Information Sheets

Information Sheet 21 - Chamber Architectural Features and Furniture

The Chamber of the Legislative Council is home to both historical pieces of furniture and many unique architectural features, which compose an impressive example of Australian materials, design, and manufacturing.

Architectural Features

Chamber_Architecture1Legislative Council Chamber

Red is the principal colour for furnishings and fabrics throughout the Legislative Council Chamber, reflecting the customs of the Parliament of the United Kingdom - specifically, the House of Lords. The use of red, found in the Upper Houses of most parliaments in the Westminster tradition, is attributed to the status of red as a royal colour, and its consequent use in the room where the King or Queen would meet with Court nobles. Each of the columns within the Chamber is a single piece of Tasmanian freestone. The Chamber’s woodwork is of polished cedar brought from Queensland and northern New South Wales. 

The Ceiling

A highlight of the Legislative Council Chamber is the ornate ceiling featuring intricately modelled figures. The principal modeller for the Chamber was John Simpson Mackennal (1832-1901); however, James Scurry (c 1820-1900) and Charles Summers (1827-1878) also contributed.

On the lower parts of the Chamber’s ceiling, there are representations of ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Learning’ and the youth of Victoria. The figures with models of celestial globes and compasses refer to knowledge whilst the other figures wipe clean the tablet on which they write lessons. This echoes the concept of a tabula rasa, which is a Latin term meaning ‘blank slate’. The concept refers to the theory that human beings are born with no innate content and that one’s knowledge is gained by experiences of the world.

There are sculptural reliefs of female figures along the sides of the ceiling which symbolise concepts that the young colony of Victoria valued when the Chamber was built in 1856 such as ‘ Justice’, ‘Peace’, ‘Mercy’, ‘Architecture’, ‘Fame’, ‘Victory’, ‘Wisdom’, ‘History’ and ‘Plenty’.

‘Justice’ is a standing draped female, looking at the scales she holds in her left hand, while the right hand holds a sword. Her hair is tied in an Apollonian Knot, which relates to the Greek God Apollo - ‘god of moral and spiritual light and purity, institutor and guardian of civil and political order and the founder of cities’.

‘Peace’ is a female figure who, with her right hand, extends a laurel wreath, a sign of Victory.

‘Mercy’ has her arm extending upwards with a sword, and within her hair, wears a serrated edged crown which has two, four pointed stars. The wearing of stars on the head is thought to represent rationality, or the soul.

The figure representing ‘Architecture’ has her knee bent to support an open ledger. The figure also holds symbols of Architecture including a pair of compasses, a ruler set with circular protractor and a small set square.

‘Fame’ is a semi draped figure who has a series of sun rays behind her head. Traditionally, such rays can symbolise a ‘claim to respect and praise - something that deserves a reward that is visible to all’. She has a trumpet raised to her lips, quite possibly to proclaim the fame and glory of the new Parliament.

The ‘Victory’ figure wears a laurel garland and is holding a wreath of olive. This can be interpreted as symbolising joy and glory as well as peace. The winged figure stands in a triumphant pose.

The ‘Wisdom’ figure wears a plumed helmet, shield and sword, all common symbols for wisdom.

‘Liberty’ holds the end of a chain which falls across her body. The chain is said to represent freedom and liberty.

The figure representing ‘History’ stands with an open book and pen. These objects are associated with History, and the act of writing facts objectively.

‘Plenty’ is a semi draped figure who stands holding a cornucopia or horn of plenty overflowing with the fruits of the earth.

The Tudor (English) roses, which are the traditional heraldic emblem of England, fill the top panels of the ceiling. There are 15 roses in total.

Eagles are perched on the arches at each end of the Chamber. It is believed that these eagles represent the House of Hanover. Queen Victoria was of Hanoverian heritage and was married to a member of the Legislative Council Information Sheet Number 21 Chamber Architectural Features and Furniture German Royal Family; therefore, the Eagles could be a reference to both the Royal House of Hanover and House of Saxony. 



Sculptural relief of figure symbolising Fame


Sculptural Relief of figure representing Wisdom


Legislative Council Chamber Ceiling


The elaborately carved gate located near the entrance to the Chamber facing the President’s chair is referred to as the ‘Bar’. It is the point at which no visitor may cross and enter the Chamber unless invited by the House.

