Here is a question

One of the many ideas around reform of the US Constitution is the repeal of the 17th Amendment.  The 17th Amendment essentially changed the election of US Senators from a vote of the State Legislatures to a vote of the people.

A repeal of the 17th would essentially restore and reconfirm the role of the US Senate as a state’s house.

There are clearly arguments against a repeal, hence the amendment in the first place and arguments for, hence the current arguments for repeal (hows that for circular logic!).

But what would happen in Australia if the Commonwealth Senate were to be appointed by State and Territory parliaments?  It would (probably) have to be aligned with State and Territory elections, but irrespective.  I wonder ….

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58 Responses to Here is a question

  1. Stackja

    People rule not Parliaments. Recall. Parliament do voters bidding.

  2. Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    My own preference would be for our local governments to be more like cantons, as in Switzerland. If we must have upper houses in States, let them be ambassadors from the counties, appointed by the counties whenever they like, for however long they do a good job. National Senators should be the same. Or have two senators- one appointed by the current state government, and the other elected by the people of that state.

  3. Paridell

    Each state’s Senators would be appointed by whichever political party controlled the State Government. So the party system in the Senate would remain, but the electorate would be excluded from the selection of Senators.

    Would the electorate ever agree to rewrite the Constitution to cut itself out of the process? No.

  4. Dr Fred Lenin

    Abolishing career politicians by limiting them to one term in a lifetime would eliminate parties and give more members compliant to the will of thev people,and eliminate the suoer and pensions rorts . Tv conferencing wouuld eliminate the travel rorts . Minor changes to constitutions would enable this reform ,a real benefit to democracy .

  5. Senate appointments would be jobs for the boys and snouts in the troughs, and rewards for Those Who Have Played Along.

    No thanks. Either abolish the Upper House, or at least reform it substantially, but let us keep electing them, please.

  6. Also the cronyism would run absolutely rampant.

    For example, a hypothetical loyal ALP dogsbody – let’s call him ‘Craig Thomson MHR’ – gets voted out by his electorate for being a loyal ALP dogsbody and not much else.

    Lo and behold, a Labor government is elected in Craig’s state.

    Craig now gets given the consolation prize of a Senate appointment for being a good boy who was misunderstood by his electorate.

    Craig goes back to Canberra and continues his life of indolence on the taxpayer.

  7. Bruce of Newcastle

    But what would happen in Australia if the Commonwealth Senate were to be appointed by State and Territory parliaments?

    Recall the republic referendum. It failed because the elites wanted exactly that sort of model: the superior edumacated upper class in the big white house on the hill choosing who would rule the unwashed plebs who don’t know any better.

    They were correctly mooned by the unwashed plebs.

    The elites would just love a model where the Senate, in either country, was appointed by them.

  8. miltonf

    Think it would be better to reduce the number of senators back to 6 from each state.

  9. Zulu Kilo Die Onuitspeeklike

    Think it would be better to reduce the number of senators back to 6 from each state.

    Well said. Why the number was ever increased to twelve, I have no idea.

  10. Joe

    Many complain that the senators chosen would be crony’s of the powerful. This is simply countered by the state government appointing by vote from those members in the lower house to the federal senate for that state. Those so appointed would be state MP’s and would be paid by the state, and also federal senators, for which the federal govt. would not have to pay.

    Think of them as foreign ministers of each state to the federal govt. Could even have a cabinet position in the state govt. for the leader of each states senators.

    Senators would then have been voted in to MP status by the state electorates and voted again to become senators in the federal govt. by the state parliaments.

    It goes without saying that they would vote in the federal senate according to wishes of the state govt. Contentious votes could be affirmed by passage of an enabling act in the state legislature according to it’s normal rules (lower and upper house voting affirmative for passage).

  11. Senile Old Guy

    Many complain that the senators chosen would be crony’s of the powerful. This is simply countered by the state government appointing by vote from those members in the lower house to the federal senate for that state.

    I have yet to see a detailed discussion of the problems of the current system or justification of how a new system would solve those problems while not creating others.

    In any case, the Australian public, with good reason, rarely approves of changes to the Constitution and would not approve this change: a change which would give them less power.

