Fact Sheet D4

Fact Sheet D4: Altering Victoria's Constitution

 

Summary: The Constitution is Victoria's most important legal document. It was first written in 1854, but has changed many times since then. It sets out the powers of Parliament, the Governor and local government. As the Constitution is very important, Parliament must follow special procedures to change some parts of it. We call those parts entrenched provisions.

 

Victoria's first Constitution Special procedures to make changes
Victoria's current Constitution Amendments to bills altering the Constitution
Parliament can make changes pdfAltering the Constitution summary table

 

Victoria's first Constitution

The United Kingdom Parliament passed a law in 1850 creating the colony of Victoria, separating the land from New South Wales.

The New South Wales Parliament agreed to the separation, which began on 1 July 1851. The changes created an initial structure for Victoria, including a Legislative Council. The Council met for the first time in November 1851.

In 1854 the Council agreed to a bill setting up a Constitution for Victoria. It made Victoria a self-governing colony and created a Legislative Assembly. The United Kingdom Parliament approved the bill, with some amendments. Queen Victoria assented to it on 16 July 1855.

Victoria's current Constitution

The Constitution Act 1975 is Victoria's current Constitution, and Victoria's most important legal document. Among other things it defines the powers and responsibilities of the Parliament and sets up the Supreme Court.

Parliament can make changes

Parliament can pass laws to alter the Constitution. These are often significant changes, such as who can vote in elections, and methods of voting. As the changes can be major, in many cases both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council must follow special procedures to make them.

Special procedures to make changes

Reflecting the importance of the Constitution, there are restrictions on how some parts of it can be changed. We call these parts entrenched provisions.

Before 2003, an absolute majority of members had to pass a bill to change entrenched provisions. In the Legislative Assembly, this meant that 45 out of 88 members had to agree to the second and third readings.

Parliament made changes in 2003. Now, different procedures apply, depending on which entrenched provisions are amended. These procedures are outlined below, and in the table on pages 6 and 7.

Referendum

Parliament passes the bill, without needing to follow any special procedures. Victorians then vote in a referendum, and a majority must agree to the changes. Referendum approval is needed for major changes, such as altering the number of members of Parliament.

Special majority

Three-fifths of members in each of the Assembly and the Legislative Council must vote to pass the third reading. Examples are changes relating to the Governor and who can vote in an election.

Absolute majority

More than half of the members in each of the Assembly and the Council must agree to the third reading. Relevant provisions include changes concerning the Supreme Court and judges.

See the table in this fact sheet for more detail.

Amendments to bills altering the Constitution

Assembly amendments

The special procedures do not apply to amendments made in the Legislative Assembly to bills altering the Constitution. Amendments are made before the third reading, and it is only then that an absolute/special majority of members must agree.

The situation may be different when the Assembly considers amendments made by the Legislative Council: see below.

Council amendments

Sometimes the Council amends a bill which the Assembly has already passed with an absolute/special majority. For the Assembly to accept the changes, members need only agree to each amendment with a simple majority. There is no need to pass the third reading again.

Occasionally, the Council amendments change the bill to one which alters the Constitution. The Assembly can agree to the amendments with a simple majority, but must pass the third reading again, with the appropriate absolute/special majority.

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