In parliamentary history, the Bar has been the place to which individuals have been brought to allow the President to question or admonish them. In theory, a person may be brought to the Bar of the House to receive thanks or to provide information or documents.

It is also a place at which Legislative Assembly Members stand when the Assembly is summoned to the Legislative Council Chamber to hear the Governor’s Speech at the Opening of Parliament.

Chamber Furniture 

The Vice-Regal Chair is a cedar chair which dates from the late nineteenth century (pre-1886) and is upholstered in maroon buttoned velvet. It is used for the Opening of Parliament when the Governor is in attendance. The Vice-Regal Chair was also used on one occasion when Queen Elizabeth II opened the 39th Parliament in 1954.

The table which sits in the middle of the Chamber was made in 1857 by the Australian manufacturer Nation and Lindsay. Copies of all Victorian Statutes are kept on this table.


For further information, see:

Robb, G., The role of sculptural and architectural decoration in Parliament House, Victoria, Master of Arts thesis, Monash University, February 1992.

Allom, Lovell, Sanderson Pty. Ltd. Parliament House, Melbourne : historic survey of historical furniture and fittings Melbourne, Public Works Department, 1985.

Parliament of Victoria, Parliament House, Melbourne, Government Printer.


Prepared by: Table Office
Department of the Legislative Council
Parliament of Victoria
Issued June 2008

Information Sheet 20 - The Role of a Private Member in the Legislative Council

Who is a ‘Private Member’?

Private Members, more commonly referred to as backbenchers, are all Members of Parliament, regardless of party affiliation, who are not Ministers or the President. Private Members play an important, if at times less visible, part in the parliamentary process. The four key areas that normally engage most of a Private Members’ time are: 1. electorate work; 2. legislative work; 3. committee work; and 4. party work. Although sitting days are the most public demonstration of a Private Member’s role, this actually occupies a relatively small proportion of their time.

Private Members’ Electorate Work

The Legislative Council is composed of eight electorates, five of which are metropolitan and three rural, with each represented by five Members.

Electorate work involves the Members making themselves available to their constituents and/or other interest groups and delegations to deal with matters of concern or significance. These are often issues at the local or personal level, although they can also involve matters that are more broadly state based. The representational role of Members in their local communities also includes many invitations to attend openings and speak at various functions.

Members act as a conduit between their constituents, their party and the Parliament. They are responsible for explaining and conveying their party’s policies to their constituents and also for conveying their constituents’ views to their party and the Government, which can influence both a party’s and the government’s policies.

A Private Member is usually a citizen’s most accessible contact with the Parliament and, therefore, the Government. It has been suggested that Members are sometimes treated as the last point a citizen can go to when they face a problem, particularly with a government department. While the Member may not have any specific authority to resolve an issue, their intervention can expedite matters by bringing them directly to the attention of the responsible Ministers.

Private Members’ Role in the Legislative Council

There are a range of rules and procedures which provide Private Members with opportunities to influence the parliamentary process.  Some of the major ones include:

Private Members’ Bills

Any Member may introduce a Bill. A Bill introduced by a Member who is not a Minister is termed a ‘Private Member’s Bill’. Such Bills are introduced from time to time; however, their preparation can prove more difficult due to a lack of departmental support and complexities involved in the drafting of a Bill. In addition, as most Private Member’s Bills are initiated by non-Government Members, the only time to debate such Bills is during General Business on Wednesdays.

Members’ Statements

The Standing Orders permit Members to make ninety second statements on any topic of concern. Thus, Private Members may use this opportunity to raise issues on behalf of their constituents or to note special achievements made by those they represent. A maximum of 15 speakers are able to speak during Members’ Statements on Tuesday to Thursday.


Adjournment Debate

At the conclusion of sittings, once the motion to adjourn the House has been proposed, Members have three minutes to raise an issue for consideration by Ministers. Members are only able to speak once each sitting day, and may use their allocated time to make a complaint, make a request or pose a query. Rules stipulate that the matter cannot be debated. At the end of these proceedings, the Minister responds to each item raised.

