Introduction1901/2001End of Isolation?IdentityRaceEchoes of secession
 
The Commonwealth and WAConstitutionThe Carve UpCommonwealth Power and the States

Extract from interview with Associate Professor Campbell Sharman, Department of Political Science, University of Western Australia, who has written extensively on Federation.
CF Could you tell me now about the Senate. Does it act as a State's house?

SHARMAN: Well in the crudest sense the answer is obviously no. States don't vote as State blocks but it is a State's house in a number of ways, some of them obvious, some not so obvious. The first one is it over represents the small States and whenever the issue of the Senate has come up before a referendum it's very clear the smaller States value their representation and have been consistently most opposed to limiting its powers or giving the House of Reps more influence over them.

Second point is that it does over represent the smaller States in party politics and this has been accentuated over the last 50 years because it's notables in the State branches of the party who get into power in Canberra. So the Senate in some ways is a house of heavies, of party heavies or at least people who are specially favoured by the State branches of their parties. It doesn't matter whether you're in government or not you're going to have those kind of people in the Senate.

The final way is that minor parties have found the Senate obviously a successful way of getting represented. Very often those minor parties have reflected State idiosyncrasies so there have been Greens from WA, there's a Green from Tasmania, there have been Independents and even the Australian Democrats initially had a kind of regional flavour. Now, of course, they've got representatives from every State but the fact the minor parties can get represented means that State idiosyncrasies can be reflected in the Senate.

CF But does it act? I mean you said it doesn't really act, it doesn't represent the State as such. For example do you think the senators represent their parties more than any State?

SHARMAN: Well a senator can't avoid representing his or her party because they wouldn't be there unless they had strong loyalties to their party. In fact they've got stronger loyalty to their party in the Senate than they have in the House of Reps. At least you can run as an independent in the lower house perhaps whereas in the Senate that is very, very difficult. Senator Harradine is the exception that's showing the rule. But clearly they can't isolate themselves from their State and very often the Senate is a sounding board for State issues and more in the Senate than in the House of Reps. So if there is a major issue then it will appear in the Senate and people will discuss it.

Campbell Sharman, March 2000
[Battye Library, OH3009]


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