Discussion Paper on Ministers of State in The Senate
By any reading of the Annotated Australian Constitution, it is clear that The Senate was established as The States’ (former Colonies’) House.
The Senate’s primary function was to act as a House of Review. That is, to review all legislation coming forth from the Lower House – the House in which all legislation is enacted – The House of Representatives.
A practice came into being soon after the formalising of the Party system in 1910 of having a certain number of Ministers of State in the Upper House (The Senate).
It has been, from most standpoints, a poor system. One of the reasons for this is that the Ministers that do get appointed speak on behalf of their Lower House counterparts – indeed, answer questions on their behalf. As a result, most Senators – most of the time – only get, at best, half the facts on important national matters. Question Time in The Senate is dull, boring, duplicative and counterproductive.
Far better to abandon the system that exists and, because for the forseeable future there is going to be a Senate, assist it to operate as it was meant to: as a genuine House of Review on all legislation emanating from the Lower House!
The Senate, in pursuit of its true role in the “Washminster” scheme of things, could really get down to business if all the questions all of the Senators wanted to ask/needed to ask the Ministers of State could be asked of the actual Ministers themselves – one by one – week by week – when the Parliament is sitting in the big open public chamber which is The Senate.
The Senate even now, sits for longer hours than its Lower House counterparts but one of the negative reasons this is the case is because Senators, for the most part, do not get “horses’ mouths” information. Thus, the status quo accommodates a whole lot of obfuscating, buck-passing and inefficiency.
This proposition is purposeful. It’s about The Senate being able to operate better.
Peter Consandine © 2005 and © 2012