(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)
The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, or the federal Parliament, is made up of two houses – the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Both are directly elected by the people of Australia.
The functions of the Senate are to represent the states equally, and to review the proposals and decisions of the House of Representatives and the executive government.
Equal representation of the states is designed to protect the less-populated states, Western Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland, against possible domination by the more populous states of Victoria and New South Wales.
Today there are twelve Senators from each of the six states, and, since 1975, two from the Northern Territory and two from the Australian Capital Territory, making a total of 76 Senators.
While issues of importance to particular states still arise, the increasing importance of national issues and the growth of national political parties means the principle role of the Senate is to review and revise laws.
Senators are elected by a system of proportional representation.
Proportional representation aims to ensure that political parties gain representation in proportion to their share of the vote.
The House of Representatives and the Senate have different electoral mechanisms for registering electors’ preferences.
Both systems of voting are preferential, in that electors indicate an order of preference among the available candidates.
Preferential voting avoids so-called ‘first-past-the-post’ systems still in use in many major countries, where the candidate with more votes than any other candidate is elected.
Preferential voting for the House of Representatives is designed to secure the election of one candidate with a majority of votes.
The proportional representation voting used in the Senate is designed to secure the election of several candidates in each state, each of whom obtains a number of votes equal to or exceeding a required quota, or proportion, of votes.