New South Wales Legislative Council

Last updated

Legislative Council
57th Parliament
Coat of Arms of New South Wales.svg
Type
Type
History
Founded25 August 1824;198 years ago (25 August 1824)
Leadership
Matthew Mason-Cox, Liberal
since 4 May 2021
Deputy President and Chair of Committees
Wes Fang, Nationals
since 22 March 2022
Damien Tudehope, Liberal
since 21 December 2021
Deputy Leader of the Government
Sarah Mitchell, Nationals
since 2 April 2019
Penny Sharpe, Labor
since 8 June 2021
Government Whip
Shayne Mallard, Liberal
since 8 June 2021
Deputy Government Whip
Scott Barrett, Nationals
since 22 March 2022
Structure
Seats42
Seating map of the NSW Legislative Council 2021.png
Political groups
Government (17)
  •   Liberal (11)
  •   National (6)

Opposition (14)

Crossbench (11)

Length of term
8 years
Elections
Single transferable vote
Last election
23 March 2019
Next election
25 March 2023
Meeting place
The legislative council chamber of NSW.jpg
Legislative Council Chamber
Parliament House, Sydney,
New South Wales, Australia
Website
NSW Legislative Council

The New South Wales Legislative Council, often referred to as the upper house, is one of the two chambers of the parliament of the Australian state of New South Wales. The other is the Legislative Assembly. Both sit at Parliament House in the state capital, Sydney. It is normal for legislation to be first deliberated on and passed by the Legislative Assembly before being considered by the Legislative Council, which acts in the main as a house of review.

Contents

The Legislative Council has 42 members, elected by proportional representation in which the whole state is a single electorate. Members serve eight-year terms, which are staggered, with half the Council being elected every four years, roughly coinciding with elections to the Legislative Assembly.

History

The parliament of New South Wales is Australia's oldest legislature. It had its beginnings when New South Wales was a British colony under the control of the Governor and was first established in 1823 [1] by the New South Wales Act. [2] A small, 5-member appointed Legislative Council began meeting on 25 August 1824 to advise the Governor on legislative matters. It grew to seven members in 1825, and between ten and fifteen in 1829. Under the Constitution Act 1843, the Legislative Council was expanded to 36 members, of which 12 were appointed by the Governor in the name of the Crown, and the remainder elected from among eligible landholders. [3] In 1851, the council was enlarged to 54 members with 36 of its members elected by adult males who met certain property requirements and 18 appointed members. [4] In 1856, under a new Constitution, the Parliament became bicameral with a fully elected Legislative Assembly and a fully appointed Legislative Council with a Government taking over most of the legislative powers of the Governor. The right to vote was extended to all adult males in 1858. [5]

First meeting of the NSW Legislative Council in Parliament House, 1843 (chamber now the Legislative Assembly). NSWLC 1843.jpg
First meeting of the NSW Legislative Council in Parliament House, 1843 (chamber now the Legislative Assembly).

On 22 May 1856, the newly constituted New South Wales Parliament opened and sat for the first time. With the new 54-member Legislative Assembly taking over the council chamber, a second meeting chamber for the 21-member upper house had to be added to the Parliament building in Macquarie Street. [1] In 1901, New South Wales became a state of the Commonwealth of Australia and many government functions were transferred to the new Commonwealth government. In 1902, women gained the right to vote and the current Constitution of New South Wales was adopted, [5] and in 1918, reforms permitted women to be members of parliament. [5]

In 1925, 1926 and 1929, Premier Jack Lang made attempts to abolish the Legislative Council, following the example of the Queensland Legislative Council in 1922, but all were unsuccessful. The debate did, however, result in another round of reforms, and in 1933, the law was changed so that a quarter of the Legislative Council was elected every three years by members of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council, rather than being appointed by the Governor. In 1962 Indigenous Australians gained the right to vote in all state elections. In 1978, the Council became a directly elected body in a program of electoral reform introduced by the Wran Labor government. The number of members was reduced to 45, although transitional arrangements meant that there were 43 members from 1978 to 1981, and 44 from 1981 to 1984. Further reform in 1991 by the Greiner Liberal-National government saw the size of the Legislative Council cut to 42 members, with half being elected every 4 years. In 1991, the Legislative Assembly reduced from 109 to 99 Members and then to 93 members in 1999. [6]

As with the federal parliament and other Australian states and territories, voting in the election to select members for the council is compulsory for all New South Wales citizens over the age of 18. As the result of a 1995 referendum, every four years half the seats in the Council come up for election on the fourth Saturday in March, barring exceptional circumstances.

The Governor's Chair in the Legislative Council chamber Governor's Chair in the legislative council chamber of NSW.jpg
The Governor's Chair in the Legislative Council chamber

The Queen of Australia has a throne in the Legislative Council, and Queen Elizabeth II has opened the New South Wales Parliament on two occasions, on 4 February 1954, as part of her first visit to Australia, which was also the first occasion in which the monarch of Australia had opened a session of any Australian parliament. The other occasion was on 20 February 1992, during her visit to Sydney to celebrate the sesquicentenary of the incorporation of the City of Sydney, on which occasion she stated:

This is my second opportunity to address this Parliament – a Parliament which I described on the previous occasion, in 1954, as the Mother Parliament of Australia. It is interesting to reflect that that was the first time on which the Sovereign had opened a Session of an Australian Parliament. I was also on my first visit to Australia as your Queen. I have returned to New South Wales eight times since then and am always delighted by the warm and generous hospitality accorded to Prince Philip and me by the people of this State. On this occasion I have come to join in commemorating Sydney's first one hundred and fifty years as a city. [7]

Presidency of the Legislative Council

From 1846 to 1856 the title of the presiding officer was Speaker of the Legislative Council, and after that date it has been President of the Legislative Council.