    It isn’t going to happen and I don’t understand the reason for more posts on things that have no chance of happening.

  12. Baldrick

    How ’bout we just abolish the Senate all together.
    It used to be a House of Review, representing State interests but has become a circus full of tax leeching, one-issue cockheads.

  13. Joe

    I have yet to see a detailed discussion of the problems of the current system or justification of how a new system would solve those problems while not creating others.

    The problem with the current system is that the federal senate is both partizan and obstructionist with it. Furthermore it does not fulfil it’s primary task of being the states last line of defence against a federal govt. subsuming and overriding their prerogatives. That’s why it’s being discussed.

  14. jupes

    It used to be a House of Review, representing State interests but has become a circus full of tax leeching, one-issue cockheads.

    I’m pretty sure the Senate hasn’t represented State interests for decades.

    I agree Baldrick, one option is to abolish it altogether, however I think I prefer that it proportionally represent the people similar to the Electoral College in the USA.

    Why should a Tasmanian have ten times the voting power of a New South Welshman? That is fucking ridiculous.

  15. rich

    Could a State cede from the Federation? e.g. WA pack up stumps and leave.

    The Tasmanians never would… they need the tax money to mooch off.

  16. Senile Old Guy

    The problem with the current system is that the federal senate is both partisan and obstructionist with it.

    Partisan? Not so much now, with all the non-ALP/Coalition senators.

    Obstructionist? Good. We don’t need more laws, rules and regulations.

  17. Joe

    Why should a Tasmanian have ten times the voting power of a New South Welshman? That is fucking ridiculous.

    Because the senate is supposed to protect the states and that can only happen if the states have equal voting rights – no matter how many people live in each state.

  18. Snouts. In. The. Trough.
    Shut. It. Down.
    Fire. Them. All.

  19. MickofBrisbane

    Appointment by state parliaments would probably reduce the numbers of Greens senators, which is a good thing — some people still think the Greens are benign and actually worry themselves with the environment and so keep others in check.

    But our biggest issue is that senators use their position for their own agenda, extorting on some matter unrelated to, but in return for supporting, the bills in front of them.

    If they restricted themselves to reviewing the bill at hand, I’d think we’d be better off. But I don’t see how state parliament-elected senators would change the contemporary culture of the senate.

  20. Joe

    If they restricted themselves to reviewing the bill at hand, I’d think we’d be better off. But I don’t see how state parliament-elected senators would change the contemporary culture of the senate.

    The power to horse trade on bills would be removed from the senators and returned to the state governments and this would slow down legislation and at the same time ensure that state interests were served not the interest of some nameless senator or obscure party.

  21. memoryvault

    Joe’s suggestion above solves most of the current problems with the Senate, plus a few others. For a start, it would stop the constant power grab by the federal government. What MP of a state parliament is going to vote for legislation that transfers power from the state to the feds?

    If each state government had to nominate appointees to the federal senate on the basis of party representation in the state parliament, it would also break the stranglehold the political parties currently have on the whole legislative process.

  22. H B Bear

    The Australian Federation is completely dysfunctional and f**ked but that would make it worse.

    The Australian Senate will never be rid of party aligned politicians and might as well be abolished. Anyone who thinks it will ever be anything more than a Green-Left lock-step on legislation is kidding themselves.

  23. JABL

    It would however be interesting if a State’s Senate delegation’s term was the same as its State’s lower house. Which is to say when the State election is held then the Senate delegation from that State is also up (or half or a third).

    An important reform for the Senate would be to reduce the size of the Senate, to undo the cynical increases in number instituted by the ALP (and supported by the Nats), back to 8 Senators a State. This might practically require a constitutional amendment to increase the nexus between the Senate and the House of Reps but should be considered.

  24. JABL

    It then strengthens the Senate’s position as the State’s house and may also focus State elections on whole of government issues. ie. no use complaining about ‘Canberra’ if you are also trying to get your Senators up.

  25. MickofBrisbane

    @ Joe #2261040, posted on January 13, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    So, you’re saying that the horsetrading will still be done by senators but acting on behalf of state representation, rather than the unrepresentative senators?

