Tasmanian Legislative Council
Jim Wilkinson, Independent
since 21 May 2013
Chair of Committees
Gregory Raymond Hall, Independent
since 10 May 2008
|Legislative Council Chamber,
Parliament House, Hobart,
The Legislative Council, or upper house, is one of the two chambers of the Parliament of Tasmania in Australia. The other is the House of Assembly. It sits in Parliament House in the state capital, Hobart. It is a unique parliamentary chamber in Australian politics in that it is the only chamber in any state parliament that is majority non partisan, with only 3 of 15 current MLCs being endorsed representatives of a political party.
The Council has 15 members selected by the preferential method within 15 single-member seats. Each seat is intended to represent approximately the same population in each electorate. Members of the Legislative Council are often referred to as MLCs.
Members in the council come up for re-election separately every six years. Elections will be held in three divisions one year, then two divisions the next year; following this pattern. The council can block supply and force any government to election. The council cannot be dissolved as there is nothing in the Tasmanian constitution to allow this. As public referenda are not a part of the constitution, the council's rights cannot be reduced and its existence cannot be abolished without its agreement.
Tasmania's Legislative Council has never been controlled by a single political party, as voters in Tasmania have tended to support independents over candidates endorsed by political parties. Labor endorses candidates in some Legislative Council elections. The Labor party is the most successful of any political party in the council's history, having elected a total of 18 members. The Liberals have maintained the view that the Legislative Council 'is not a party house', while rarely endorsing candidates with little success. Since 2009, the Liberal Party has endorsed candidates more frequently. The Liberal Party has only ever had three endorsed members in the Legislative Council. One of these, Peter McKay, was first elected as an independent in 1976 but became a Liberal in 1991. The party has often tacitly backed independent conservatives, many of whom were previously Liberal candidates or members at state or federal level. An exception to this was the 2009 Pembroke by-election where the Liberals stood candidate Vanessa Goodwin who won the seat. The Tasmanian Greens endorse candidates in elections but have yet to win a seat on the council.
Candidates for Legislative Council elections are required to limit their expenditure to a specified limit ($10,000 in 2005; increasing by $500 per year). In addition, no other person or political party may incur expenditure to promote a specific candidate. This is almost unique requirement in Australia, other than the election of the ACT Legislative Assembly, no other State, Territory or Federal poll imposes expenditure limits for candidates.
As the Government is formed in the House of Assembly, a much smaller proportion of the Ministry comes from the Council.
The Tasmanian Legislative Council was first created in 1825 as a unicameral legislature. The Australian Colonies Act passed by the British Parliament gave Van Diemen's Land a free government when it split from New South Wales effectively granting nationhood to the colony under the British Crown and Privy Council. Starting as a body with six nominee members chosen by the Governor of Tasmania, an Imperial Act in 1828 enabled its expansion to 15 members, with the Governor as Presiding Officer.
The Council remained fully nominative until the Australian Colonies Government Act came into effect in Van Diemen's Land on 21 October 1851, when the council was expanded to 24 members, with sixteen of them facing the voters and eight nominated by the Governor, who ceased to be a member. The first Speaker of the new Council was Sir Richard Dry. The franchise for these elections was extremely limited—only men over 30 could vote, and were required to own a certain amount of property. Former convicts, who made up a significant percentage of the colony's population, were not able to vote. The 1851 arrangements were a compromise struck by the Governor between the colonists' demands for representative government and the Colonial Office's wish to control the colony through the Governor.
On 24 October 1856, an Act was proclaimed permitting the introduction of a bicameral, representative Parliament with the creation of the Tasmanian House of Assembly, where the power of the executive government resided, and the abolition of nominee positions on the Council. The Speaker's position was renamed President. An interesting feature of the Act is that it does not enable the Governor to dissolve the Legislative Council.
Like other democratic upper houses of that period, it was established using single-member seats elected using the first-past-the-post system, with Hobart and Launceston being created as multi-member seats. Voters would simply cross off the names of those whom they did not wish to vote for. Members were elected to a six-year term, and terms were staggered in such a way that two or three members' terms expired each year and elections were held in the first week of May. In the event of resignation or death of a member during their term, a by-election would be held to complete their term.
The 1907 reforms which saw the House of Assembly switch to using the Hare-Clark system, introduced preferential voting to the Council. A redistribution in 1946 broke up the two multi-member seats into single-member seats.
Suffrage was gradually expanded from the late 19th century onwards, with the property franchise being first eased then abolished; ex-convicts, ex-servicemen and then women being granted the vote; the age of majority being reduced; and finally, full adult suffrage in 1968. The first woman to sit on the Legislative Council was Margaret McIntyre in 1948; the first woman to chair the upper house was Phyllis Benjamin in 1956.
In the 1990s, various Tasmanian governments attempted to cut the size of parliament. Various reports proposed reducing the Tasmanian Legislative Council from 19 seats to 15. Others including the Morling Report proposed abolishing the Council and merging some of the electorates into the Tasmanian House of Assembly. However the council wouldn't agree to any of these proposals. During Tony Rundle's government the Legislative Council finally allowed passage of the Parliamentary Reform Bill 1998, reducing the number of seats in the chamber from 19 to 15, and redistributing all seats through an independent Distribution Tribunal, abolishing a previous rural bias which had led to unequal seats. However, the seats were not named after their geographic location, often using land district or county names unfamiliar to most residents, so considerable confusion for voters ensued in determining which seat they were to vote within.
Current distribution of seats
|Party||Seats held||Current Legislative Council|
|Australian Labor Party||1|
|Liberal Party of Australia||2|
President of the Legislative Council
Between 1850 and 1856 the Presiding Officer in the Legislative Council was known as the Speaker. Sir Richard Dry was the first elected to hold this position. As part of wider parliamentary changes the title was changed in 1856 to President. The current President of the Legislative Council is Nelson MLC Jim Wilkinson.
- Parliaments of the Australian states and territories
- List of members of the Tasmanian Legislative Council
- List of Legislative Council divisions