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By: Benson Kua, "Rainbow".
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Just four lower house MPs voted against legalising same-sex marriage.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle

The Australian parliament has passed legislation to permit same-sex marriage.

The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill passed the Senate on November 28. It was then passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday by an overwhelming majority: around 130 MPs voted in favour, just four voted against, and a small number abstained.

To confirm the new statute as law, it went to the governor-general for royal assent. This formality made the bill an act of parliament.

Attorney-General George Brandis has said that same-sex marriages will be permitted from January 9, taking into account the one-month notice period required under the Marriage Act.

Further reading: Flood of same-sex weddings in January, after historic parliamentary vote

Origins of the reform

Thursday’s lower house vote followed a drawn-out debate in parliament. But prior to the bill being introduced to parliament, the government arranged for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to conduct the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey.

This voluntary, non-binding expression of opinion came at a cost of around A$100 million. The survey results, released on November 15, showed 61.6% of respondents supported changing the law to allow same-sex marriage.

That evening, Brandis moved a private member’s bill in the Senate to begin the necessary legislative reform.

Liberal senator Dean Smith was the key proponent of this bill. It emerged from a cross-party Senate inquiry which concluded that legislation to permit same-sex marriage should also ensure some protection for religious freedoms.

The substance of the act

The new law changes the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act by removing the words “a man and a woman” and replacing them with “2 people”. This was the minimum required reform to enable same-sex marriage.

However, the bill goes beyond that minimalist change. It will insert a section into the act that reads:

It is an object of this act to create a legal framework:

a) to allow civil celebrants to solemnise marriage, understood as the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life; and

b) to allow ministers of religion to solemnise marriage, respecting the doctrines, tenets and beliefs of their religion, the views of their religious community or their own religious beliefs; and

c) to allow equal access to marriage while protecting religious freedom in relation to marriage.

There are three main features of the marriage reform law that attempt to balance marriage equality with religious freedoms.

First, some gain the capacity to be identified as “religious marriage celebrants”. To meet this definition, a person must be both a registered marriage celebrant and a minister of religion. This category covers people who are not ministers of religion of a recognised denomination, but regardless identify as ministers of religion.

An exceptional case is also permitted for people to identify as religious marriage celebrants even if they are not ministers of religion. The criteria for this case require a person to:

  • be already registered as a marriage celebrant;
  • give notice within 90 days of the new law’s assent that they wish to be identified as a religious marriage celebrant;
  • confirm that this wish is based on their religious beliefs.

Second, the law sets out circumstances in which ministers of religion and religious marriage celebrants can refuse to solemnise marriages. Although the grounds for refusal are not limited to same-sex marriages, these provisions have been included in the bill so that ministers and religious celebrants cannot be required to solemnise same-sex marriages.

Ministers of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage where any of the following conditions apply:

a) the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the minister’s religious body or religious organisation;

b) the refusal is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion;

c) the minister’s religious beliefs do not allow the minister to solemnise the marriage.

Religious marriage celebrants may refuse to solemnise a marriage “if the celebrant’s religious beliefs do not allow the celebrant to solemnise the marriage”.

There is a parallel exception for armed forces officers who are authorised to conduct marriage ceremonies.

Third, the law permits bodies established for religious purposes to refuse to make facilities available or provide goods and services in relation to the solemnisation of marriages. The circumstances in which this applies are if the refusal:

a) conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the body; or

b) is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of
adherents of that religion.

So, for example, a same-sex couple could be refused the use of a church or church hall for their wedding ceremony, if that refusal meets the above conditions.

The marriage reform law also makes amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act. These changes ensure that no complaints of unlawful discrimination can be made in relation to refusals to solemnise marriages that are permitted under the Marriage Act.

Amendments defeated

Soon after the survey results were announced, Treasurer Scott Morrison said that more than 4 million “no” voters were coming to terms with being a minority on the question of same-sex marriage. But, as parliament has recognised, a law serving all Australians did not require elevating the rights of a minority over the rights of all.

A state-recognised institution – marriage – was closed to some members of the population on discriminatory grounds. In attending to that problem, there was no sense in arguing for multiple new forms of discrimination.