    The power to horse trade on bills would be removed from the senators and returned to the state governments and this would slow down legislation and at the same time ensure that state interests were served not the interest of some nameless senator or obscure party.

  26. Joe

    So, you’re saying that the horsetrading will still be done by senators but acting on behalf of state representation, rather than the unrepresentative senators?

    No. Horse trading would be done by the states via their govt. or parliaments. The senators sole job would be to vote as the state parliament/govt. directs them.

  27. Senile Old Guy

    Joe’s suggestion above solves most of the current problems with the Senate, plus a few others.

    An unusually optimistic view, for you MV.

    But there is no chance the public would back this, so it is a rather pointless discussion. I’ll go back to something else pointless: the cricket.

  28. Joe

    But there is no chance the public would back this, so it is a rather pointless discussion. I’ll go back to something else pointless: the cricket.

    Unfortunately true. However, it is an enjoyable intellectual exercise and what else is there to do besides the pointless.

  29. Dr Fred Lenin

    So if all the states had alp governments the senate would be even more full of reject pardee aparatchik bludgers . At least the way it us now it prevents malcolm ruddbull from rushing the global communist u.n. agenda if it were full of state appointed aparatchiks we woukd feally be stuffed .

  30. struth

    Lets just get rid of states or councils.
    Altogether.
    We cannot centralize power in the federal government.
    So it is either states or councils.
    But not both.
    The blame game is never finished and responsibilities shifted.
    We have way, way, too many politicians.
    Councils are not government but are bluffing that they are and the whole thing is an unconstitutional mess now.
    Giving politicians anymore say on anything is a folly.
    Especially who picks senators.
    If we actually got back to our original constitution and it’s changes BY REFERENDUM only, as it should be, we could start working on changing things then.

  31. memoryvault

    But there is no chance the public would back this, so it is a rather pointless discussion. I’ll go back to something else pointless: the cricket.

    Tonight I’ll be watching the new episodes of Midsomer Murders – equally pointless, but nonetheless enjoyable. Besides, I disagree. There is a myth that Australians won’t support constitutional change. This is not quite true.

    Australians vote no in referendums, because most referendums boil down a transfer of power to the Fed. Where that is not the perceived case, the yes vote has been supported. It just doesn’t happen that often because most referendums have been a thinly disguised grab for power. I reckon Australians would whole-heartedly support a move to curtail that.

    Based on Joe’s idea above, modified by my suggestion, the current Senate would be 38 LNP, 31 Labor, and 7 other. They would all be elected state politicians. That make-up would change with every state election. That’s a feature, not a bug.

  32. Tel

    If each state government had to nominate appointees to the federal senate on the basis of party representation in the state parliament, it would also break the stranglehold the political parties currently have on the whole legislative process.

    You spoon! The parties would get 10x the stranglehold.

    Only the major two parties can get control of the states so essentially all minority parties would be immediately trashed at the federal level. Stupidest idea ever.

  33. memoryvault

    Only the major two parties can get control of the states so essentially all minority parties would be immediately trashed at the federal level. Stupidest idea ever.

    “Control” of the states is irrelevant, since the people chosen to represent the state in the senate would reflect party representation in the state parliament. For instance, currently NSW would have 7 from the LNP, 4 from Labor, and 1 “other”.

    If the “others” want greater representation in the federal senate, then they have to earn it by winning seats in the state parliaments, rather than by just riding a wave of anti-major party sentiment into the senate, where they get to be “wise elders” dictating what’s best for us for six years, with scant concern for either the will of the electorate, or the best interests of the states they come from.

    The Greens, for instance, hold just one seat in one state parliament – less than 0.7% of the total expression of the will of the Australian people. And yet they have nine seats in the senate – a whopping 12% of the total vote. That is neither representative of the people, or the states.

  34. Joe

    MV, that is undoubtably a good argument about the make up of the senate. However, you miss the point. The senate is the states house. It could in theory be populated by a single MP from each state with a single vote each. The makeup of the lower houses are a matter for the populous and how they vote. The senate is a matter for the states and the rule of “one state, one vote” probably should apply.

