Brief Tour of the House of Assembly
The principal officer of the House is the Speaker. A member is elected to that position by the House and it is his or her responsibility to preside over the proceedings and enforce the Standing Orders and Rules. The Speaker is also the representative of the House in dealings with the Governor and with the Legislative Council.
The Speaker must carry out his or her duties with strict impartiality. All members look to the Speaker for guidance in matters of procedure and the Speaker rules on points of order from the Chair.
The office of Speaker dates back to 1377 in the House of Commons. At that time the role of Speaker was to convey the resolutions of the House to the King. The position has been a precarious one at times with several Speakers having lost their lives while carrying out their duties. Between the 14th and 16th centuries several were beheaded by the King. The modern role of Speaker was developed in the 18th century. Established during that period were the high standards of political independence, non-partisanship and concern for the individual member and minority groups which today are taken for granted as essential prerequisites for the office of Speaker.
The Speaker is assisted in his or her duties by the Chair of Committees, who takes the Chair as Deputy Speaker when required to do so by the Speaker.
Members of the House of Assembly
There are 25 Members of the House of Assembly, with five Members elected for each of the divisions.
Members of the House of Assembly are elected for a four year term.
Clerk of the House
The Clerk of the House is the principal permanent officer of the House of Assembly. It is his or her responsibility to advise the Speaker and other members on procedural matters, as well as to keep the journals of the House, i.e. the Votes and Proceedings, and the Notices of Motion and Orders of the Day.
The Clerk acts as Chair of a meeting prior to the election of a Speaker. The Clerk is required to certify the passing of bills and ensure they are correct when delivering them to the Legislative Council. The Clerk also has custody of all papers and accounts presented to the House.
The other principal permanent officers are the Deputy Clerk, Clerk-Assistant, Second Clerk-Assistant and Clerk of Papers.
The Parliamentary Reporting Service, more commonly known as Hansard, was set up in Tasmania in 1979. The role of Hansard is to record and publish the debates of both the House of Assembly and Legislative Council and their committees. The Tasmanian system is that the debates are digitally recorded are then typed, edited and given to the members for their perusal, and then published via the Parliament's internet page - https://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/.
Hansard is a valuable service for the public as it enables them to follow the parliamentary debates and to assess the performance of their representatives in Parliament.
Parliament consists of three parts: the Crown, the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly. These three acting together make State laws for Tasmania.
It is the task of Parliament to provide a forum for the people's elected representatives to debate the important issues of the day and make laws accordingly.
The Governor has an important formal role as part of the Parliament. The Governor summons, prorogues and dissolves Parliament on the advice of the Premier. When summoning Parliament, the Governor makes a speech to all members outlining the Government's legislative program for the forthcoming session. The Governor also acts on behalf of the monarch to give the royal assent to bills passed by the House of Assembly and Legislative Council.
It is through Parliament and the free speech of its members that matters of public concern can be raised.
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 Patterson established a settlement on the Tamar River in the north of the island at the site which subsequently became Launceston. 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, Colonel (later Sir) George Arthur, 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 bicameral Parliament met for the first time. The basic constitutional structure has remained the same since that time.
The first elections for the House of Assembly were held in September and October 1856. The first ministry, with Mr. W. T. N. Champ as Premier, was sworn in on 1 November and the first Parliament opened on 2 December 1856. The House met in what is now the Members Lounge and continued to do so until 1940 when it moved into its present chamber.
The colony was divided into 24 electoral districts for the House of Assembly. Hobart returned five Members, Launceston three and the others one each, giving a total of 30 Members. The term for the House of Assembly was a maximum of five years. All voters had to be adult males, natural born or naturalised citizens and to have been resident in the colony for a minimum of 12 months.
Since 1856 there have been a number of constitutional and electoral changes, including voting qualifications, number of Members and the electoral system.
The size of the Parliament has varied as follows:
|Date||Legislative Council||House of Assembly||Total|
Women became eligible to vote in 1903 at the same time as universal adult suffrage was brought in for House of Assembly elections. Women first became eligible for election to Parliament in 1921, but it was not until 1948 that the first woman was elected. Payment of members began in 1891 at a rate of £100 per annum.