Question Time

In the Legislative Council, Question Time usually occurs at 2.00 p.m. on Tuesday and midday on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Ten questions are asked, usually five by government backbenchers and five from non-government members. The question may cover any topic in relation to the Minister’s portfolio responsibilities. Members may ask a further supplementary question to further clarify the Minister’s answer (For further details, see Information Sheet No. 3 - Questions).

Questions on Notice

Role_of_a_Private_Member_clip_image002_0000Members may also ask Ministers questions on notice. This involves Members lodging a written question which is published in the Council’s Notice Paper. The questions can relate to any aspect of Victorian Government administration. It is therefore an opportunity for Private Members in one House to scrutinise the actions of a Minister in the other House, and also raise awareness of certain issues. When providing an answer, the Minister responsible will circulate the response to the House and the answer is incorporated into Hansard. If an answer is not provided within thirty days of the question being lodged, nor is an explanation as to why an answer has not been provided, the Member who asked the question can ask the responsible Minister for an explanation at the end of Question Time (For further details, see Information Sheet No. 3 - Questions).

Statements on Reports and Papers

Once a week, one hour is allocated for Members to make a 5 minute statement on any report or paper that has been tabled in the Council in the same Session. This enables Private Members to discuss and draw attention to a specific issue related to the report or paper.

Second Reading debates

All Members are entitled to speak during second reading debates. This allows Members to contribute to the House's understanding of the Bill in an attempt to influence the acceptance of, or changes to, the Bill. Members can also circulate amendments to Bills during the second reading debate, which are then discussed during the Committee stage (For further details see Legislative Council Information Sheet Number 10 - Bills).


Private Members can also draw the House’s attention to certain issues through the presentation of petitions with a copy of the petition being forwarded to the responsible Minister.  It should be noted, however, that Members often table petitions on behalf of constituents regarding issues with which they do not necessarily agree.

Private Members’ Committee Work

Role_of_a_Private_Member_clip_image002_0001The constraints on parliamentary time and increasing need for specialist knowledge of certain issues has given rise to the development of an expanded committee system. This system permits greater participation by Private Members in policy development and scrutiny of legislation and government processes.

There are different types of committees, such as:

  • Council Select Committees, whose members are drawn from the Council. This type of committee is usually established to investigate a specific issue, within a set timeframe and once the committee reports it ceases to exist.
  • Council Standing Committees, whose members are appointed for the life of the Parliament to examine a specific area or areas of government administration.
  • Joint Investigatory Committees, whose members are drawn from both Houses and are established for the life of the Parliament. These Committees are given references from the Houses on which to conduct enquiries.
  • Domestic Committees, whose members appointed at the commencement of each Session to deal with matters concerning the operations of the Parliament. Examples of House Committees in the Legislative Council are the Procedure Orders and Privileges Committees.

The committee system aims to improve the Parliament’s efficiency by relieving the House of some work. This results in a more thorough investigation of the issue by the Committee, and allows the House greater time to direct to other issues. Overall this results in a greater volume of work being done.

The majority of committee Members, and Chairs, are Private Members. Committee work can be very demanding and time consuming, but at the same time very satisfying as it permits Private Members to investigate, debate and shape the discourse of issues of public interest.

For further details see Information Sheet Number 6 - Committees.

Private Member’s Political Work

Most Private Members who are representatives of a political party have an obligation to their party organisation.  Although these specific obligations may vary from party to party, there are some common elements, such as attending party meetings, participating in the formulation of party policies and representing the party at various functions and meetings at a constituency level.


Prepared by: Table Office
Department of the Legislative Council
Parliament of Victoria
Reissued March 2011

Information Sheet 18 - Tabling of Reports and Documents


In order to ensure that information is available to Members of Parliament and the public, reports and documents are required to be presented or ‘tabled’ in Parliament. These include reports of government departments and public bodies, and documents such as planning schemes and statutory rules. These documents are usually tabled within specified reporting periods, to provide information on matters such as:

  • financial transactions;
  • operations and activities;
  • outcomes of investigations;
  • amendments to planning schemes; and
  • operative dates of Acts.

The tabling of reports and documents is an essential component of Executive accountability (the Executive is comprised of the Victorian Government – the Premier and his/her Ministers – and its administrative arm, the Victorian Public Service). By providing an account of government spending and other activities, the reports and other documents tabled in the Legislative Council contribute to ensuring the maintenance of responsible government.

