Fact Sheets

Fact Sheet I1: Victoria's Parliamentary History

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Summary: Victoria started as a district in the colony of New South Wales. It separated from New South Wales in 1851, and became a State in 1901. Parliament has changed throughout Victoria's history. Originally a single House of wealthy land owners, it is now a fully elected democratic body. This fact sheet outlines Victoria's colourful legislative history. It covers colonial days to the present bicameral, or two House, Parliament.

Separation from New South Wales From Federation to the present
The first elections under the 1855 Constitution The Assembly today
Changes to voting rights and methods The Council today

Separation from New South Wales

From 1836 to 1851 New South Wales governed the area now known as Victoria. At the time it was called the Port Phillip District.

In 1850 the United Kingdom Parliament passed An Act for the better Government of Her Majesty's Australian Colonies. It allowed South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria to separate from New South Wales. Each had a 30 member Legislative Council, and a Governor or Lieutenant-Governor representing Queen Victoria.

Under the new law, Victoria separated on 1 July 1851.

The first Legislative Council

The first Legislative Council met on 11 November 1851. It made longlasting contributions to Victorian parliamentary democracy by:

  • drafting a Victorian Constitution (see 'Victoria becomes self-governing' below)
  • approving the world's first secret ballot for elections
  • starting to build Parliament House, in Spring Street, Melbourne.

Victoria becomes self-governing

Separation was a big step towards independence, but Victoria was not yet fully self-governing, and did not have a representative government.

Although substantial property holders elected 20 of the 30 Legislative Council members, Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe chose the rest. He reported to the Governor of New South Wales, and the Governor appointed Victoria's ministers.

In 1854 the Council passed a bill setting up Victoria's Constitution, the first established by the Victorian Parliament. It provided the framework for parliamentary democracy and government in Victoria, and set up a Legislative Assembly.

The bill needed Queen Victoria's assent to become law. She assented to it on 16 July 1855. The changes took effect from 23 November 1855, the start of responsible self-government in Victoria.

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The first elections under the 1855 Constitution

The new law required 60 Legislative Assembly members and 30 Legislative Council members in the Parliament. Only wealthy male property owners could vote for Council members. However, a large proportion of male Victorians could vote in the Assembly elections.

Elections for the Parliament, using the secret ballot, were held in Spring 1856.

On 21 November 1856 Victoria's first members of Parliament met in their recently completed chambers to be sworn in. On 25 November Major-General Macarthur, the Acting Governor, officially opened the Parliament.

Changes to voting rights and methods

In 1857 the Parliament altered the Constitution to allow all men over 21 years old to vote in Legislative Assembly elections. Also, candidates no longer had to own land. The Legislative Council did not adopt these reforms until 1950.

In 1908 Parliament granted women voting rights in Victorian elections. Victoria was the last State to give women the vote. Women have been able to vote in Federal elections since 1902.

Preferential voting was introduced in 1911 for Assembly elections, and in 1922 for the Council. Today voting in Council elections is by proportional representation (see 'The Council today' below). Voting became compulsory for Assembly elections members in 1926, and Council members in 1935.

From Federation to the present

On 1 January 1901 Victoria became a State in the new Commonwealth of Australia. This meant issues such as defence and telephone services became the Commonwealth Parliament's responsibility. The Victorian Parliament focused on State issues such as police and education.

From Federation until the 1950s political instability was common, with the government changing 24 times between 1901 and 1955. In June 1955, the Liberal Country Party formed government under Sir Henry Bolte's leadership. Sir Henry was Premier until 1972, a record 6,288 days.

The Liberal Party lost government in 1982 to the Australian Labor Party (ALP) led by Hon John Cain, whose father was Premier in the 1950s. He was succeeded by Joan Kirner, Victoria's first female Premier.

The ALP held office until 3 October 1992. It was defeated by the Liberal Party in coalition with the National Party, led by Jeff Kennett.

At the September 1999 election the ALP, led by Steve Bracks, regained office. The ALP was re-elected in 2002 and 2006.

After 11 years in government, the ALP was defeated by the Liberal Party and the Nationals in coalition, making Ted Baillieu Victoria's 46th Premier. Since 1955 the government has only changed hands four times.

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Women in Parliament

While women were given the vote in 1908, they were not allowed to stand for election until 1924. Women who broke new ground are:

  • Lady Millie Peacock, elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1933, the first female member of the Victorian Parliament
  • Gracia Baylor and Joan Coxsedge, the first female members of the Legislative Council, elected in 1979
  • Joan Kirner, the first female Premier of Victoria, holding office from 1990 to 1992
  • Judy Maddigan, the first female Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, and Monica Gould, the first female President of the Legislative Council, both in office from 2003 to 2006.

The Governor

The Governor represents the Queen in Victoria. The Premier advises the Queen who to appoint as Governor, and can also advise her to dismiss the Governor.

The current Governor is Alex Chernov AC QC, who became Governor on 7 April 2011.

The Governor, as the Queen's representative, must approve bills passed by the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, for them to become law.

The Governor follows the advice of the Premier. Accordingly, the Governor recalls, prorogues, and dissolves Parliament as the Premier recommends (see Fact Sheet A2: Terminology used in Parliament for an explanation of prorogation and dissolution).

The Assembly today

There are 88 members in the Legislative Assembly. Each member represents one electorate. The current party numbers in the Assembly are:

  • Liberal Party and The Nationals in coalition - 45 seats
  • ALP - 43 seats

The opposition is the largest party or grouping that does not support the government. Currently the ALP forms the opposition. The Leader of the Opposition is Daniel Andrews.

The Constitution states that only the Assembly can propose bills that raise or spend money. Therefore, bills that deal with State revenue raising or spending are always introduced into the Assembly first.

Before 2003 the Premier of the day had some control over exactly when a general election was held. Now the Assembly normally sits for fixed four year periods. There are some exceptions, such as if the Assembly passes a no confidence motion in the Premier and ministers.

The next general election is scheduled for Saturday 29 November 2014, with the current Parliament ending on Tuesday 4 November 2014.

The Council today

There are 40 members in the Legislative Council. Each member represents one of eight regions, with five members in each region. A region covers the same area as 11 Legislative Assembly electorates.

In 2003 Parliament altered the Constitution, resulting in the following changes:

  • all members are now elected for four years, previously Council members served for two terms of the Assembly
  • the Council now has 40 members, previously it had 44
  • members of the Council are now elected by proportional representation
  • the Council cannot 'block supply' (the budget) but can still debate the annual budget bills
  • if the Council does not pass the budget bills within a month of the Assembly passing them, the Governor can assent to them without the Council's agreement.

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