In 1906 the State was divided into five electoral districts for House of Assembly elections, each returning six members, making a total of 30. They were elected by the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation. From 1959 each electorate returned seven members, making the membership total 35. In 1998 the Parliamentary Reform Act reduced this number to five per electorate, a total of 25.
Vacancies are filled by continuing the cut-up of the votes of the previous election in the electorate concerned, starting with the distribution of the preferences of the former member. This method is used instead of a by-election to retain as far as possible the political make-up of the House established at the previous general election. The term of a Parliament was changed from five to three years in 1969. It was again changed in 1972 to five years for that Parliament and four years for subsequent Parliaments.
House of Assembly
In the House of Assembly the political grouping which has a majority of the members, i.e. 13 or more, forms the Government, but on several occasions in Tasmania's recent history there has been a government which has not had a majority and has formed a formal or casual coalition with members of another party or independents to form a government.
The government leader is the Premier and the size of the ministry varies but can be no more than ten. The largest minority party in the House is known as the Opposition and is the 'alternative government'.
The initiative for government action resides with the House of Assembly. Nearly all legislation is introduced to the Parliament in the Assembly. Appropriation, land tax and income tax bills must originate in the House of Assembly.
It is in the House of Assembly that governments are made, where their policies first take legislative shape, and where a government comes face to face with the Opposition, which will attempt to show itself to be a better choice for government by pointing out deficiencies, as it sees them, in government policies and suggesting alternative policies to those put forward by the Government. The Government has the opportunity in the House to explain its policies fully and the action it intends to take to implement them.
House of Assembly Chamber
From 1856 to 1940 the House of Assembly used as its chamber the room which is now the Members' Lounge.
During the late 1930s renovations and extensions were carried out which provided for a new chamber as well as more office accommodation and improvements to other facilities.
The present chamber was opened on 14 May 1940 by the Premier, the Honourable Robert Cosgrove MP. It was remodeled in the late 1970s, mainly to provide for better acoustics due to the impending introduction of Hansard. The chamber was further remodeled during 2008 and returned to the style of the original 1940s chamber. The modernisation included installation of television cameras, computer access, disabled access and modern facilities for members and the public. The chamber was formally opened on 26 February 2009.
Relations with the Legislative Council
The two Houses of the Tasmanian Parliament have almost equal powers.
Appropriation and taxation legislation must be introduced in the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council may either accept or reject, but not amend it.
It is a convention that the initiation of legislation resides in the House of Assembly, leaving the Legislative Council to act as a House of review.
Parliamentary privilege is defined by the practice of the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Privilege Act and amendments. It relates to the rights and immunities which are necessary to allow Parliament to meet and carry out its proper constitutional role.
The principal powers relating to the application of privilege are:
The right of free speech in Parliament.
Immunity of members from legal proceedings for anything said by them in a speech in the course of debate in the House.
Immunity from arrest and imprisonment for civil causes whilst attending Parliament.
Exemption of members from jury service.
Immunity of parliamentary witnesses from being questioned or impeached for evidence given before the House or its committees.
The power to order the arrest and imprisonment of persons guilty of contempt of Parliament or breach of privilege.
The purpose of parliamentary privilege is to enable members to carry out their duties in the knowledge that certain protections exist so they may not be unduly constrained in their role as representatives of the people.
As mentioned above, the House of Assembly has 25 Members. There are five electorates each returning five members. The voting system used is a form of proportional representation known as the Hare-Clark system.
Under the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation by the single transferable vote an elector is required to vote, in order of preference, for at least five candidates. Names are arranged on the voting papers in groups according to party allegiance and names of parties are specified. The order in which the candidates' names are listed within each group is rotated in order to minimise the effect of position on voting.