Under the Council’s Standing Orders, documents may be presented to the Council:

  • by Command of the Governor;
  • by leave; or
  • pusuant to statute.

Command of the Governor

The Governor orders that certain reports are tabled in the House. These are reports by Judges of the Supreme, County, Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts. They are required under their respective Acts to report annually to the Governor in respect of their operations. Other reports include Royal Commissions and Boards of Inquiry where the Governor has ordered that they report within the agreed terms of reference.

Tabled by leave

Reports and documents not required to be tabled may still be tabled in the Council if leave is granted. A member may put forward a motion requesting the leave of the Council to table a document not otherwise required to be tabled pursuant to statute. If leave is granted and the motion is passed, the document may be presented to the House. Because this agreement is required, such Papers are said to be ‘presented by order of the Council’.

Pursuant to Statute

The majority of reports and documents are tabled under an Act of Parliament. It is a legislative requirement for government departments and public bodies to prepare certain reports and documents and table them within specific time frames.

How Reports and Other Documents are tabled

Command of the Governor

Documents that are ordered to be tabled by the Governor are presented by a Minister who requests that the report or document be tabled.

By leave

Tabling_clip_image002In the case of documents tabled by leave, a Minister must formally move a motion requesting the tabling.

Under the House’s Standing Orders, a document required to be presented pursuant to Command of the Governor, or by Order of the Council, is ordered to lie upon the Table. If the motion is agreed to, copies of the report or document are then available from the Table Office.

These types of reports and documents appear on the Council’s daily programme which is prepared by the Clerk.

This programme, commonly referred to as the Daily Blue, is available from the Table Office.



Pursuant to Statute

Tabling_clip_image004In order to table a report or (document) pursuant to statute, the following must occur:

The Minister or other delegated person responsible for the department, area or activity must write to the Clerk requesting that the document be tabled. This is referred to as the ‘tabling letter’.

The Clerk must also receive a copy of the report to be tabled. This is referred to as the ‘tabling copy’ and, along with the ‘tabling letter’, forms part of the ‘Original Papers’ of Parliament.

Copies of the report are simultaneously delivered to the Table Office and, once tabled, are publicly available.
Reports and other documents which are tabled pursuant to statute appear on the ‘Papers List’ which is prepared by the Table Office.


What is the Papers List?

The ‘Papers List’ is the official document which lists alphabetically all of the documents which are to be tabled pursuant to statute on each sitting day. The Clerk reads out this document in the House.

A copy of the Papers List is distributed to each Member and appears in both the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Legislative Council and Hansard.

When are Reports and Other Documents tabled?

Reports and other documents are tabled on a sitting day during ‘Formal Business’. Formal Business is conducted on Tuesday after Question Time at approximately 3.00 p.m. and on Wednesday and Thursday after ‘Messages’ at approximately 9.35 a.m. If the Council sits on a Friday, Formal Business occurs at the commencement of the sitting day.

Original Papers

All reports and documents form part of the Original Papers. The Clerk keeps custody of all records and documents belonging to the Council.

Can Members speak on a Report or Other Documents?


After a report (or document) is tabled, Members of the Council may speak on it during ‘Statements on Reports and Papers’ on the Thursday of each sitting week. Precedence is given for up to 60 minutes for Members to make such statements; however, they must give at least one day’s notice of their intention to do so.

The reports or other documents proposed for discussion each Thursday are listed on the Notice Paper.

Members are limited to a maximum of five minutes when making such statements. Although each Member may speak in relation to more than one report or document, they may propose only one item for discussion each sitting week.


Can Reports and Other Documents be tabled when the House is not sitting?

There are provisions in certain Acts for reports to be released when Parliament is not sitting. Once the Clerk receives the report, each Member of the Council must be advised that the report is available upon request. The report must still be formally tabled on the next sitting day.

The following is a summary of the types of reports and other documents that are commonly tabled in the Legislative Council:

Annual Reports

Tabling_clip_image002_0002Victorian Government departments and public bodies are required to prepare annual reports of their operations at the end of each financial year pursuant to section 46 of the Financial Management Act 1994. The requirement to table a report only applies when a public body’s expenses and obligations exceed $5 million.