It was fortunate that parliament had a well-established bill to consider following the postal survey outcome. This meant that various amendments seeking to extend “protections” for religious freedom did not gain majority support, because most MPs were already satisfied with the Smith bill.

Further reading: Labor is right to block ‘religious freedom’ amendments to protect same-sex marriage bill

As it is, the new law already goes well beyond what was necessary to permit same-sex marriage. It would have been unconscionable to amend the bill in ways that privileged religious freedom over rights to equality and non-discrimination.

Nevertheless, the debate about the protection of religious freedom will persist. Prior to the passage of the marriage reform bill, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an inquiry into “religious freedom protection in Australia”. Chaired by former MP Philip Ruddock, the inquiry is due to report by March 31 next year.

The Conversation

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover Image By: Benson Kua, “Rainbow”.

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Uluru Photo


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The constitutional convention is the latest step in the long-running debate on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.
AAP/Dan Peled

Harry Hobbs, UNSW

Around 300 Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders will gather from today at Uluru to hold a First Nations Convention. Running over four days, the meeting is the culmination of 12 regional dialogues held across the country on the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.

At Uluru, delegates from each dialogue will aim to reach consensus on whether and how best to achieve this change.

How did we get here?

The convention is the latest step in the long-running debate on the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. It has been organised by the Referendum Council, a body jointly established by Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten in December 2015. The council is tasked with providing advice on progress and next steps toward constitutional reform.

In facilitating regional dialogues, the Referendum Council has built on two existing reports.

In 2012, the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians recommended a package of reforms. This included:

  • a statement of acknowledgment;
  • a modification to the wording of the Commonwealth’s lawmaking power in Indigenous affairs;
  • a constitutional prohibition on racial discrimination; and
  • the removal of a provision that contemplates states disqualifying people from voting based on their race.

The council also built on the work of a parliamentary committee that reported on the issue in 2015. Like the expert panel, the parliamentary committee consulted extensively with Indigenous peoples and communities, and recommended a similar suite of reforms.

The committee also discussed some options that had emerged since the expert panel’s report. These included a proposal for a body to advise parliament on proposed laws that affect Indigenous people.

What is the significance of the Uluru meeting?

Although the expert panel and the parliamentary committee consulted extensively with Indigenous Australians, they also consulted with non-Indigenous Australians. The views of Indigenous Australians were only a small part of their briefs.

The significance of the Referendum Council process lies in it being the first time Indigenous Australians have been asked to deliberate collectively and report back on what recognition means to them. Through this process, they have “reclaimed the movement towards constitutional recognition”.

Attendance at each dialogue was by invitation. Meetings were capped at 100 participants. 60% of places were reserved for traditional owner groups; 20% for community organisations; and 20% for key individuals. A balance was sought between gender and across age groups. Representation for the Stolen Generations was also key.

The council worked in partnership with a host organisation at each location to ensure the local community was appropriately represented in the process.

The dialogues were conducted as a deliberative forum. Each took place over three days, and included opportunities for large and small group discussions.

The Referendum Council assisted delegates by providing information on the Constitution and the history of constitutional reform. This allowed delegates to discuss and assess different reform options in an informed manner, and to explain what recognition would mean for their communities.

At the end of the three days delegates confirmed a statement of their discussion, and selected ten representatives for the Uluru meeting.

What will be agreed to?

It is impossible to know what the outcome of the convention at Uluru will be. But it appears very likely that a consensus on the need for meaningful and practical reform will emerge.

Writing earlier this month, Jill Gallagher and Nolan Hunter, conveners of the regional dialogues in Melbourne and Broome, noted all of the dialogues so far conducted had:

… rejected a purely symbolic or minimalist model in favour of substantive reform.

Substantive reform is more than a statement of acknowledgement. It may include a prohibition on racial discrimination, and an elected Indigenous body with a constitutional role in relation to laws that affect Indigenous peoples. It may also include support for a treaty or treaties – something progressing alongside constitutional recognition.

Ultimately, as Cheryl Axleby and Klynton Wanganeen, co-convenors of the Adelaide regional dialogue, have explained, substantive constitutional reform:

… is about building a better and fairer Australia as well as making good on past promises – to treat Aboriginal Australians with dignity and respect.

What happens next?

