Legislative Council

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New Houses of Parliament, 1854. State Library of Victoria Collection, Designed under the general instructions of Captn Charles Pasley, R.E. Commissioner of Public Works. Architects Messrs Lynght & Kerr (H18179)


The region now known as Victoria was part of New South Wales until formal separation in 1851. The Act that established this separation also provided for a limited form of representative, self-government in the new colony. This occurred through the establishment of a Legislative Council (but not a Legislative Assembly) consisting of thirty Members, with twenty elected (only significant property owners being eligible to vote) and the remainder appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor (who was, in turn, a British appointee). Victoria 's Legislative Council first met in November 1851 at St Patrick's Hall, Melbourne. The first Legislative Council of Victoria served the colony for five years making at least three significant and lasting contributions to Victoria's parliamentary system within that time, namely

  • it was responsible for drafting a Constitution for Victoria which provided the framework for a system of responsible government;
  • it introduced the secret ballot for parliamentary elections which was a unique innovation in the world at the time; and
  • it initiated the building of Parliament House in Spring Street, Melbourne, the first stage of which was completed in 1856.[1]

Victoria's Constitution

Victoria 's Constitution was approved by the Legislative Council in March 1854 but was not officially proclaimed until 23 November 1855 after receiving Royal Assent in Britain. The Constitution introduced a Westminster-style system of responsible government that has remained in place ever since. Some of the main features of the system include:

  • a Governor, appointed by the British Crown but acting on Victorian Government advice, whose duties include formally summoning, proroguing and dissolving Parliament, appointing Ministers and providing Royal Assent to Bills;
  • a bi-cameral parliament consisting of a Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, with the Ministry chosen from the faction or party in the majority in the Legislative Assembly;
  • ministerial accountability to Parliament; and
  • a fully-elected Parliament[2]

The Victorian Parliament's first elections were conducted during the Spring of 1856 with the legislature's first meeting on 25 November 1856. The new Legislative Council consisted of thirty Members representing six Provinces (each Province having five Members). From its first sitting, the Council adopted many of the rules and procedures of the British Parliament (with local variations shaped by past experience in Victoria 's first Legislative Council and New South Wales ' legislature) such as those governing debate and the passage of legislation.[3]

Membership and voter qualifications

A significant influence on the Legislative Council's composition and behaviour up to the middle of the twentieth century was its membership and voter qualifications, although their influence was greatest during the nineteenth century. These qualifications:

  • limited the franchise so that in most cases only property owners, the wealthy and/or the ‘educated' were permitted to vote in Legislative Council elections; and
  • imposed even more restrictive requirements, based on property ownership and age, on the entitlement of Victorians to be candidates in Legislative Council elections.[4]


Francis Beaver

Charles Dyte

David Ham

J.B. Humffray

Peter Lalor

Hyman Levinson

Francis Murphy

John O'Shannessy

Charles Pasley


Legislative Assembly