If the public body’s expenditure is below this amount, it is only required to present the report to the Minister responsible for its administration. The Minister must then notify the Clerk of receipt of the report and this notification forms part of the document which is tabled.


Parliamentary Committee Reports

Tabling_clip_image002_0003Parliamentary Committees investigate and report on issues of interest to the Government and Parliament (See: Information Sheet No. 6 – Committees). Pursuant to section 35 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003, committee reports are presented to the House by the Chair or a member of that particular committee.

Under the Legislative Council’s Standing Orders, the Member of the committee tabling the report may move a motion without notice that the Council take note of the report and they can then speak on this motion without time limits (according to current sessional orders).


Parliamentary Papers

A report can also be ‘ordered to be printed’ as a Parliamentary Paper. Some reports are automatically accepted as a Parliamentary Paper while others require prior written approval from the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly to obtain that status. These documents are protected by parliamentary privilege which means no legal action can be taken against those publishing these reports. Examples of Parliamentary Papers include reports of Parliamentary Committees, the Auditor-General, Ombudsman and Public Advocate. Parliamentary Papers are numbered successively for the duration of each Parliamentary Session. In accordance with the Standing Orders, the Council may order that any document presented and laid before it be printed as a Parliamentary Paper, although most reports tabled do not end up being Parliamentary Papers.

Planning Schemes

Amendments to planning schemes of local and regional areas are approved by the Minister and tabled under the Planning and Environment Act 1987.


Proclamations state when Acts or parts of Acts commence operation after being passed by Parliament and are printed in the Government Gazette.

Statutory RulesTabling_clip_image002_0004

These are regulations or similar rules which relate to an Act of Parliament. They are usually prepared by public bodies and approved by the Governor in Council.


Prepared by: Table Office
Department of the Legislative Council
Parliament of Victoria
Reissued June 2009

Information Sheet 19 - Parliamentary Terminology and Customs


There are numerous terms and customs associated with Parliament. While some of these are used outside of Parliament, they frequently have a specific, yet not always obvious, meaning in the parliamentary context. This Information Sheet provides a definition of some of the more common terms used and briefly outlines their origins.

Bowing to the Chair

When the House is in session, if Members either pass in front of the Presiding Officer’s Chair or wish to enter or leave the Chamber, as a mark of respect they bow to the occupant of the Chair. Although the practice is drawn from British parliamentary tradition, its origins are uncertain. The most popular theory claims that this practice originated when the House of Commons originally sat in St Stephen’s Chapel – it being customary to bow when entering, leaving or crossing the centre of a church or chapel. It has also been suggested that the practice originated from the days before the Parliament was separated into two Houses and was presided over by the Monarch – it being customary to bow to the Monarch.

Crossing the Floor

Traditionally, this expression has been used to describe the actions of a Member of Parliament who changed their political allegiance. In the Australian context, this term has a slightly different meaning, being used to describe the actions of a Member who votes against their party in a division. Both expressions originate from the Member’s resulting move from their party’s side to the opposite side of the Chamber.

Deliberative and Casting Votes

Traditionally, there are two types of voting used by the House to assist it to make decisions – the ‘deliberative vote’ and the ‘casting vote’. A ‘deliberative vote’ is the normal vote cast by all Members in the Chamber when a question is put. A ‘casting vote’ is exercised by the Presiding Officer in some Houses if a division is tied. Traditionally, the President of the Legislative Council did not have a deliberative vote and only had a casting vote. Due to constitutional reforms, this practice changed from the beginning of the 56th Parliament in December 2006. Since then, the President has no longer had a casting vote but may exercise a deliberative vote.

Dorothy Dixers

These are pre-arranged questions asked of a Minister by a Government backbencher during Question Time. The answer in response provides the Minister with an opportunity to announce positive news for the Government, or to elaborate on the Government’s position in relation to an issue. The origin of this expression comes from the newspaper columnist Dorothy Dix, who published a column with questions ostensibly from readers, which in fact she wrote herself.


Father of the House (or Senior Member)

This title is given to the Member of the House who has the longest period of continuous service regardless of the electorate they represent. Since the increase in representation by women, this term is now used interchangeably with the term ‘Senior Member’.