In order to secure election, a candidate must receive a quota of votes (the total first preferences cast in the electorate divided by six, plus one vote). The second preferences of the first successful candidate are transferred to other candidates after first being multiplied by a fraction called the transfer value (the candidate's surplus first preferences divided by his total first preferences). This process is repeated with the votes of other successful candidates until a position is reached where no further candidates can reach a quota. Then the candidate who is lowest on the poll is excluded and the second preferences on his or her voting papers are transferred to the remaining candidates. These procedures are repeated until five candidates have been elected.
Business of the House of Assembly
The business of the House of Assembly is carried out in accordance with its Standing and Sessional Orders and Rules, which are based on the practice of the English House of Commons and derive their authority from the State Constitution Act. The Speaker is the chair of proceedings and it is his or her responsibility to enforce the rules with fairness and impartiality.
The Standing Orders provide the framework within which the House functions. They cover all of the proceedings of the House including election of Speaker, Opening of Parliament, Sitting and Adjournment of the House, Records of the House, Order of Business, Petitions, Motions, Questions, Amendment, Rules of Debate, Divisions, Messages between Houses, Bills, Committees, Accounts and Papers, Conferences, Contempt and so on. In any case not provided for in the Standing Orders, or where there is no clear precedent, resort is had to the practice of the House of Commons.
In 1983 the Standing Orders were amended to make provisions for a 'closure', that is, to enable the House to set a maximum time limit for debate on a particular matter. Time limits on individual speeches had previously existed but debate on a matter could last for long periods of time and this was often the cause for late or all-night sittings. The closure, or 'guillotine' as it is more commonly known, can reduce debate on any matter to three hours, although a longer time can be allowed if the House makes that decision.
The House normally first meets in March each year and its sittings are usually held from that time to May and then from August to December. The House meets at 10 am and normally adjourns at 6 pm.
House of Assembly meets on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10.00 am.
Sessional Orders - Relating to Sitting Times
(1) The time for the ordinary meeting of the House shall be at Ten o'clock a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and adjournment of the House shall be at Six o'clock p.m.
(2) Whenever this House or a Committee of the whole House shall be sitting at the time specified for the adjournment in accordance with clause (1) of this Sessional Order, the business then before the House shall stand adjourned.
(3) A Motion for the adjournment of the House may be made at any other time, but not to interrupt any business then before the House, and may only be moved by a Minister.
(4) When the House adjourns in accordance with clause (2) of this Sessional Order or the adjournment is moved in accordance with clause (3) of this Sessional Order, the Speaker shall then call for adjournment issues, when any member may speak to any matter for seven minutes.
(5) After these issues have been debated for a maximum period of one hour, the House shall stand adjourned, without Question being put, until the next sitting day.
Suspension of Sitting.
27. - (1) If at One o'clock p.m. the House or a Committee of the Whole House be sitting, the Sitting of the House or Committee shall be suspended until half-past Two o'clock p.m. Nearly all questions are directed to ministers and most come from non-government members.
Question Time is held every sitting day except opening day. It begins shortly after commencement of each day's sitting and lasts for one hour. This is the period of the day which is of most interest to visitors, when the widest possible range of subjects receives vigorous attention. Standing Order 94 says in part Questions may be put to Ministers of the Crown relating to public affairs, and to other Members relating to any Bill, Motion, or other public matter connected with the business of the House, in which such Members may be concerned... '.
Nearly all questions are directed to ministers and most come from non-government members.
In recent years the practice by opposition members of moving the adjournment to discuss matters of public importance has become much more common. Whereas this method of bringing a matter before the House for discussion might have been used only two or three times a year in the early 1970s and before, it is now used much more often. Members may give notice of the issue they wish to debate, and one subject shall be debated on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with time set aside for two on Thursdays.
Private Members Business
Private Members business is dealt with by a system of party rotation from 3.30 to 6 pm on Wednesdays. The remaining time each day is for government business which it calls on at its discretion.
Laws are enacted by introducing a bill into the House, it being agreed to and passed, the same in the Legislative Council, and finally receiving the Royal Assent from the Governor. Any Member may introduce a bill into Parliament, though most are brought in by Ministers, and most originate in the House of Assembly.