Chamber

The Legislative Council chamber is a prefabricated cast-iron building, intended as an "iron store and dwelling with ornamental front", which had been manufactured in Scotland and shipped to Victoria. In 1856, when plans for a new chamber for the Legislative Council were not ready in time, this building was purchased and shipped to Sydney, where it was erected as an extension to Parliament House. The Legislative Council chamber is furnished in red, which follows the British tradition for the upper house. [8]

Composition and powers

Proportional representation, with the whole state as a single electorate, means that the quota for election is small. This almost guarantees the representation of minor parties in the Legislative Council, including micro-parties that might attract less than 2% of the primary vote but are elected through preferences.

In the 1999 elections, a record number of parties contested seats in the council, resulting in an unwieldy ballot paper (referred to as the "table cloth" ballot paper), and a complex exchange of preferences between the numerous parties running candidates. As a result, party registration requirements have since been made more restrictive (e.g., requiring more voters as members, and a larger number of candidates to become eligible for a simple "above-the-line" voting box), and the replacement of party preference arrangements with optional preferential voting. This reduced the number of parties contesting elections and increased the difficulty for small, upstart parties to be elected, so that only five are now represented in the council (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers; Christian Democrats; the Greens; One Nation and the Animal Justice Party), along with Labor, Liberal, and National Party members.

Current distribution of seats (2019–2023)

PartyCurrent Council
Labor 14              
Liberal 11           
National 6      
Greens 3   
One Nation 2  
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 2  
Animal Justice 2  
Independent 1 
Seniors United 1 

The President of the Legislative Council has a casting vote should the result be equal from among those present eligible and choosing to vote. With 42 members, with one removed as president, a majority is 21 of the 41 possible of the whole 42.

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."

See also

Notes

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    The second Parkes ministry was the sixteenth ministry of the Colony of New South Wales, and was led by Sir Henry Parkes. It was the second of five occasions that Parkes was Leader of the Government.

    Suffrage in Australia refers to the right to vote for people living in Australia, including all its six component states and territories, as well as local councils. The colonies of Australia began to grant universal male suffrage from 1856, with women's suffrage following between the 1890s and 1900s. Some jurisdictions introduced racial restrictions on voting from 1885. Such restrictions had been eradicated by the 1960s. Today, the right to vote at federal, state and local levels of government is enjoyed by citizens of Australia over the age of 18 years.

    Parkes ministry (1878–1883)

    The third Parkes ministry was the nineteenth ministry of the Colony of New South Wales, and was led by Sir Henry Parkes in a coalition with Sir John Robertson. It was the third of five occasions that Parkes was Leader of the Government.

    Parkes ministry (1889–1891)

    The fifth Parkes ministry was the 26th ministry of the Colony of New South Wales, and was led by the seventh Premier, Sir Henry Parkes. It was the fifth and final occasion that Parkes was Premier. The title of Premier was widely used to refer to the Leader of Government, but was not a formal position in the government until 1920. Instead the Premier was appointed to another portfolio, usually Colonial Secretary. Having served in the New South Wales Legislative Council between 1854 and 1856, Parkes was elected in the first free elections for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly held in 1856, however resigned from Parliament later that year. He served in the Assembly on several occasions, between 1858 and 1870, being forced to resign on 4 occasions due to his personal insolvency. He came to power as Premier on the first occasion in 1872, serving as Premier for a period of three years. However, Parkes lost the confidence of the Assembly following Governor Robinson's decision to release of the bushranger Frank Gardiner led to the defeat of the ministry in 1875.

    A referendum concerning the reform of the New South Wales Legislative Council was put to New South Wales voters on 13 May 1933 and was passed by the voters with a margin of 2.94%. The text of the question was:

    Do you approve of the Bill entitled "A Bill to reform the constitution and alter the Powers of the Legislative Council; to reduce and limit the number of Members of the Legislative Council; to reconstitute the Legislative Council in accordance with the reformed constitution; to amend the Constitution Act, 1902, and certain other Acts; and for purposes connected therewith."

    References

    1. 1 2 "Role and history of the Council". Parliament of New South Wales. Archived from the original on 21 August 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
    2. "Democratic Growth in New South Wales" (PDF). Parliament of New South Wales. Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 June 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
    3. "An Act to provide for the division of the Colony of New South Wales into Electoral Districts and for the Election of Members to serve in the Legislative Council.". Act No. 16 of 23 February 1843 (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 September 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
    4. "An Act to provide for the division of the Colony of New South Wales after the separation of the District of Port Phillip therefrom into Electoral Districts and for the Election of Members to serve in the Legislative Council.". Act No. 48 of 2 May 1851 (PDF). Australasian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
    5. 1 2 3 "1856 to 1889 – Responsible Government and Colonial Development". Parliament of New South Wales. Archived from the original on 11 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
    6. "Role and History of the Legislative Assembly". Parliament of New South Wales. Archived from the original on 23 April 2011. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
    7. "The Queen's Speech". NSW Parliament – Hansard. Archived from the original on 6 November 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2010.
    8. Parliament of New South Wales: History Bulletin 1 "The Heritage Buildings of Parliament House". Sydney: Parliament of New South Wales. 2011.

    Further reading