The Legislative Council (continued)

Legislative Council Elections and Electoral Divisions

For Legislative Council elections the State is divided into fifteen single-Member constituencies (Electoral maps). Each Member holds office for six years and periodical elections are held for either two or three electorates every year. As it cannot be dissolved, there are never any general elections for the Council.

The method of counting votes is identical with that used in House of Representatives elections. It is a preferential system which can be described as election by absolute majority through the use of the alternative vote. If any candidate secures first
preference votes exceeding half the total of first preferences, that person is elected.

If no candidate satisfies this condition, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and the second preferences shown on his or her ballot papers are transferred to other candidates, the transfer value of each such second preference being equal to one. If no candidate then has the required majority, the process of exclusion is repeated until such time as one candidate secures a majority.

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Legislative Powers

The Council’s powers are equal in all matters with those of the House of Assembly, with two exceptions. The exceptions are:

(i) The Council may not amend Bills which authorise expenditure for the ordinary services of the Government, nor Bills which impose a land or income tax. The Council may, however, request the Assembly to amend such Bills. The Council may amend other Money Bills, such as those dealing with loan funds.

(ii) The Council may not initiate Bills for the expenditure of revenue nor the
imposition of taxes.

Notwithstanding the restriction on the Bills it may amend, the Council is able to reject any Bill, including Money Bills. Although the Council has on occasion rejected Bills introduced by the Government, it has rarely rejected major financial legislation. The last time this occurred was in 1948 when it refused to pass a Supply Bill. The result of the Council’s action was that the House of Assembly was dissolved and there were new elections for that House. As the Constitution provides that the Council cannot be dissolved, there cannot be a double dissolution. Should the Government be denied funds, only the House of Assembly is dissolved by the Governor on the recommendation of the Premier.

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Disagreements between the Houses

As the Legislative Council has traditionally had a majority of Independent Members, the Leader of the Government in the Council has not been able to rely on a majority vote on party lines to ensure the passage of any Government Bill. This means that the Legislative Council is in a position to exercise considerable influence on the form in which Bills pass through the Parliament. Although the Council does not reject a great number of Bills, it is not uncommon for Bills to be amended, some heavily.

There are no constitutional provisions for resolving deadlocks between the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly.

Previously when a position was reached in which one House refused to accept the amendments of the other, provision did exist in the Standing Orders of both Houses for joint consultation by means of a Free Conference.

A Free Conference comprised a small number of Members, usually four, from each House, who would meet in a committee room and attempt to find a solution acceptable to both Houses. It was very rare for a compromise not to be reached.

During the 1996 session, however, the House of Assembly amended their Standing Orders and Rules of the House to remove completely the provisions relating to a Conference of Managers.

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Parliamentary Privilege

Parliamentary Privilege is the term which describes the special rights granted to the Parliament and its Members to ensure the independence of Parliament and to enable it to carry out its work without hindrance or fear of litigation. The most important element of Parliamentary Privilege is freedom of speech.

Parliamentary Privilege derives from the Bill of Rights of 1688 of Great Britain, which declared:

‘ That freedom of speech, and debates on proceedings in Parliament, ought not be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament’.

No matter what a Member says in Parliament, he or she cannot be sued for slander or libel as a result of their statements. Papers and documents published by the authority of either House are likewise protected.

Each House, and its Committees, has the power to summon any person before it and to call for any documents and papers. Persons who refuse to obey such an order may be imprisoned by either House. (This, however, has never happened in Tasmania.) Similarly, either House may punish persons for other offences; for example, attempting to bribe a Member or being in contempt of Parliament.

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The Office of President of the Legislative Council

The President of the Legislative Council is recognised as the senior Parliamentary officer and in Tasmania takes precedence immediately after the members of the Executive Council.

The President is elected by fellow Members through the process of a ballot. The President is the representative of the Council itself in its powers and proceedings.

The functions of the Office fall into two categories. On the one hand the President is the representative of the Council in its relations with the Crown and other persons outside Parliament. On the other, he or she presides over debates of the House and ensures the observance of order in its proceedings.

The President communicates the Resolutions of the House to those to whom they are directed, conveys its thanks and expresses its censure. He or she issues warrants to execute the orders of the House for the attendances of witnesses, the commitment of offenders and for giving effect to other orders requiring the sanction of a legal form.

The President communicates to the House documents addressed to him or her as President, letters acknowledging a vote of thanks of the House, or relating to the rights and privileges of the House or of its Members, and when the need arises, messages from the Governor.

The characteristics attaching to the Office are authority and impartiality. In debate all speeches are addressed to the Chair and the President calls upon Members to speak, a choice which is not open to dispute. When the President rises to preserve order or to give a ruling he or she is heard in silence and no Member remains standing.

Authority in the Chair is fortified by special powers. Confidence in the impartiality of the President is an indispensable condition to the successful working of procedures, and conventions exist which ensure that impartiality. The President votes only when the votes of other Members are equal and seldom takes part in debates. He or she rules on points of order submitted by Members as they arise.

The President is always ready to advise Members who may consult him or her privately, upon an action they propose to take or on any questions of order which are likely to arise. In the maintenance of order and the enforcement of Standing Orders he or she may decline to submit to the House motions and amendments, or questions which infringe its rules.

In addition to duties in the House, the President is responsible under the Parliamentary Privilege Act for recommending to the Governor the appointment of Parliamentary staff. The President also serves on a number of Committees, including the Joint House Committee, the Joint House Library Committee, the Committee of Privileges, and the Standing Orders Committee.

The President, accompanied by the Clerk of the Council, presents Bills to the Governor for Royal Assent.

When in the Chair, the President has the choice of wearing traditional dress comprising black suit, gown, winged collar and jabot or black suit with collar and tie.

The Office of President is a high office which has been held by some of Tasmania’s most distinguished citizens.

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The President's Chair

The President's Chair

The Chair was built by the cabinet making and upholstery firm of Whitesides and Son of Liverpool Street, Hobart. It is constructed of selected native blackwood and is without doubt the finest and most handsome piece of its kind in Australia.

The design is essentially of large cabriole pattern with the front legs terminating in lions’ paws.

The national emblem of rose, shamrock and thistle form the Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom and Ireland and have been painstakingly carved in the centre of the front rail with the Royal Coat of Arms above it.

Such was the workmanship in this Chair that Whitesides and Son was appointed as cabinetmaker to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868 following his visit to Tasmania that year, at which time he opened the sitting of Parliament, having given his address from the Chair.

 

 

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