Megan Davis, a member of the Referendum Council, believes the document that will emerge from Uluru will serve as “a statement to the Australian people”.

For many Australians, it may be the first time they have heard directly from Indigenous people their views on constitutional recognition.

Following the convention, the Referendum Council will report its final advice on constitutional change to the government and the opposition. Neither the Uluru document nor the Referendum Council report will bind them to any action.

After a considerable process of listening to Indigenous Australians, however, the Uluru statement should inform the model taken to the referendum. This may go further than Turnbull and Shorten are willing to consider right now. But it is difficult to see how doing otherwise would treat Indigenous Australians with dignity and respect.

Ultimately, all Australians need to ask a simple question: is constitutional recognition of Indigenous peoples for the First Australians or for non-Indigenous Australians?

The ConversationIf the former, their views should form the basis for the model. If the latter, then there seems little point in asking them at all.

Harry Hobbs, PhD Candidate, Constitutional Law and Indigenous Rights, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Joshua Healy, University of Melbourne

Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to penalty rates will rip off 700,000 workers… – Labor leader Bill Shorten, in a Labor-produced recorded phone call to voters released in March 2017.

The Fair Work Commission recently held a new round of deliberations on how to implement its recommendation that Sunday and public holiday penalty rates be reduced for workers on awards in the hospitality, fast food and retail sectors.

The federal Opposition has condemned the recommendation, with Labor leader Bill Shorten saying in a recorded phone call to voters earlier this year that “cuts to penalty rates will rip off 700,000 workers”.

Is that accurate?

Checking the source

When asked for a source to support the claim, Bill Shorten’s office referred The Conversation to a spokesperson for Labor’s shadow minister for employment and workplace relations Brendan O’Connor, who pointed to a February 2017 report by the McKell Institute. O’Connor’s spokesperson said:

The McKell Institute’s independent figures combined with pharmacy retail workers show around 700,000 workers could face cuts to their penalty rates … The prime minister himself has used the figure 600,000.

You can read the full response from O’Connor’s office here.

However, my calculations show that the real number of people likely to experience a pay cut, should the rate reduction proceed, is actually closer to 355,000 employees – about half the number suggested by Labor.

‘Could’ vs ‘will’

The first problem is the difference between the words “will” (what Shorten said in Labor’s “robo-call” to voters) and “could” (the language used in Labor’s full response to The Conversation, as well as in the McKell Institute report).

The McKell report said:

Around 680,000 Australians are estimated to be working on awards that may be impacted by the proposed changes.

Do you see the difference? The report is estimating how many people are on the awards affected. Labor has taken that a step further and said in its recorded phone call that this figure relates to how many people will experience a Sunday pay cut.

The McKell Institute report goes so far as to say “the proposed penalty rate changes will impact up to 681,000 workers”. But even “will impact” is not quite the same as saying penalty rate cuts “will rip off 700,000 workers”, as Shorten said.

The crucial point here is that not everyone who is on the award will necessarily work Sundays.

In response to questions sent by The Conversation, the author of the McKell Institute report, Edward Cavanough, said:

The point of the report was not to say “681,000 workers [work] every Sunday and will therefore lose x amount”. This point was really that there are 681,000 individuals currently on awards subject to the changes. Should any of these workers choose in the future to work a Sunday in their current job, they will be subject to a financial impediment … while on any given Sunday, only 250,000 – 400,000 of these workers will be working, a change in the award affects each worker currently on that award, and limits their ability to receive additional remuneration should they choose to work on Sundays.

Now let’s take a closer look at how the McKell Institute arrived at its estimates.

How did the McKell Institute calculate its estimate?

When calculating how many people work in the affected industries (hospitality, retail, pharmacy and fast food), the McKell Institute report used data from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and IbisWorld.

But the Workplace Gender Equality Agency only includes organisations with more than 100 employees, so its employment estimates don’t give the full picture. The McKell Institute estimate didn’t use official statistics like the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Labour Force Survey, which covers workers in organisations of any size.

In response to my questions about methodology, author of the report Edward Cavanough said IbisWorld can be more up to date than ABS data, but said ABS data could also be used.

Regarding the McKell report’s calculation of how many employees are paid at award rates, Cavanough said his estimates were based on discussions with employee representatives, and a search on previous enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations between the major hospitality union and industry groups.

