Investigation 2

Why was the structure of the Federal Parliament particularly important for Tasmania?

The draft Constitution proposed that the Federal Parliament would have two houses or chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Previously, colonies had to elect representatives in these chambers. Passing new laws would require a majority of votes in both houses. However, the colonies differed greatly in population. How could the Parliament be organised to ensure that each colony’s voting power was appropriate to its size?

In the House of Representatives, the answer was relatively simple. Each representative was elected by the people of an area called an electorate. Every electorate has about the same number of people living in it. Larger colonies would have more electorates, and therefore, more representatives than smaller colonies. The proposal for the Senate, however, was that each colony, large or small, would have the same number of senators. If you had been a Tasmanian voter or politician, do you think you would have been happy with this arrangement?

Your Task

Explore whether the proposed Senate was fair or unfair.


  1. To build your understanding of how the two chambers of the Parliament of Australia work to turn a bill into a law, go to Kidsview–Parliament in Focus on the Parliamentary Education Office website. Click on ‘Law making’ to access ‘Pass the Bill’, then follow the instructions for this online interactive.
  2. Form small groups. Examine the ‘We want a fair Federation’ poster. Discuss the following questions and record your responses.
    • Are the New South Wales creators of this poster in favour of Federation or not? Provide reasons for your thinking.
    • Why might this poster focus on the voting in the Senate and not the House of Representatives?
    • If Tasmanian voters had seen this poster, do you think it would have convinced them to vote in favour of, or against, Federation? Provide reasons for your thinking.
  3. Look at the population data in 1899 and the number of representatives for the House of Representatives and the Senate. The creators of the ‘We want a fair Federation’ poster claim that one voter from Tasmania would have the same power as eight voters from New South Wales. Use the figures to work out how they arrived at this claim. Discuss the following questions.
    • How could you use the numbers to prove that a Federal Parliament would be fair for all Australians?
    • What problems might arise if Tasmania had less representation in the Senate?
    • Could the ‘We want a fair Federation’ poster affect progress towards Federation? Provide reasons for your thinking.
    • In your group, vote on whether you think representation in the Senate is fair.
  4. The picture on the ‘We want a fair Federation’ poster demonstrates the representation of voters from each colony in the Senate. Individually, design your own graphics to represent either:
    • the proportions in the House of Representatives; or
    • how the two chambers work together to create a fair system.
    Display your designs around the classroom.