  35. HJ

    It may make us look a bit closer at the state level, maybe we would even get some better options as leaders. I’m in Victoria, I’d hate for Dan to have any levers of power over the Feds. Could be a good thing though to have us looking closer at the level of Government on the front line.
    My opinion, we lose the senate, and start a serious discussion about removing one of the levels of Government, the bureaucracy only grows, yet businesses that thrive are lean and mean, take the US as an example, they are going to be running like a corporation, we need to be thinking the same way.

  36. Slightly OT question; changes to the Constitution have to be approved by all States right? Does this include ACT and NT? And how is it done exactly? By the approval of the State Government at the time or by simple majority within the State?

  37. jupes

    Because the senate is supposed to protect the states and that can only happen if the states have equal voting rights – no matter how many people live in each state.

    Yes but it doesn’t. Senators are just partisan hacks for their party.

    Therefore the fact Tasmania has the same number of Senators as NSW is ridiculous and unfair.

    One vote – one value.

  38. Zulu Kilo Die Onuitspeeklike

    changes to the Constitution have to be approved by all States right?

    “A majority of voters in a majority of States.

  39. memoryvault

    The trouble with that Joe, is the very point Tel was claiming. The major parties would have unassailable control over the Senate, and if one party held a majority of states, then it could push anything it wanted through the senate.

    Twelve from each state is about the minimum you could get away with, and still leave the minor parties an opportunity of senate representation. Sixteen would be better. Just remember, they are not costing us anything in salaries, super, or office overheads, as they are already elected members in their state parliaments.

    We “save” all those expenses for 76 existing federal senators in return for perhaps each state replacement senator getting an extra staffer, plus some additional travel costs.

  40. Tel

    For instance, currently NSW would have 7 from the LNP, 4 from Labor, and 1 “other”.

    And since the Greens are the next largest the “other” would be Green, and that’s it for all minor parties.

    Whereas under the present system NSW has provided 1x PHON, 1x LDP, 1x Green which is three times the minor parties than your proposal. So your method immediately favours the major parties.

    There’s nothing broken about our current electoral system, and there’s nothing that needs fixing.

  41. jupes

    There’s nothing broken about our current electoral system, and there’s nothing that needs fixing.

    Except one vote – one value in the Senate.

  42. memoryvault

    My opinion, we lose the senate, and start a serious discussion about removing one of the levels of Government,

    Effectively we could do that, HJ, by replacing the elected federal Senate as outlined, and scrapping the various states’ senates. After all, the federal senate does represent something – or at least is supposed, but who, or what do the individual states’ senates represent? SFA.

    Those two moves would effectively remove the equivalent of one level of government in Australia, and do away with about a third of our politicians. What’s not to like?

  43. HJ

    MV: Mic drop!

    Where do I sign….

  44. Empire GTHO Phase III

    The Greens, for instance, hold just one seat in one state parliament – less than 0.7% of the total expression of the will of the Australian people. And yet they have nine seats in the senate – a whopping 12% of the total vote. That is neither representative of the people, or the states.

    The Greens just polled 8.65% of first pref votes in a full senate election, a modest -0.58% swing from the previous half senate election. In a compulsory proportional preferential poll with group tickets (and voters mislead as to their right to exhaust preferences), you would expect them to win seats.

    I know you’ve argued otherwise MV, but I see the problem not so much as the imperfect system, but the imperfect people. 1,197,657 Australians walked into a polling booth in July last year and gave their numero uno to a GangGreen®. The policies the loons took to the election range from nanny state annoying to prosperity destroying hard socialist.

    Australia has a dickhead problem.

  45. memoryvault

    Except one vote – one value in the Senate.

    Can we get over this BS? The blunt truth is that without the senate in its current form to protect the smaller states (QLD, WA, SA, TAS), from becoming economic vassals to NSW and VIC, the Federation in its existing form would never have happened, and we would probably be four or five separate countries by now.

  46. Zulu Kilo Die Onuitspeeklike

    Cheers Zulu.

