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While Australia has a bicameral system under which the Senate and House of Representatives were created equal, attention towards and knowledge of the Senate is poor.

In one of the only thorough looks at the public’s knowledge of the Senate and its role, this report finds a very high share of Australians “don’t know” or are actively wrong about details of how the Senate works.

This report identifies that the Senate is key to the success of Australian democracy in many ways, including by providing:

  • accountability
  • proportionality
  • diversity
  • a counterbalance to executive power
  • an equal but differently constituted legislature to the Lower House.

The Senate’s ability and willingness to amend legislation, disallow regulations, demand documents, question public servants and otherwise frustrate the plans of the Government has made it a target over the years. Paul Keating, Andrew Robb, John Howard and Barnaby Joyce are among the former ministers and prime ministers who have proposed changes, each of which would make the Senate less powerful or less proportional. Attempts to change the Senate’s rules or form have typically backfired or died on the vine, with its strong constitutional powers and legitimacy as a differently elected, proportional house of parliament allowing it instead to grow as a vital organ of accountability and representation.

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