But the ABS has better data than that on how many people are paid by award, which the McKell Institute didn’t use in its report.

Using ABS data to estimate how many Australians would likely get a Sunday pay cut

To estimate how many workers would likely face a Sunday penalty rate cut under the Fair Work Commission’s decision, we need to combine data sources and make some informed assumptions.

We need to know three things:

1. How many people work in the hospitality, retail, pharmacy and fast food industries?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours, conducted in May 2016, found the total number of employees working in the retail trade industry, including pharmacy workers, was about 1,065,800. The total number of employees working in the accommodation and food services industry, including hospitality and fast food workers, was about 742,200.

2. How many workers are paid by award?

The workers who would be immediately affected by the proposed penalty rate cut are those whose pay is set by an “award”, and not by an enterprise bargaining agreement. Data from the same May 2016 Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours show that in the accommodation and food services industry, 42.7% of employees were paid by award, along with 34.5% of employees in retail trade.

3. How many of those people work on Sundays?

The Fair Work Commission decision specifically relates to cutting penalty rates on Sundays and public holidays. The Australian Bureau of Statistics Characteristics of Employment Survey, from August 2015, shows on which days of the week employees usually work, broken down by industry.

To calculate how many work on Sunday, I included those who usually work on this day, and those whose work days vary during the week and could include Sunday. Data isn’t available to say whether award-reliant employees work the same number of Sundays as others in their industry. For this calculation, I assumed they did.

There’s an important difference between my calculations and the calculations made by the McKell Institute. The McKell Institute’s figure of around 680,000 relates to the number of people in affected industries that it estimates are paid by award and could work on Sunday (even if they do not right now).

I limited my estimate to people who are, according to the most recent ABS data, currently working or likely to be working on days that include Sunday. The fact that the Fair Work Commission plans to reduce the Sunday pay premium is unlikely to increase the appeal of Sunday work for those who aren’t already doing it.

Crunching the numbers

To estimate how many employees are likely to be affected by the penalty rates decision, I multiplied the total number of employees by the percentage of people paid by award, and then by the percentage who work in Sunday in each industry.

By these calculations, some 355,000 employees – about 163,000 in retail trade and roughly 192,000 in accommodation and food services – would likely get a pay cut due to the Fair Work Commission’s penalty rates decision.

This is about half the number suggested by Labor’s claim that “Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to penalty rates will rip off 700,000 workers”.

It’s true the prime minister has used the figure 600,000 in at least one interview, but the official Australian government submission to the Fair Work Commission estimated that the number will be between 300,000 to 450,000.

Australian government submission to the Fair Work Commission.

The Fair Work Commission itself has not made an estimate of how many people face a cut.


Bill Shorten’s claim that “cuts to penalty rates will rip off 700,000 workers” is an exaggeration.

It is based largely on a McKell Institute report, which estimated that around 680,000 Australians are working on awards affected by the proposed changes. Crucially, that McKell Institute estimate relates to the number of people in affected industries who are paid under an award but might not currently be doing any Sunday work.

My calculations – based on ABS data on who actually is or is likely to be working on Sundays under the award in affected industries – found that the figure is closer to 355,000 workers. – Joshua Healy


This FactCheck provides better estimates of the number of workers that are likely to be directly affected by changes to Sunday penalty rates than those provided in the McKell Institute report.

The author has taken the time to understand the complexities of obtaining estimates of workers affected by the penalty rate cut and the limitations of the assumptions and data underlying the estimates provided by the McKell Institute.

However, the estimates provided by the author do still require a number of assumptions and the data sources are limited.

The first assumption in this FactCheck is that any person who states they work varied days each week is categorised as working on a Sunday. This assumption effectively doubles the new (but more realistic) estimates provided by the author to gain a figure of 355,000.

Removing this assumption and using only those that state they do work on a Sunday (according to the ABS data), the estimated number of workers affected is 169,000 – much, much fewer than Labor’s claim of 700,000.

Further, those who state they work on a Sunday can also select that they work varied days each week within the Characteristics of Employment Survey, which will mean some people will be double-counted in these estimates.

