Fact Sheet H1

Fact Sheet H1: Roles in the Assembly

 

Summary: Members have various roles in the Legislative Assembly, many worked out by their political parties. However, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are elected by Assembly members. Parliamentary staff have specific duties as employees of the Parliament. This fact sheet summarises the parliamentary roles of members and the duties of key staff.

 

Member of Parliament Independent member
Speaker Leader of the House
Deputy Speaker Leader of Opposition Business
Premier Whip
Leader of the Opposition Frontbench
Minister Backbench
Shadow minister Parliamentary committee Chair
Parliamentary Secretary Clerk of the Legislative Assembly
Opposition Serjeant-at-Arms
Third party Find out more details on Parliament's website

 

Member of Parliament

Members of Parliament represent constituents in the Victorian Parliament.

In the Legislative Assembly there are 88 members, each representing a separate electorate. There are 40 members of the Legislative Council, with five members in each of eight regions.

Members can belong to a political party or be independent. In Parliament, members can ask ministers questions, speak about issues in debates, as well as consider and propose new laws.

Members of the Assembly use the title 'MP', for example 'Mary Smith MP'.

 

Speaker

At the start of a new parliament the Legislative Assembly elects one member to be Speaker. The Speaker chairs debates impartially and enforces the Assembly's rules. He or she is the most important officer in the Assembly, and is often called the 'presiding officer'.

Outside the Chamber, the Speaker has ceremonial duties and is responsible for the Department of the Legislative Assembly and the Department of Parliamentary Services. The Speaker's role has a long and colourful history, developing over centuries in the United Kingdom's House of Commons.

Find out more: Fact Sheet H2: The Speaker.

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Deputy Speaker

At the start of a new parliament the Legislative Assembly elects a Deputy Speaker to help with the Speaker's duties.

The Deputy Speaker's main duty is chairing some debates, particularly the consideration in detail stage of bills. During this stage, members debate clauses of bills in detail and consider amendments.

 

Premier

The Premier is the Victorian government's head and ultimately responsible for government policy and decisions. He or she is also the leader of the party with a majority in the Legislative Assembly.

There is no limit on how long a member can be Premier. Sir Henry Bolte is Victoria's longest serving Premier. He was in office for over 17 years between 1955 and 1972. Thomas Holloway spent the shortest time in office, only four days in October 1952.

 

Leader of the Opposition

The Leader of the Opposition is the leader of the largest non-government party (or coalition of parties) in the Legislative Assembly.

He or she leads and directs the opposition's policies and strategies. If the government loses power, the Leader of the Opposition is seen as the alternative Premier.

 

Minister

Ministers are members of Parliament chosen by the Premier to take on additional responsibilities. Each minister has a different subject area to look after, known as a portfolio. Often ministers have more than one portfolio.

The Premier can choose up to 22 ministers, and they can be members of either the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council. Each minister is in charge of one or more government departments or agencies.

Ministers work together as the government. When they meet together to decide policy and new laws, they are called 'the Cabinet'.

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Shadow minister

Shadow ministers are members of the opposition who keep a check on the activities and responsibilities of government ministers. Each shadow minister is responsible for at least one subject area. In this way, they closely follow (or 'shadow') the work of all government ministers.

Together shadow ministers make up the 'Shadow Cabinet'. This prepares the opposition to form government if it wins power.

 

Parliamentary secretary

A parliamentary secretary is a member who assists a minister with their portfolio. However, unlike ministers, parliamentary secretaries cannot introduce government bills in the Legislative Assembly.

 

Opposition

The opposition is the largest non-government party in the Legislative Assembly. Sometimes the opposition consists of two non-government parties in coalition.

The opposition questions and scrutinises the government. If the current government loses power, the opposition is seen as the alternative government. This can happen after a general election, or if the government loses a vote of confidence in the Assembly.

 

Third party

In a political system dominated by two parties, there is usually a third, smaller party which is not in government or opposition. In Victoria, there must be at least 11 members of Parliament for a party to be the official third party.

The third party has an important role in holding the government accountable. Its members debate bills, ask ministers questions and scrutinise government policy. Unlike the opposition, it is not an alternative government. However, sometimes a third party forms a coalition with another party and becomes part of the opposition.

 

Independent member

Independents are members who do not belong to a party. They sometimes vote with the government, sometimes with the opposition, and sometimes do not support either government or opposition policy.

If a party does not have a majority in the Legislative Assembly, independents can help them form government. This happened in the Assembly in 1999, when three independents supported Steve Bracks. As a result, the Labor party formed government.

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Leader of the House

The Leader of the House is a government minister who organises government business and tactics in the Chamber. He or she works closely with the Government Whip and is sometimes called the manager of government business.

 

Leader of Opposition Business

The Leader of Opposition Business is usually a shadow minister and an experienced member of the opposition. He or she is also called the manager of opposition business.

The Leader negotiates the timing of debates with the Leader of the House. Generally, the leaders reach agreement over debate schedules.

 

Whip

The term 'whip' comes from a word used during fox hunts in the eighteenth century in the United Kingdom. A whipper-in (or 'whip') kept the hounds from straying from the pack.

In the Legislative Assembly, each party chooses a member to be their whip. They keep party discipline, making sure their members speak in debates and vote in divisions. They also work out which of their members will speak in each debate and prepare lists of speakers to help the Chair.

 

Frontbench

Benches are the seats that members sit on in the Chamber. Ministers and shadow ministers sit in the front row, collectively known as the frontbench. This seating arrangement started in the 18th century in the United Kingdom's House of Commons.

The government side of the frontbench is to the Speaker's right, and the opposition to the left. The distance between the two front benches in the House of Commons is said to be the length of two swords.

 

Backbench

Members who are not ministers sit on the seats behind the ministers or shadow ministers. They are known as the backbench, or backbenchers. Members sit in their party groups. If a backbencher becomes a minister, they move seats and sit on the frontbench.

Apart from working in their electorates, many backbenchers serve on parliamentary committees. Committees investigate topical issues in detail, and take evidence from experts and the public. Backbenchers also speak in debates in the Chamber and ask ministers for information through written questions.

Find out more:

Fact Sheet G2: Parliamentary Committees.

Fact Sheet F2: Questions on Notice.

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Parliamentary committee Chair

Parliamentary committees investigate topical issues in detail. They take evidence from experts and the public, and make recommendations to the government.

Usually, up to nine members work on each committee. They elect a Chair to take overall responsibility for the committee's work. He or she chairs committee meetings and makes sure members follow procedural rules.

View details about committees and their inquiries.

Find out more: Fact Sheet G2: Parliamentary Committees.

 

Clerk of the Legislative Assembly

The Clerk is the most senior unelected official in the Legislative Assembly. He or she is employed by the Parliament, not the government or a political party.

The title 'Clerk' comes from the United Kingdom's House of Commons, where it has existed for centuries. The Clerk advises the Speaker and members impartially on parliamentary procedure, and manages the Department of the Legislative Assembly.

Find out more: Fact Sheet H3: The Clerk.

 

Serjeant-at-Arms

The United Kingdom's House of Commons appointed its first Serjeant-at-Arms in 1415. Apart from protecting the Speaker, the Serjeant's main tasks were to carry out the instructions of the House and protect members' rights.

The Serjeant's duties have evolved over the years. They now include services to members, tours and community engagement programs, and Chamber security. On formal occasions the Serjeant carries a ceremonial mace as a symbol of the Legislative Assembly's authority.

Find out more: Fact Sheet H4: The Serjeant-at-Arms.

 

Find more details on Parliament's website

View more information about the roles in Parliament.

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