The Legislative Council

The Legislative Council of Tasmania

A Message from the President of the Legislative Council,

 

The Honourable James Scott Wilkinson, MLC.

The Legislative Council, which is the Upper House in the Tasmanian Parliament, is a unique parliamentary institution.

Established in 1825 as the original legislative body in Tasmania (then Van Diemen's Land) it is the only House of Parliament in the Commonwealth, and probably in the world, that has never been controlled by any government or any political party. It has always had a majority of independent members making it a truly genuine House of Review.

The Legislative Council has extensive constitutional powers, but Members are conscious of their powers and responsibilities and make their decisions accordingly.

The independent nature of the House makes for meaningful debate of the issues without the rivalry and regimentation which is involved in the process in Houses of Parliament dominated by political parties.

Members of the Legislative Council examine the detail and merit of legislation from many points of view and provide checks and balances to the Government of the day to ensure accountability.

A considerable amount of time is devoted to inquiries conducted into wide-ranging issues by Parliamentary Standing Committees and Select Committees.

The ornate chamber entrusted to our care is an important part of our national heritage.

This tour provides an outline of the history and functions of this House and its continuing important role in the parliamentary process.

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Legislative Council Chamber, Parliament House, Hobart

Short History of the Legislative Council

The Legislative Council of Tasmania was established in 1825 as a unicameral legislature following the constitutional separation of Van Diemen's Land from New South Wales.

On 3 December of that year, Governor Darling of New South Wales proclaimed Van Diemen's Land as a separate colony, and simultaneously the first Legislative Council was created consisting of the Lieutenant-Governor, Colonel (later Sir) George Arthur and six nominee Members.

The continuing prosperity and population growth of the colony were reflected by the increase in membership of the Council in 1828. As a result of an Imperial Act, the Council's numbers were increased to 15 nominee Members (six official and eight unofficial) with the Governor as Presiding Officer.

In 1851, the Legislative Council membership was further increased to a total of 24 Members. 16 Members were elected by restricted franchise and eight Members were nominated by the Governor, who ceased to be a Member.

During the 1840s the British Colonial Office argued that the penal transportation system should continue. The colonists argued against any further influx of convicts and believed that their interests would be better served by a form of representative Government for the colony. Although the Governor temporarily resolved this crisis, agitation for a more representative style of Government grew stronger.

The story of the Legislative Council from 1856 to the present day is one of slow change from restrictive franchise to full adult suffrage. All moves for extension to the franchise came from within the Council itself - the original freehold restrictions were gradually eased; ex-servicemen and women became eligible to vote; and in 1968 the right to vote was extended to all adult Tasmanians.

From 1850 until 1856 the Presiding Officer in the Council was known as the Speaker. The Members elected Sir Richard Dry as the first incumbent of that position.

The efforts of the colonists were rewarded with the proclamation of an Act to permit the introduction of a bicameral, representative Parliament on 24 October 1856 at which time the title of the Presiding Officer changed from that of Speaker to President. The first
elections were held in 1856 and the first Session of the new Parliament was opened on 2 December in that year.

Only a month after the Opening of the very first bi-cameral Parliament, a clash occurred regarding Money Bills, leading to a Managers' Conference, consisting of representatives from both Houses, to define the powers and duties of the Houses on the problem of Supply. The conference failed. In 1899, the Government of the day prepared a case for the Privy Council on relative powers. It was refused. In 1900, an Assembly effort to provide that a Bill twice rejected by the Council would lead to a double dissolution was given very short shrift. In 1924, when the Appropriation Bill remained unresolved after a Managers' Conference, a most irregular procedure led to the Bill being passed into law by the Governor without being passed by the Council. This led to a Joint Select Committee which laid down Money Bill principles which pertain today.

From 1968, when full adult suffrage was introduced for Council elections, the Members of both Houses have been elected by truly democratic methods by the same electors. No one House can claim priority over the other as representing the true voice of the people

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