‘Gag’ or Closure Motion

The procedural device used to bring debate to a conclusion by forcing the question before the House to a vote without further debate, is referred to as a ‘gag’ or closure motion.  The Legislative Council’s Standing Orders permit any Member to employ this procedural device provided the motion is supported by 6 other Members. Although the frequency with which the closure motion is used by governments varies from one legislature to another, it is used to restrict debate and, in doing so, speed up the House’s business. A criticism of this device is that it can overly limit consideration of the House’s business. 



Under Victoria’s Constitution, this title may be adopted by the President of the Legislative Council, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and all Members of the Parliament who are Ministers or former Ministers. In the past, this title was given to all Members of the Legislative Council, whether Ministers or not. This changed from the commencement of the 56th Parliament in December 2006, following constitutional reforms passed in 2003.

Inaugural, ‘Maiden’ or First Speech

These expressions are used interchangeably to describe the first speech delivered by a Member after being elected to the House for the first time. It is convention in Westminster-style parliaments that the speech avoids controversy and is heard without interruption or interjection. Although, in the United Kingdom, the Member’s speech is normally a tribute to their predecessor, in Australia the practice has developed that Members concentrate on their own special interests or issues within their electorate.


This term describes the arrangement to maintain the relative voting strengths of the Government and Opposition when a Member is absent due to unavoidable circumstances. It is an informal arrangement between the parties which involves one Member not voting in a division to compensate for the other Member’s inability to vote.

Point of Order

This is the name given to the formal protest raised by a Member when they believe that proceedings are not in accordance with the House’s rules. When a ‘point of order’ is raised, the business before the House is suspended until a ruling is made by the Chair.


This expression refers to anyone who is not a Member, Table Officer or official of the House.


This term refers to the Members of the House who are appointed to count the votes in a division. In the Legislative Council four tellers are appointed for each division – two from both the ‘Ayes’ and ‘Noes’, with one of each counting on either side.

The Other Place

This term, along with the term ‘Another Place’, are generally used in bicameral parliaments when a Member from one House wishes to refer to the other House during debate. The origins of these expressions are believed to stem from two British parliamentary practices. It was long held that Members of one House may not make any reference to the proceedings in the other House. (It should be noted that, although this requirement has been somewhat relaxed, it is still a requirement in the Legislative Council’s Standing Orders that no Member will refer to proceedings in the Legislative Assembly in the previous six months of the same parliamentary session.). It is also believed that the use of this expression arose from the ancient friction and hostility between the British House of Lords and House of Commons.


This term refers to the officer of each party who is responsible for party management and ensuring party members attend divisions, take part in debates and fulfil other duties. Both Government and Opposition


Prepared by: Table Office
Department of the Legislative Council
Parliament of Victoria
Reissued March 2011

Information Sheet 17 - The Legislative Council's Electoral System 1851-2003


The Legislative Council's electoral system, which had existed for over one hundred and fifty years, was substantially reformed by the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003 enacted in March of that year.

The Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003 made significant changes to Victoria's Parliamentary system and, in particular, the structure and operations of the Legislative Council. Some of the most notable of these reforms related to the method by which the Legislative Council will be elected in the future, the number of Legislative Council provinces or electoral regions and the number of Members representing each province.

These electoral reforms, which significantly altered the Council's composition, represented the culmination of a very slow process of change which commenced in 1851 when Victoria's first Legislative Council was established.

This information sheet examines the electoral system for the Legislative Council from 1851 until 2003. Given the significance of the 2003 constitutional changes, the electoral system which applies from 2006 [as a result of the Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003] is the subject of a separate information sheet (Information Sheet: Number 16).

The First Legislative Council: 1851 - 1856 Old_System1

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 was facilitated by the establishment of a Legislative Council (but not a Legislative Assembly) consisting of thirty Members, with twenty elected and the remainder appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor (who was a British appointee). This Legislative Council governed Victoria between 1851 and 1856.

The writs for Victoria's first Legislative Council election were issued on 1 July 1851, with the election being held between 11 and 18 September of that year. The voting system used was ‘first past the post' (i.e. voters could cast only one preference and the candidate with the most votes was elected). Voting was not compulsory, nor was it secret.

