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A virus in the system- a new senate for a new millennium

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SENATOR HELEN COONAN S en ator for N ew S o u th W ales


The Government Deputy Senate Whip, Senator Helen Coonan, today launched a major campaign to reform the Senate.

Senator Coonan launched the campaign with a speech entitled, Ά Virus in the System- A New Senate for a New Millennium,’ at the Sydney Institute. .

Senator Coonan said the aim of the campaign was to generate urgent debate on the need for reform and a better understanding of the role of the Senate in the Australian Federation.

“Tax reform is a perfect example of why we need to desperately examine our current Senate system and what options wc have to achieve a fairer system for everyone," she said.

“There is an overwhelming need for electoral reform that will ensure there is at least the prospect c>F the government of the day again obtaining a majority in the Senate."

Senator Coonan said independents and minor parties have a legitimate role in any democracy but ws need to determine a more realistic sense of representation that reflects the level of voter support l candidate attracts. She also launched several new models of a new threshold requirement

“The claim by Democrat Leader Senator Meg Lees that the Senate is the “legislative powerhouse <: f the parliament" shows a misunderstanding of the principles of responsible government and the functions of the Senate. Having shifted its emphasis, from 1keeping the bastards h o n e s t the Democrats are now denying the legitimacy of the Government with a majority of House of

Representative scats and seek to usurp the function of Government.

“An efficient and hardworking Senate, scrutinising and examining legislation, and keeping tii.e Government accountable, is a great institutional safeguard. But as an obstruclional competitor it is disabling Australia from realising and enjoying its full potential." .

Senator Coonan said it was time the Senate functioned as a proper House of Review and not as a minority government .

“It is a profoundly undemocratic outcome when decisions that affect the national interest are effectively concentrated in the hands of a few.

Currently Senators need to receive a quota of 14.28% to get elected. Minor party candidates and independents rarely get enough primary votes to fill a quota and have to rely on preferences. Many democracies that use proportional representation require a specific quota of overall primary votes (a threshold) to qualify for election," she said.

“Finding a workable solution is a national priority.”

Date: 3 February 1999

Contacts: Sarah Baxter 02 9251 2631 or

Sarah Cruickshank 0417 249 247 (after hours)