The delegates to the conventions were intent on protecting their respective colonies’ interests during the drafting of the Australian Constitution. In particular, the delegates from the less populous and wealthy colonies (Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, usually referred to as the smaller colonies) were especially concerned to ensure that the proposed federal Parliament was not dominated, to their detriment, by the two most populous and wealthy colonies (New South Wales and Victoria, usually referred to as the larger colonies). The delegates looked to other great federations for guidance on such matters. In this case, they were influenced by the Constitution of the United States, which established a Senate which was composed of an equal number of representatives from each state. The other house of Congress, the House of Representatives, was composed of representatives from each state in proportion to population. The delegates to the 1891 convention adopted this structure for the proposed Australian federal Parliament and this decision was reaffirmed by delegates at the 1897–8 convention (see sections 7and 24, Constitution). Most delegates considered that structuring Parliament in this way would mean that, in the words of Sir Samuel Griffith at the 1891 convention:
every law submitted to the federal parliament shall receive the assent of the majority of the people, and also the assent of the majority of the states.
Convention Debates, Sydney, 4 March 1891
As the smaller states would outnumber the larger states, their interests would be protected.
The delegates to the 1891 Convention, again influenced by the Constitution of the United States, where, at that time, senators were appointed by state legislatures, agreed that senators would be appointed by state parliaments. It was agreed that they would be appointed for six year terms, twice the length of the terms for members of the House of Representatives. The Senate would have a continuous, but rotating membership, with half of the membership of the Senate being appointed every three years (seesection 13, Constitution). This was intended to ensure that the Senate was independent of the executive government (which we usually refer to as ‘the government’ and which consists of the Prime Minister and the other ministers of state) on whose advice the Governor-General would usually act when dissolving a house of Parliament.
Two changes were made at the 1897–8 convention. The delegates to that convention agreed that senators ought to be directly elected by the people (see section 7, Constitution). In addition, a provision was included allowing for the dissolution of the Senate where the two houses of Parliament were ‘deadlocked