President of the New South Wales Legislative Council

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President of the
New South Wales Legislative Council
The Hon. Don Harwin, MLC

since 3 May 2011
Style The Honourable
Mr / Madam President
(in the Council)
Appointer The Monarch's representative at the behest of the Legislative Council
Inaugural holder Sir Alfred Stephen
Formation 20 May 1856
Deputy The Hon. Jenny Gardiner, MLC

The President of the New South Wales Legislative Council is the presiding officer of the upper house of the Parliament of New South Wales, the Legislative Council. The presiding officer of the lower house is the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. The role of President has generally been a partisan office, filled by the governing party of the time. The incumbent President is no exception, currently held by Don Harwin of the Liberal Party of Australia.


The President is elected by the Council in a secret ballot. The Clerk of the Council conducts the election. The Presidency has always been a partisan office and the nominee of the government party has nearly always been elected—although this cannot be guaranteed since the government of the day does not necessarily have a majority in the Council. The President is assisted by an elected Deputy President. The traditional practice has been that the government nominates an MLC to be elected as President, and the Opposition nominates an MLC to be Deputy President. However, as with now, this is not always the case.


The President has a casting vote (in the event of an equality of votes). Like the Speaker, the President continues to attend party meetings, and at general elections stands as a party candidate. On the other hand, the President does not usually take part in debates in the Council and does not speak in public on party-political issues. He or she is expected to conduct the business of the Council in an impartial and dignified manner.

Section 22I of the NSW Constitution states that "All questions arising in the Legislative Council shall be decided by a majority of the votes of the Members present other than the President or other Member presiding and when the votes are equal the President or other Member presiding shall have a casting vote."


The President’s principal duty is to preside over the Council, although he or she is assisted in this by the Deputy President and a panel of Acting Deputy Presidents, who usually preside during routine debates. The occupant of the Chair must maintain order in the Council, uphold the Standing Orders (rules of procedure) and protect the rights of backbench Councillors. The President, in conjunction with the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, also administers Parliament House, Sydney, with the assistance of administrative staff.

Although the President does not have the same degree of disciplinary power as the Speaker does, the Council is not as rowdy as most Australian legislative chambers, and thus his or her disciplinary powers are seldom exercised.

Perquisites and ceremony[edit]

Following the Westminster tradition inherited from the House of Lords of the United Kingdom, the traditional dress of the speaker includes components of Court dress such as the black silk lay-type gown (similar to a Queen's Counsel gown), a wing collar and a lace jabot or bands (another variation included a white bow tie with a lace jabot), bar jacket, and a full-bottomed wig. The dress of speakers has often variated according to the party in power, but is determinate on the personal choice of the speaker. Most Labor party Presidents eschewed the wig while retaining the court dress, while conservative and independent speakers tended to wear the full dress.

The President, currently, no longer wears the full traditional court dress outfit. Max Willis (1991-1998) was the last President to do so. From 1998 to 2011, all the Presidents opted not to wear any dress at all, preferring normal business attire. However, upon his election, President Harwin returned to tradition by wearing the gown during question time and on significant occasions such as the Opening of Parliament. However, there is nothing stopping any given Speaker, if they choose to do so, from assuming traditional court dress or anything they deem appropriate.

List of Presidents of the Legislative Council[edit]

Order Member Party Term begin Term end Notes
1 The Hon. Sir Alfred Stephen None 20 May 1856 28 January 1857
2 The Hon. John Plunkett None 29 January 1857 6 February 1858
3 The Hon. Sir William Burton None 9 February 1858 10 March 1861
4 The Hon. William Wentworth None 24 June 1861 10 October 1862
5 The Hon. Sir Terence Murray None 14 October 1862 22 June 1873
6 The Hon. Sir John Hay None 8 July 1873 10 January 1892
7 The Hon. Sir John Lackey None 26 January 1892 23 May 1903
8 The Hon. Sir Francis Suttor Free Trade 23 May 1903 4 April 1915
9 The Hon. Frederick Flowers Labor 27 April 1915 14 December 1928
10 The Hon. Sir John Peden Nationalist 5 February 1929 22 April 1946
United Australia
11 The Hon. Ernest Farrar Liberal 30 April 1946 16 June 1952
12 The Hon. William Dickson Labor 18 August 1952 22 May 1966
13 The Hon. Sir Harry Budd Country 9 August 1966 5 November 1978
14 The Hon. Johno Johnson Labor 7 November 1978 3 July 1991
15 The Hon. Max Willis Liberal 3 July 1991 29 June 1998
16 The Hon. Virginia Chadwick Liberal 29 June 1998 5 March 1999
17 The Hon. Dr Meredith Burgmann Labor 11 May 1999 2 March 2007
18 The Hon. Peter Primrose Labor 8 May 2007 17 November 2009
19 The Hon. Amanda Fazio Labor 24 November 2009 3 May 2011
20 The Hon. Don Harwin Liberal 3 May 2011 present