The second issue is that the estimates of people working on a Sunday are not confined to award wage workers only and are instead derived from all workers in each industry regardless of pay-setting arrangement. This is because the data used cannot provide this breakdown.

The Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey is able to provide more accurate estimates of workers that meet all three conditions:

  1. Working in Retail or Accommodation and Food Services; and
  2. Working under an award; and
  3. Working on a Sunday

Using the HILDA data, the total number of people that I have estimated to be directly impacted by the penalty rate cut is 217,270 – again, much, much fewer than Labor’s claim of 700,000.

The reviewer’s calculations from HILDA 2016 data of the number of workers that will attract a Sunday penalty rate cut.
Author provided

This constitutes 9.7% of workers in the retail trade sector and 13.8% of workers in the accommodation and food services sector. The majority of these workers (68%) are women. – Rebecca Cassells

The Conversation FactCheck is accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network.

The Conversation’s FactCheck unit is the first fact-checking team in Australia and one of the first worldwide to be accredited by the International Fact-Checking Network, an alliance of fact-checkers hosted at the Poynter Institute in the US. Read more here.

The ConversationHave you seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

Joshua Healy, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Workplace Leadership, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Featured Photo Source:

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Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia is falling short in its progress towards almost all its targets for overcoming Indigenous disadvantage, the 2017 Closing the Gap report released by Malcolm Turnbull shows.

“Successes are being achieved, however progress overall nationally is too slow,” the report says.

It presents a mixed picture. While there are some more encouraging longer term trends, the only target that is “on track” to be achieved is the improvement in Indigenous attainment of Year 12 education.

Speaking to the House of Representatives, Turnbull said there must be a rigorous evaluation of programs to determine what was working and what wasn’t.

The government will expand the Productivity Commission to include a new Indigenous Commissioner to lead the commission’s work of policy evaluation. It will also invest A$50 million towards research into policy and its implementation.

Here are the specific targets and the state of progress:

  • Halve the gap in child mortality by 2018. The 2015 Indigenous child mortality rate is just outside the range for the target, although over the longer term (1998 to 2015) the Indigenous child mortality rates declined by one-third.
  • Close the gap in life expectancy by 2031. This is also falling short, though between 1998 and 2015 Indigenous mortality rate declined by 15%.
  • Have 95% of Indigenous four-year-olds enrolled in early education by 2025. In 2015, 87% were enrolled, compared with 98% of non-Indigenous children.
  • Close the gap in school attendance by the end of 2018. In 2016, the attendance rate for Indigenous students nationally was 83.4%, compared with 93.1% for non-Indigenous students.
  • Halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy by 2018. Across the eight areas (reading and numeracy for years 3, 5, 7 and 9) the proportion of Indigenous students achieving national minimum standards in NAPLAN is on track in only one area (Year 9 numeracy).
  • Halve the gap for year 12 or equivalent attainment rates by 2020. Nationally the proportion of Indigenous 20-to-24-year-olds who had achieved Year 12 or equivalent increased from 45.4% in 2008 to 61.5% in 2014-15, while the rates for non-Indigenous students didn’t change much, thus meaning the target is on track.
  • Halve the gap in employment outcomes by 2018. There has been an increase in the Indigenous employment rate since 1994, but a decline since 2008. In 2014-15 the Indigenous employment rate was 48.4%, compared with 72.6% for non-Indigenous Australians.

Turnbull said that if people had a university degree, there was no employment gap between Indigenous and other Australians, which was “a reminder of the central importance of education”.

He said that “if we look at the long-term intergenerational trends, we see that Indigenous life expectancy is increasing, babies are being born healthier, more people are studying, and gaining post-school qualifications, and those adults are participating in work.

“These are achievements that families, elders, communities can be proud of.

“But incarceration rates and rates of child protection are too high”, with 63% of Indigenous people incarcerated last year being in prison for violent offences.

Turnbull recommitted to seeking to change the constitution to recognise the First Australians in it.

In his reply speech Bill Shorten said a justice target should be included in the Closing the Gap targets.

He also said the Commonwealth should look at following the lead of some states towards providing reparations for the stolen generations.

