Take Senate Reform Further Says BCA Submission

The Business Council of Australia has supported constitutional changes to resolve Senate deadlocks and provide greater legislative certainty as part of its submission on Senate reform released today.

The BCA has also called for more far-reaching changes to the Senate to be considered, including the reducing number of seats and reforming the role and use of Senate committees.

BCA President, Mr Hugh Morgan, said the BCA’s submission argued the current system of Senate deliberations and outcomes was not conducive to delivering outcomes needed for Australian business to remain competitive.

“Governments need the scope and opportunity to implement the policy agenda on which they were elected, which in turn gives business legislative certainty and stability to plan and invest for the long term.

“The current system provides only a limited scope for either. It has resulted in an imbalance of power between the two Houses of Parliament which provides the Senate with an effective veto power – in other words the Senate is ultimately responsible for the implementation of the policy and legislative agenda.

“The BCA believes the Senate no longer functions as the Constitution intended. The Senate was established and structured as both a house of review and to represent states’ interests, yet is now operating as a house of review but not an effective one.

“Repeated obstruction of important legislation, particularly by representatives of a small minority of voters, often serves to compromise the effectiveness of the policies and platforms of the government of the day. The end result is that the standing and reputation of Parliament and its representatives is diminished in the eyes of the public.”

Mr Morgan said as a result of how Senate priorities and decision-making have evolved in recent decades, a wider debate on its role and function was needed.

The BCA supports the recommendation to reform the Constitution which would allow the Prime Minister of the day to request a joint sitting of Parliament if legislation was blocked twice in the Senate.

However, it does not believe that proposals to exclude some legislation from this mechanism should be included, as this would potentially undermine the objective of passing key legislation more efficiently.

As part of its submission, the BCA also renewed its call for four-year terms for the House of Representatives to provide greater certainty to the political cycle.

The BCA’s submission states: “The combination of proportional representation and the increase in Senate seats has made it increasingly unlikely that a Government with a majority in the Lower House will also have a majority in the Senate. This is borne out by the fact that no Government has had a majority in the Senate since mid-1981.”

The submission also states: “Quite simply, the increase in the number of Senate seats has meant that the balance of power has swung too far towards the Senate. Ultimately, this is the issue at the heart of concerns about resolving deadlocks in the Senate.”

Business Coalition for Tax Reform Budget Submission 2004