Purpose of the Constitution
Victoria's Constitution is set out in the Constitution Act 1975. A copy of the Constitution Act 1975 is available on the Legislation website at www.legislation.vic.gov.au (go to 'Victorian Law Today', select 'Acts' , 'C' and scroll down to Constitution Act 1975. This will take you to the Constitution as it is today).
The Constitution provides the framework within which parliamentary democracy and responsible government operate in Victoria. It sets out the basic rules relating to the Crown (the Queen and the Governor), the Legislative Council, the Legislative Assembly, local government, the Supreme Court and the Executive (ministers and the public service).
The Constitution does not set out everything about democracy and government in Victoria. It does not, for example, cover Cabinet, the Opposition or political parties. Instead such concepts have been based on the Parliament of the United Kingdom or have developed over time.
The Constitution and the Parliament of Victoria
The Constitution defines the powers and responsibilities of the Parliament of Victoria. In particular, it specifies that the Parliament of Victoria comprises the Crown, a Legislative Council and a Legislative Assembly. It gives the power to the Parliament to makes laws for Victoria.
The Constitution specifies:
- The number of members in the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly
- When general elections must be held
- The qualifications required to be a member of the Council or the Assembly
- The eligibility of electors.
The History of the Constitution
The Constitution was drafted in Melbourne by Victoria's first Legislative Council in 1853-54. It was sent to England and approved by the British Parliament in 1855, and was proclaimed in Victoria on 23 November 1855.
The details of the Constitution are not irrevocably fixed. As Victoria's social and political circumstances have altered, the Constitution has been adapted to meet new challenges.
Parliamentary membership numbers, voter eligibility, payment of members, voting methods, size of the ministry, electorate numbers and the powers and responsibilities of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly are some of the constitutional provisions that have been modified or altered since 1855.
One of the most important changes took place in 1975. From 1855 until 1975, Victoria's Constitution existed solely as an Act of the British Parliament. On 22 October 1975 the Constitution was proclaimed as an Act of the Parliament of Victoria.
In 2003 the Constitution was further amended by the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003 so that changes to some of its provisions, such as the representation of Victorian voters in Parliament, will now have to be determined by a referendum. See Changing the Constitution below.
The 2003 amendments also provided for fixed-four year terms for both Houses, election of the Legislative Council by proportional representation, removal of the Council's power to block a supply bill (the budget) and a dispute resolution process for bills for which cannot be reached. These are regarded as some of the most significant changes to the Victorian Constitution in its 150-year history.
Far from being an historical artefact, the Constitution is therefore central to the way in which democracy operates in Victoria. By defining what is possible it protects the interests of all Victorians.
Changing the Constitution
The Constitution is changed by the Parliament agreeing to a bill that makes amendments to the Constitution Act 1975.
Some parts of the Constitution can only be changed if certain requirements are met. Those special requirements and the sections to which they apply are listed in the Constitution; these are known as entrenched provisions. Not all sections are affected.
Three possible requirements exist:
1. A bill passed by Parliament must also be agreed to by a majority of electors voting at a referendum; or
2. 3/5 of members of Parliament in both the Assembly and the Council must agree to the third reading of the bill (a special majority); or
3. An absolute majority (half plus one) of members of Parliament in both the Assembly and the Council must agree to the third reading of a bill.
For more information see Legislative Assembly Fact Sheet D3: Altering Victoria's Constitution.
Victoria's Constitution, 3rd ed, 1997, Law Press, Richard McGarvie, John Waugh and Department of Premier and Cabinet. [return to top]Last Updated on Friday, 09 August 2013