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Canberra

The Senate is one of two houses of the Australian Parliament. It is comprised of 76 Senators: 12 Senators from each State and 2 Senators from each Territory. Senators are elected using proportional representation – that is, the number of seats won by a party in each State or Territory is closely related to the number of votes received. The Senate shares the power to make laws with the other House of the Parliament, the House of Representatives. For more information about the Senate, click here.

 

The Senate typically sits for 50 to 60 days a year plus four weeks of Budget Estimates spread across the year. A sitting day in Canberra could look something like this:

 

7.30 am After checking in at the Office I’ll head to a lecture breakfast hosted by a Government Department or Community Group. These breakfasts are a great way to learn from experts on a specific issue. If there aren’t any breakfasts on there is bound to be a Senate Committee meeting or hearing to attend. Committees are a big part of how the Senate works and meetings are normally held early, before the Senate sits. 

9.30 am Senate commences at 9.30 on all days except Tuesdays when it starts later to accommodate political party caucus meetings in the morning. It is accepted practice that all Senators attend the commencement each day. 

Mornings Debate will then start in the Chamber on legislation. Senators have a maximum of twenty minutes to speak on a Bill but most can often make their point in much less time.If I’m not in the Chamber participating in debate, I’ll be in a Committee meeting, a community group meeting or spending time in the office. 

12.45pm Matter of Public Interest Debate (Wednesday only) – Senators have the opportunity to make speeches of up to fifteen minutes on topics they deem to be a ‘matter of public interest’. This could be to highlight a campaign that is running in the community or where one should begin. 

2.00 pm Question Time. All Senators are present in the Chamber for this hour. Senators ask questions of ministers on any issue related to their portfolio. It is the job of the ministers to outline the Government’s actions in the face of scrutiny from Opposition Senators. You can often watch Question Time on ABC TV and see snippets on the nightly news. 

3.00 pm Taking Note of Answers. The Opposition move to take note of answers given by a minister during Question Time. The debate, where a Senator speaks for five minutes, is used to attack/defend the policies or actions of the Government. 

 3.30pm Matter of Public Importance or Urgency Debate. Each morning the Opposition or minor parties submit a topic for this debate, in which Senators speak for ten minutes each, typically on the hot issue of the day. Once again, this is normally used to attack/defend the policies or actions of the Government. Similarly to the legislative debates, if I’m not participating there are many other places to be and matters to discuss. The afternoons are often used to meet with community groups about policy matters affecting them. 

Late Afternoon Throughout the day while debates are on the Government and Opposition only keep a small number of Senators in the Chamber. If a vote is required, the Clerk of the Senate rings the bells and Senators have four minutes to get to the Chamber to vote. To allow Senators to conduct other business outside of the Chamber these votes are often postponed until late afternoon and taken consecutively. However, I’ve been in a fair few meetings where half the room has had to up and dash to the Senate Chamber.

Early Evening Functions or dinners are staged in the early evening by Community Groups or Parliamentary Friends Group. A Parliamentary Friends Group is formed by politicians from both the Government and Opposition to highlight important issues in a bipartisan manner. These groups often put on functions where politicians can hear from experts to learn more about the issue.

Late Evening The adjournment debate is usually called around 8.00pm, except for Monday’s when it is around 10.00pm, and the business of the Senate is over for the day. Senator’s adjournment speeches are up to ten minutes and can be on any topic. 

To ask me a question about the Senate or to raise an issue that you would like me to bring up in Canberra please contact me here.