Western Australian Legislative Council

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Legislative Council
Coat of arms or logo
Type
Type Upper House of the Parliament of Western Australia
History
Founded 1832
Leadership
President of the Council Barry House, Liberal
Since 2009
Structure
Political groups      Liberal (17)
     Labor (11)
     National (5)
     Greens (2)
     Shooters and Fishers Party (1)
Meeting place
Legislative Council Chamber
Parliament House, Perth
Western Australia, Australia
Website
Official website

The Legislative Council, or upper house, is one of the two chambers of parliament in the Australian state of Western Australia. Its central purpose is to act as a house of review for legislation passed through the lower house, the Legislative Assembly. It sits in Parliament House in the state capital, Perth.

The Legislative Council today has 36 members, elected for fixed four-year terms. Each member is elected under a proportional and preferential voting system using the single transferable vote method, and represents one of six multi-member regions. Each region elects six members.[1] Under proportional representation, it is not unusual for a government, lacking a clear majority in the Legislative Council, to rely on the voting support of independent members and/or minor parties, such as The Greens, to pass legislation. As with all other Australian states and territories, voting is compulsory for all resident Australian citizens—and eligible British citizens (i.e., those permanently resident and on the electoral roll prior to the passage of the Australia Act) —who are over the legal voting age of 18.

Since only about 35 per cent of Western Australia's population is located in towns and small settlements across an area of over 2.6 million kilometres outside the Perth metropolitan area, until 2005 the state used a zonally weighted electoral system for both houses of parliament. In Legislative Council elections, this meant that a vote in Perth was worth only half a rural vote, even though Perth accounts for three-fourths of the state's population.

On 20 May 2005, with the official enactment of the Electoral Amendment and Repeal Act 2005 (No.1 of 2005), the State was split into 6 regions by community of interest, 3 metropolitan and 3 rural, each electing 6 members to the Legislative council.[2]

History[edit]

The Legislative Council was Western Australia's first representative parliament. It was first created in 1832 as an appointive body. Initially it consisted only of official members; that is, public officials whose office guaranteed them a place on the Council. Three years later, an attempt was made to expand the Council by including four unofficial members to be nominated by the governor. However, the public demand for elected rather than nominated members was so great that implementation of the change was delayed until 1838.

In 1850, the British Parliament passed an act that permitted the Australian colonies to establish legislative councils that were one-third nominated and two-thirds elected, but only under the condition that the colonies take responsibility for the costs of their own government. Because of this provision, Western Australia was slow to adopt the system. In 1867, the governor responded to public demand for representative government by holding unofficial elections and subsequently nominating each elected person to the Council. Three years later, representative government was officially adopted and the Legislative Council was changed to consist of 12 elected members and 6 members nominated by the governor. Suffrage was not universal, with only landowners and those with a prescribed level of income being eligible to vote.

When Western Australia gained responsible government in 1890, a bicameral system was adopted and the Legislative Council became a house of review for legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly. This Council consisted of 15 members, all nominated by the governor. However, it was provided that once the population of the colony reached 60,000, the Legislative Council would become elective. The colony was expected to take many years to reach a population of 60,000 but the discovery of the eastern goldfields and the consequent gold rush caused that figure to be reached by 1893. The constitution was then amended to make the Legislative Council an elective house of 21 seats, with three members to be elected from each of seven provinces. The first election to the Council was held following the dissolution of parliament in June 1894.

This system was retained until 1962 when, over the next two years, the Council was reformed, creating a series of two-member electorates. Members were elected for six years with provision for re-election of one every three years. Universal suffrage was also granted in order to bring the Council into line with the Assembly. This arrangement remained until 10 June 1987 when the Burke Labor government, with the conditional support of the National Party, introduced the present system of multi-member electorates and a method of proportional representation which is, however, 'weighted' to give extra representation to rural constituents. The legislation was made possible because the Australian Democrats in 1986 negotiated an election preference flow to Labor in return for an explicit undertaking on Legislative Council electoral reform, which resulted in the defeat of a number of Liberal councillors who were committed to opposing such reform.[3][4]

Until 2005 the state used a zonally weighted electoral system for both houses of parliament. In effect, this meant that the vote of a Perth voter counted for less than that of a rural voter. The difference was less marked in the Assembly than in the Legislative Council, whose metropolitan regions are numerically weighted so that up to two rural members are elected by the same number of votes needed to elect a single member from Perth. This style of weighting has not been adopted by any other Australian state.

While the Liberal Party and Labor Party were both advantaged and disadvantaged by this system, it strongly benefited the National Party. During the 1990s, Liberal Premier Richard Court considered changing the system along the lines of that in place in South Australia, but backed down in the face of National Party opposition.

On 20 May 2005, with the official enactment of the Electoral Amendment and Repeal Act 2005 (No.1 of 2005), the State was split into 6 regions by community of interest, 3 metropolitan and 3 rural, each electing 6 members to the Legislative council. The regions were defined geographically and functionally, and also included partial requirements for equal numbers of Legislative Assembly districts. However, all previously elected members remained until the following election on 6 September 2008.[2]

Current distribution of seats[edit]

Party Seats held Legislative Council
Liberal 17                                  
Labor 11                      
Nationals 5          
Greens (WA) 2    
Shooters and Fishers Party 1  

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Election of the Legislative Council on website of Parliament of Western Australia
  2. ^ a b http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/wa/num_act/eaara20051o2005296/s4.html
  3. ^ Australian Democrats media statement by Jean Jenkins, 10/6/1987.
  4. ^ Electoral Reform expected to alter balance of power, The Australian, 11/6/1987, p.5