators serve fixed 6-year terms from July 1 to June 30.

In the 1970s, the two territories were given two senators each. They serve the same term as members of the House of Representatives.

Representation in the Senate
State/Territory Number of Seats
New South Wales
12
Victoria
12
Queensland
12
Western Australia
12
South Australia
12
Tasmania
12
Australian Capital Territory
2
Northern Territory
2
Total
76

 

Whereas a vacancy in the House of Representatives (caused by the death, resignation, expulsion or disqualification of the member) is filled at a by-election, a Senate vacancy is filled by the relevant State Parliament, in accordance with Section 15 of the Constitution.

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