The Australian Senate is one of the most powerful upper houses in the world, having nearly equivalent power to the House of Representatives. The only difference is that the Senate cannot initiate finance Bills.
The Senate has 76 members comprising 12 Senators from each of the states and two from each of the territories. Senators are elected by proportional representation, which means that minor parties such as The Greens and Independents are able to have Senate representation.
Consequently the major parties do not control the Senate and the Government of the day must obtain the support of minor party and Independent Senators to pass legislation. This is an important difference from the House of Representatives, in which the Government of the day holds a majority.
While the founding fathers envisaged the Senate’s role to be representing states equally, in practice the Senate functions as a powerful house of review. The Senate carries out its role through its eight committees. Most legislation which comes to the Senate is referred to a committee for public consultation and Senate committees travel all over Australia to hear what people think about Government proposals. Furthermore, the Senate critically scrutinises Government expenditure and for this purpose estimates hearings are held three times a year to examine departmental budgets.