TASMANIAN PARLIAMENT

Tasmania is the second oldest Australian settlement, having been established at Risdon Cove on the River Derwent by Lieutenant John Bowen in September 1803. Shortly after Hobart's settlement, Colonel William Paterson established a settlement on the Tamar River in the north of the island. Until 1812 the colony was divided into two counties and administered separately from Sydney. In that year Colonel Thomas Davey was appointed the first Lieutenant-Governor of the whole colony. Van Diemen's Land, as it was then known, became a colony under its own administration on 3 December 1825. The colony was administered by the Lieutenant-Governor and a Legislative Council of six members.

In 1856 the name of the colony was changed to Tasmania. In the same year responsible government was established and the present bicameral Parliament met for the first time. The Tasmanian Parliament has consisted of two Chambers - the Legislative Council (upper House) and the House of Assembly (lower House) - since then. The House of Assembly is the House of government and the Party that has the support of the majority of Members in this Chamber generally forms the State Government. The Legislative Council is seen as a House of review. Its primary role is providing a check on, and balance to, the lower House by providing additional scrutiny of legislation and decisions of the Government-dominated House of Assembly.

BACKGROUND

The Tasmanian Parliament was initially unicameral, consisting only of the Legislative Council.

In March 1848 Tasmania's Governor William Denison suggested to English authorities that Tasmania ought to have two representative Chambers. He did so because he felt that:

'There is an essentially democratic spirit which actuates the large mass of the community and it is with a view to check that spirit, of preventing it coming into operation, that I would suggest the formation of an Upper Chamber.'

This was rejected as an untried form of constitution but in 1854 a select committee of the colonial Legislative Council presented a report and a draft constitution which recommended the creation of a bicameral Parliament.

The plan was to have a popularly elected chamber and a 'more permanent and less precarious' but also elected upper chamber. The Council was to be 'indissoluble' and its high voting qualifications were reflective of a high property franchise. Lower House voters need only have 'allegiance to the Crown'. The principal role of the Tasmanian Legislative Council would be to:

'... guard against hasty and inconsiderate legislation by securing due deliberation previous to the final adoption of any legislative measure.'

The report also suggested that the two Houses would differ because:

'The instincts of the Assembly would be movement - progress - innovation. The instincts of the more Conservative body will be caution - deliberation - resistance to change if not fairly and fully proved to be beneficial.'

Tasmania was the first Australian colony to be granted a constitution (the Constitutional Act of Tasmania) by the reigning Queen Victoria on 31 October 1854 (Act 18 Vict No. 17). Basically, the new Parliament was to be as suggested above, with the Governor, a Legislative Council and a House of Assembly acting together. The new bicameral Parliament met for the first time on 2 December 1856.

All of the six original States of Australia and the Federal Parliament were established as bicameral Parliaments. Queensland voted to abolish its upper House in 1922, and the two new Territories - the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory - were established as unicameral Parliaments.

BICAMERAL COLOURS

Each House has traditional colours: Council, red and Assembly, green. Red is said to be the royal colour while green may date from the time of Magna Carta in 1215, which was signed in the oak fields of Runnymede by King John, or from the original green paintwork at King Henry III's Westminster Palace where the first English Parliaments met.

Therefore in the Tasmanian Parliament the carpet is green in areas controlled by the House of Assembly while it is red when controlled by the Legislative Council. The colours also apply to other elements with the Hansard (when they were printed) volumes for the Legislative Council being bound in red and the House of Assembly in green.

SIZE OF PARLIAMENT

The original size of the Council was 15 Members over 30 years of age, and after various changes the present size is once again 15, with each Member elected from single-member divisions. The original House of Assembly was made up of 30 members, from single-member electorates, and each MHA had to be male and over 21 years of age. The membership of the Assembly has fluctuated several times during its history but currently is 25, with 5 being elected from each of the five electorates.

Size of Parliament since responsible government

Date

LC

HA

Total

1856
15
30
45
1870
16
32
48
1885
18
36
54
1893
18
37
55
1898
19
38
57
1900
18
35
53
1906
18
30
48
1946
19
30
49
1959
19
35
54
1998
15
25
40

CONSTITUTIONAL POSITION

Under section 45 of the Constitution Act 1934, 'the Council and the Assembly shall, in all respects, except as provided, have equal powers.' The only stipulated exceptions relate to money Bills, which may only originate (section 37) in the Assembly, and which the Council 'may not amend' (section 42).

Although unable to amend money Bills, the Council has the power under section 43 of the Constitution to return Bills that it may not amend requesting the Assembly to 'delete', 'amend' or 'insert' any item or provision. The Council also has the ultimate power to 'reject any vote, resolution, or Bill' (section 44) and has had this power so defined since 1926.

CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

The Tasmanian Constitution Act does not provide for referendums of the people before changes can be made. A simple majority vote in both Houses can effect change, except in the term of the House of Assembly. To alter this entrenched provision a two-thirds majority is required in the House of Assembly.

JOINT SITTING

The only time the bicameral Parliament sits as one is under section 15 of the Australian Federal Constitution which provides for the selection by the State Parliament of a replacement Member of the Senate, the 'States House' of the Federal Parliament.

July 2005

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Last Update: 12 July 2005