Parliament

Victoria's Constitution provides that Victoria is governed by a Parliament comprising of the Crown represented by the Governor, the Legislative Assembly (Lower House), and the Legislative Council (Upper House). Members of Parliament are democratically elected. Governments are formed in the Lower House based on the ability to command a majority of votes in the Legislative Assembly. At present, there are 88 Members of the Legislative Assembly and 40 Members of the Legislative Council.

The members of the Upper House are elected by a method of proportional representation. The State  consists of 8 Legislative Council regions, which returns 5 Upper House Members each. Every Legislative Council region  consists of 11 Legislative Assembly districts, with each Assembly district returning one Lower House Member to Parliament.

The Legislative Assembly

The Constitution originally provided for 60 Members of the Legislative Assembly (the Lower House) who would represent 37 Electoral Districts.

There are now 88 Members. Each Member represents one Electoral District.

The Constitution specifies that the Legislative Assembly is the seat of Government. The political party, faction, or group that can claim the support of a majority of the Lower House membership forms a ministry. The Government in turn is led by the Premier.

The Opposition comprises the largest party or grouping that does not support the Government.

e Constitution places no limits upon the number of parties, groups, or non-aligned individuals (Independents), who may wish to seek membership of the Parliament. Presently there are three parties represented in the Parliament.

The Constitution provides that the Lower House is the source of all money Bills. Financial management matters concerned with State revenue raising and expenditure, or with the passage of the annual Victorian Budget, must therefore be initiated in the Legislative Assembly.

Members of the Legislative Assembly serve for a minimum of three and for a maximum of four years. During the fourth year of the Government's term, the Premier advises the Governor of the Ministry's preferred General Election date. Provided all is in accordance with the Constitution, the Governor dissolves the Parliament and a General Election for a new Parliament then takes place.

The Legislative Council

There are 40 Members of the Legislative Council, or Upper House. They represent 22 Electoral Provinces with two Legislative Councillors representing each such province.

Originally the Legislative Council comprised 30 Members who, five at a time, represented six large Electoral Provinces.

Legislative Councillors serve for two terms of the Legislative Assembly. At any General Election, half of all Legislative Councillors are constitutionally obliged to submit themselves to the electorate. In this way the Legislative Council, unlike the Legislative Assembly, never formally dissolves.

The Legislative Council serves as a 'Second House' or 'House of Review ' for the Legislative Assembly. Although Legislative Councillors can, and do, initiate legislation, their principal task is to provide 'second opinions' on those Bills and measures proposed by the Lower House.

This bicameral, or two House, system of checks and balances has fundamentally shaped the nature of parliamentary democracy in Victoria. Disagreements between the two houses have resulted in 'deadlocks' and have provoked 'constitutional crises' particularly in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1930s. Such disputes have earned Victoria's Legislative Council the reputation of being one of the most powerful Upper Houses in the world.

Further Reading

Cowen, Z., 'Historical Survey of the Constitution', in C. E. Sayers (ed.), One Hundred Years of Responsible Government in Victoria, Government Printer, Melbourne, 1958.

Serle, A. G., The Golden Age. A History of the Colony of Victoria, 1851-1861, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1963.

Wright, R., A People's Counsel. A History of the Parliament of Victoria, 1856-1990, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992.