Victorian Legislative Council

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Legislative Council
Parliament of Victoria
Coat of arms or logo
Type
Type
History
Founded1851
Leadership
Shaun Leane, Labor
Since 19 December 2018
Deputy President
Wendy Lovell, Liberal
Since 19 December 2018
Structure
Seats40
VIC Legislative Council diagram.svg
Political groups
Government (18)
     Labor (18)

Opposition (11)
     Liberal (10)
     National (1)

Crossbench (11)
     Justice (2)
     Liberal Democratic (2)
     Animal Justice (1)
     Greens (1)
     Reason (1)
     Shooters, Fishers, Farmers (1)
     Sustainable Australia (1)
     Transport Matters (1)
     Independent (1)
Elections
Single transferable vote with group voting tickets
Last election
24 November 2018
Next election
26 November 2022
Meeting place
Vic legislative council 1878.jpg
Legislative Council Chamber,
Parliament House, Melbourne,
Victoria, Australia
Website
Vic Legislative Council

The Victorian Legislative Council (VLC) is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Victoria, Australia; the lower house being the Legislative Assembly. Both houses sit at Parliament House in Spring Street, Melbourne. The Legislative Council serves as a house of review, in a similar fashion to its federal counterpart, the Australian Senate. Although it is possible for legislation to be first introduced in the Council, most bills receive their first hearing in the Legislative Assembly.

The presiding officer of the chamber is the President of the Legislative Council. The Council presently comprises 40 members serving four-year terms from eight electoral regions each with five members. With each region electing 5 members using the single transferable vote, the quota in each region for election, after distribution of preferences, is 16.7% (one-sixth). Ballot papers for elections for the Legislative Council have above and below the line voting. Voting above the line requires only a ‘1’ being placed in one box, and group voting tickets voting has applied since 1988.[1] Semi-optional voting is available if a voter votes below the line.

History[edit]

First Legislative Council[edit]

VLC electoral districts, 1851–1854

The separate colony of Victoria was proclaimed on 1 July 1851 and writs for the election of the first Legislative Council were issued at the same time for the 20 elected members.[2] The Legislative Council initially consisted of 30 members, 10 of which were nominated by the Lieutenant-Governor and 20 were elected from 16 "electoral districts", with Melbourne electing 3 members, and Geelong and the county of Bourke electing 2 members each.[3] The electors were male British subjects over the age of 21 years, who owned freehold valued at £100 or a householder paying rent of £10 per year,[3] both very large sums at the time. Members of the Legislative Council were unpaid, further restricting participation of those without independent means. It took some time before the Legislative Council was elected and ready to sit.[4] The Legislative Council met for the first time in November 1851 at St Patrick's Hall, which had been built in 1847 in Bourke Street, Melbourne.[5] The Legislative Council sat there until the opening of the Parliament House in 1856. James Frederick Palmer was the presiding officer of the Council, then called speaker.

The Legislative Council was expanded in 1853 to 18 nominees and 36 elected members.[6] A further expansion of the Council occurred in 1855, when 8 new members were elected from five new electorates, with one new nominee.[7] [8]

The first Legislative Council existed for five years and was responsible for at least three significant and enduring contributions to the parliamentary system of Victoria:

  • it drafted the Constitution of Victoria, which provides the framework for the system of government in Victoria;
  • it introduced the secret ballot. The Victorian Electoral Act 1856 introduced secret ballots on 19 March 1856,[9] an innovation at the time but now common around the world; and
  • it ordered the construction of the Victorian Parliament House in Melbourne.

The new constitution was approved by the Legislative Council in March 1854 and was sent to Britain where it was passed by the United Kingdom Parliament as the Victoria Constitution Act 1855, received Royal Assent on 16 July 1855 and was proclaimed in Victoria on 23 November 1855.[10][11] The Constitution established a Westminster-style system of responsible government that continues in Victoria today.[12]

Second Legislative Council[edit]

VLC electoral provinces, 1856–1882

The new Constitution came into effect in 1856. It created a bicameral Parliament of Victoria, with the Legislative Assembly being the lower house and the Council being the upper house. The Council consisted of 30 members, with 5 members being elected from each of the 6 provinces.[13] The Parliament of Victoria first met on 21 November 1856 at the almost completed main sections of Parliament House. James Frederick Palmer was elected first President of the Council.

The Legislative Council was later elected from a varying number of provinces. In 1882 several new provinces were created while Central and Eastern were abolished.[14] In 1904 more provinces were created[15] and two members (MLCs) represented each province. The terms for members were two Assembly terms, and one member was elected in rotation at each election, by majority-preferential (AV) vote. Until 1950 the Legislative Council was elected on a restricted property-based franchise and always had a conservative majority.

Until 1958, elections for the Legislative Council were not held in conjunction with those for the Legislative Assembly; and starting at the 1961 election they have been held at the same time. Prior to the 2006 election, the Legislative Council consisted of 44 members elected for two terms of the Legislative Assembly from 22 two-member provinces. Half the members were elected at each election on a rotation basis. This old system tended to favour the Liberal Party and the National Party (often in Coalition) over the Labor Party and other parties.[citation needed] This resulted in many instances of a Labor government being faced with an opposition-controlled Council — a rare occurrence elsewhere in Australia.

2003 reforms[edit]

The current eight regions of the Legislative Council.

The system changed for the 2006 Victorian election, as a result of major reforms passed by the Labor government, led by Steve Bracks, in 2003.[16] Under the new system the State is divided into eight regions each of which returns five members, who serve terms linked to the Legislative Assembly, which has fixed four-year terms unless earlier dissolved in exceptional circumstances.

Each region consists of 11 contiguous Legislative Assembly electoral districts with about 420,000 electors. Five regions are metropolitan (Eastern Metropolitan, Northern Metropolitan, South Eastern Metropolitan, Southern Metropolitan, and Western Metropolitan) and three are non-urban regions (Eastern Victoria, Northern Victoria and Western Victoria).

Since 2006 members have been elected using the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. With each region electing 5 members, the quota for a seat in each region, after distribution of preferences, is 16.7% (one-sixth), resulting in an increase in the number of minor parties represented in the Legislative Council.

At the same time, the Council's ability to block supply was removed.

Composition[edit]

Since the 2006 Victorian state election the Legislative Council has had 40 members serving four-year terms, elected from 8 electoral regions, each returning 5 members.

Prior to the 2006 election, the Legislative Council consisted of 44 members elected for two terms of the Legislative Assembly from 22 two-member provinces. Half the members were elected at each election on a rotation basis. The number of members was increased to 44 from 36 in 1976 and from 34 in 1967.

Property qualifications for voting in the Legislative Council were abolished for the 1952 Legislative Council election, increasing the number of eligible voters from 0.5 million in 1949 to 1.4 million in 1952, and resulting in a large increase in the number of Labor MLCs. However, Labor achieved a majority in the Council only at the 1985 and the 2002 elections.

Current distribution of seats[edit]

The composition of the Council following the 2018 Victorian state election is:

Party Seats
  Labor 18
Liberal/National Coalition (11)
    Liberal 10
  National 1
  Justice 2
  Liberal Democratic 2
  Animal Justice 1
  Greens 1
  Reason 1
  Shooters, Fishers, Farmers 1
  Sustainable Australia 1
  Transport Matters 1
  Independent 1
 Total 40

Distribution by region[edit]