    My pleasure Mr Rusty. For what it’s worth, I think there were cases of a referendum to change the Constitution which got a majority of voters, but NOT in a majority of States, but I can’t remember which ones.

  47. marcus w

    Well said Empire . I particularly like the last line

    Australia has a dickhead problem.

  48. Zulu Kilo Die Onuitspeeklike

    Australia has a dickhead problem.

    “I’m voting Green – it’s all about the environment.”

    “You’d vote for a Party that wants to bring back death duties, and extend capital gains tax to the family home?”

    “Huh – who wants to do that?”

  49. memoryvault

    And since the Greens are the next largest the “other” would be Green, and that’s it for all minor parties.

    No, Tel, in the various states in the equivalent of the federal HoR, the Greens share the “other” spotlight. For instance, in the NSW Legislative Assembly (LA), there are three Greens, three Independents, and one Shooters Party, for a total of seven “other”. The state parliamentary term is three years, or 36 months, so each of the seven represent five months (36/7). So the Greens represent the “other” federal senate position for 15 months (3 X 5), and the independents and the Shooter rep get five months each (4 X 5).

  50. ella answer-key

    At one point in US history there existed a Democratic-Republican Party formed by Jefferson and Madison.

    It is worth looking at what is known as “the revolution of 1800′. Vice- President Thomas Jefferson defeated President John Adams – a realigning election. In came the Democratic-republican Party . This important election eventally lead to the demise of The Federalist Party in the First Party system

  51. Fisky

    The fundamental problem with the Senate is that its power is not matched by any sense of accountability. Senators have equal power (more or less) with H0R members, except they have 6 year terms and they are not directly accountable to voters – in fact their interests are more aligned with party activists and preselectors. There is generally no electoral sanction against Senators who take extreme and irresponsible positions that are to the detriment of the public.

    I think the fairest solution to this is to cull the Senate’s powers and give them delaying, not blocking, power. But that’s unlikely to happen.

  52. Horace Wimple

    I like the reduction in senate numbers on a per State basis (8 is fine).

    I also like that Senate terms are 6 years- but I would change the means of electing Senators. Let them be elected at the time of their home State elections (bloody 4 year terms makes this hard). So each State election, an election for 4 Senators would be held. The other ones would retain their tenure until the following election unless a DD is called.

    While I am not convinced that the strength of Federation would be greatly enhanced by State appointed Senators, I do feel that Canberra is decidedly anti-Federation and the only way to counter this is to give more power to the States but not so much power as to appoint toadies as Senators.

    If the election cycles of Senators was changed and varied every time there is a State election, the electorate may take state issues more into consideration when electing their Senators. Also, the federal Government would be more “fluid” in terms of numbers in the Upper House which keeps everyone on their toes, especially the Government of the day.

    And I do hope it will reduce the strength of minority parties, especially the Greens!

  53. J.H.

    Do away with the Senate completely…. Queensland doesn’t have a Senate. It still manages to function.

    …. Though I must admit that I’m not entirely sure why it does though. Perhaps it’s just Queensland bloodymindedness.

  54. BorisG

    Do away with the Senate completely

    This is a very strange position. I am not a fan of PHON but smaller parties like PHON have no chance if not for the senate. Same with LDP.

    Ironically, the major parties actually control the HoR but not the senate. In this sense Senate is more of a house of the people.

  55. Boambee John

    struth at 1923,

    Keep the number of senators constant, double the number of states.

    Fewer senators per state, higher quotas to be elected, fewer Slime senators!

  56. jupes

    Can we get over this BS? The blunt truth is that without the senate in its current form to protect the smaller states (QLD, WA, SA, TAS), from becoming economic vassals to NSW and VIC, the Federation in its existing form would never have happened, and we would probably be four or five separate countries by now.

    Sure thing MV. 100 years ago the Senate was formed to protect the states. However it no longer performs that function. Senators are either party hacks or grandstanding ‘independent’ fuckwits.

    Getting Jackie Lambie into the Senate on 10% of the vote required for a Senator from NSW doesn’t benefit anyone at all (except Jackie Jackie of course).

    At the moment the economically viable states are economic vassals to Tas and SA, but that’s got nothing to do with the Senate.

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