The first step in the formal consideration of a bill is the first reading, when the Clerk reads out the long title of the bill. The long title is the full title of a bill which sets out the purpose and scope of the bill. Printed copies are circulated to each Member and to interested organisations or persons outside Parliament.
When two days have elapsed after its circulation to members, the bill is ready for the Second Reading, which is considered to be the most important stage. The member who introduced the bill moves that it 'be read the Second Time', and in doing so he or she explains the principles of the proposed change in the law. All other members are then entitled to give their views on the general principle involved and after debate has concluded and all members have had opportunity to express themselves on the subject, the Speaker puts the question - 'That the bill be now read a Second time'. If the motion is not agreed to, it means that the House does not accept in principle this proposed alteration to the law and the bill is not proceeded with.
If the motion is carried, the House endorses the bill in principle, and then proceeds to what is known as the Committee stage. The Speaker leaves the Chair and the Chair of Committees then presides. The bill is considered clause by clause and amended where necessary. The procedure during this stage is less formal than at other times, and speeches are shorter and confined to detail. After the last clause has been approved, the bill has been passed in principle and in detail, and the Third Reading concludes the Assembly's dealings with it. The Third Reading, like the First, is largely a formality and debate rarely takes place..
The next stage is the transmission of the bill to the Legislative Council, where the same procedures are adopted..
Both Houses have legislative powers under the Constitution, and these powers can be summarised by the following rules.:
All bills must be passed by both Houses otherwise there is no effect on the law..
Financial bills must originate in the House of Assembly on the recommendation of the Governor. The Legislative Council's powers are set out by the Constitution Act 1934;
Money Bills, defined as those that appropriate revenue funds or levy income or land taxes, may not be amended by the Council. However the Council may request that the Assembly make amendments.
Other financial measures may be amended by the Council but not by inserting any provision for the appropriation of money or by imposing or increasing any burden on the people.
Other public bills may originate in either House, and may be amended by both Chambers. The amendments of each House must be agreed to by the other of course, otherwise the Bill is not passed. When one House makes amendments to a bill which has already passed the other, a message is sent notifying the House of origin to this effect. If agreement cannot be reached then the bill will not proceed.
When a bill has been passed by both Houses, it is necessary for the Governor, as the Sovereign's representative in Tasmania, to give the Royal Assent.
When all three parties to the legislative process - the House of Assembly, the Legislative Council and the Governor- have approved a bill, it becomes an Act, and thus part of the law of the State. Once made, an Act can be amended or repealed by means of another bill.
Law-making is one of the fundamental activities of the House. Another is the moving of a motion to pass a resolution or order of the House. A motion is a device for producing a decision of the House either in the form of an opinion or an order that certain action be taken. Many motions are moved to gain information, for example that certain documents be tabled, but those motions which express opinions vary from congratulations on the occasion of a Royal wedding to a no-confidence motion against the Government which, if passed, would bring about its downfall. The latter most recently occurred in 1989.
The business of the House can only be conducted if a quorum is present. The number of members required for a quorum is ten, including the Speaker. When at any stage of a day's proceedings a member brings the Speaker's attention to the absence of a quorum, the Speaker orders that the bells be rung to summon members to the chamber. If, at the expiration of five minutes a quorum is not present, the Speaker adjourns the House until the next appointed sitting time.
Parliamentary committees are established for different purposes and by different methods. Three are established by statute and are made up of members of both Houses. They are the Public Works, Public Accounts and Subordinate Legislation Committees. Other Standing Committees are appointed to regulate some of the functions of the Parliament joint committees, e.g. House and Library Committees, and select committees of the House of Assembly, e.g. Standing Orders, Privileges and Printing Committees.
From time to time the House sees the need to appoint a select committee to inquire into a specific matter and report back to it. Generally such a report would be the basis for future legislation in the area investigated by the committee. These committees can be select committees of the House only or joint select committees made up of members of both Houses.