“I applaud the state governments of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania already taking steps towards providing reparations to families torn apart by the discrimination of those times. Decency demands that we now have a conversation at the Commonwealth level about the need for the Commonwealth to follow the lead on reparations. This is the right thing to do. It’s at the heart of reconciliation, telling the truth, saying sorry, and making good.”

Shorten said that “the First Australians must have first say in the decisions that shape their lives”.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Photo By: Nick-D (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Right after the US election results were clear on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders supporters rushed to social media to say: “We told you so!”, using various hasgtags such as #DontBlameMeIVotedForBernie, #StillSanders and #BringBernieBack. Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election came as a shock to many Democrats, some Republicans and generally a whole lot of people…

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Jennifer Victor, George Mason University

While the world was focused on Clinton versus Trump, the balance of power in the Senate was decided. While not all the races are decided at this hour, it is clear that the Republicans will maintain a majority of the U.S. Senate.

The Democrats needed to swing five seats in their favor in order to take the majority of seats (or pick up four seats, with a Democratic White House win where the vice president acts as a tie breaker). The pre-election analysis made six states appear poised to possibly flip from Republican to Democratic: Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. These races were tight and had the power to change the majority party in the chamber.

Here’s how it played out.

How the critical states fared

Illinois Republican incumbent Mark Kirk ran into trouble running against a robust Democratic challenger, Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth has already created a national image for herself as a fiery double-amputee war veteran. Then a comment Kirk made at a recent debate was received as insensitive and racist. Duckworth winning this state was a pickup for Democrats.

One of the more interesting results of the night came from Wisconsin. In 2010 Republican challenger Ron Johnson defeated Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold. Feingold ran against Johnson this year to try to win back his old seat, and his support looked relatively strong throughout the season. In the end, the Republican incumbent held the seat, perhaps because Republicans rallied for Trump in ways that were not fully detected by the polls.

In Indiana, former Republican Senator and Governor Evan Bayh ran as a Democrat in a tight race and lost to Republican Todd Young. Bayh ran somewhat ahead for much of the race, but the trajectory was not in his favor. In the end, Indiana stays in the Republican column.

North Carolina hosted a narrow race between Republican incumbent Richard Burr and Democratic challenger Deborah Ross, who has served as a state assembly representative. The race had narrowed in recent weeks, but stayed stayed within a margin of error. North Carolina stays red.

Pennsylvania saw Republican incumbent Pat Toomey challenged by Democrat Katie McGlinty. The race was close with McGlinty projected to win. McGlinty was one of the Democrats’ bright hopes this season, against a strongly conservative and fiscal hawk incumbent. Senator Toomey retaining his seat is a part of unpredicted Trump support in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

The Senate election in New Hampshire was too close to call as of this writing. Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte and her challenger, Gov. Maggie Hassan, were practically tied the entire election season. Democrats were optimistic about picking up this seat.

Does Senate majority matter?

The Republicans will keep the majority in the Senate, but it will be a narrow majority.

Having a majority matters because the party with the most seats gets the chair of every committee and subcommittee in the chamber, and the majority of seats on every committee and subcommittee. The majority leader gets to set the chamber’s agenda, which means controlling which legislation comes to the floor and when. Assuming Republicans control of the House, Senate and White House, this may include repeal of Obamacare or strict immigration controls.

But majority status in the Senate is not as important as it is in the House. The norms in the Senate tend more toward deliberation rather than the strong-arming used in the House. For example, the Senate uses procedures like “unanimous consent,” in which all 100 senators must agree about the rules that govern a bill before it comes to the floor. Also, the filibuster means that most bills need 60 votes, a “supermajority,” to come up for a vote on the floor.

Democrats will still hold significant power as the minority party. The minority party in the Senate is significantly more powerful than the minority party in the House, because of what political scientists call “negative agenda control,” or keeping bills you don’t like from passing. As the minority party in the Senate, the Democrats have greater power in the Senate, relative to the House, at preventing legislation to which they are oppose from coming to the floor. Because of that power, majority status means somewhat less in the Senate than it does in the House.

On the other hand, even if neither party has enough votes to “run the table” on any votes in the Senate, the Republican Party has a tremendous advantage now that it controls the Congress and White House. Republicans, for the most part, will not need many Democratic partners to achieve their policy goals.

The Conversation

Jennifer Victor, Associate Professor of Political Science, George Mason University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.