Charles La Trobe,
First Lieutenant Governor of Victoria

Of the twenty elected Members of the Legislative Council that first met at St Patrick's Hall Melbourne on 11 November 1851, only seven represented Victoria's most populous regions of Melbourne and Geelong. Melbourne itself had three Councillors, Geelong two and a region known as Bourke (directly north and west of Melbourne) had two. The remaining electoral districts, which were rural based, were represented by a single Councillor. Representation favoured rural voters by ensuring that their vote was more valuable than their metropolitan counterparts. The following table provides several prominent examples of this imbalance, which helped entrench rural conservative interests in the first Legislative Council:

Table 1: Voter/Member Ratio 1

Electoral Districts

No. of Electors

No. of Members

Members : Elector Ratio

Rural / Metropolitan
















North Bourke





The reason for the representative bias in favour of rural constituents was, first and foremost, tied to the prevailing view at the time of the Legislative Council's establishment, that property ownership was closely linked to three of the most important qualities that a Member of a legislature should possess. These ‘virtues' were: education, intelligence and independent means (as Council Members were unpaid).

The original Legislative Council's bias towards landholders, and hence the wealthy, was reinforced by strict eligibility conditions determining membership and voting rights in its elections. Other conditions shaping membership and voting rights related to gender (being male) and age (being at least 21 years of age to vote, and at least 30 years of age to stand for election).

In addition to these factors that helped shape the Legislative Council of 1851 to 1856, was the Governor's right to veto or amend any of its decisions. Due to early teething problems with the quality of representation in the Council, and the complexity of the issues that were faced, the Governor was often forced to use this provision.

Despite this limited form of self-government the first Legislative Council made several significant contributions to parliamentary democracy in Victoria. The most important of these was the drafting of a Constitution which provided a framework for responsible government. This Constitution was officially proclaimed on 23 November 1855 after receiving Royal Assent in Britain.

Electoral Provinces Diagram 18561856 - 2003

Victoria's Constitution prescribed that the Parliament was to be bicameral, consisting of an Upper House (Legislative Council) and a Lower House (Legislative Assembly). Elections for the Legislative Council were held on 27 August 1856, while the Legislative Assembly elections occurred between 23 September and 24 October 1856. Not until the late 1870s would the two Houses face election on a single day.

An important electoral initiative, for which the original Legislative Council had been responsible, was the introduction of a secret ballot. Victoria was the first legislature in the world to introduce this method of voting. Although this system had critics who argued that the system was not ‘open' or ‘accountable', those who insisted that a secret ballot contained the virtues of ‘secrecy' and ‘better electoral practice' held sway.

It was decided that the secret ballot would be conducted by providing two rooms at every polling booth. In the first room the voter would have to satisfy an official of their eligible voting status and, in the second, they would cast their vote by crossing off the names of the candidates on the ballot paper they did not support. This system was eventually replaced by a system of placing a cross in a box next to the preferred candidate. Victoria, by introducing the secret ballot, had effectively introduced a voting procedure that is now seen as an integral part of any democratic election. 2

Membership and Franchise Restrictions

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. In the case of membership qualifications, restrictive requirements based on property ownership and age limited the entitlement of Victorians to be candidates in Legislative Council elections.

Another factor was that Council Members, unlike their Assembly counterparts, were not paid which meant that only wealthier members of society could afford to sacrifice the time to be a Member of the Council without payment.

Conditions on becoming a Member of the Legislative Council included:

  • being at least 30 years of age,
  • owning free-hold property worth £5000 or more, or
  • being in possession of an annual valuation of at least £500.

As had occurred in elections for the Council between 1851 to 1856, voter qualifications limited the franchise so that in most cases only property owners, the wealthy and/or the educated were permitted to vote. Restrictions on the right to vote in Council elections included:

  • having reached 21 years of age,
  • owning property worth in excess of £1000, or
  • leasing property with an annual value of £100, or
  • being from an appropriate professional background, such as a barrister, solicitor, medical practitioner or university graduate. Members of the armed services were also eligible to vote. (Although these qualifications entitled one to vote, on their own they were not a qualification to stand for election to the Council).

Continuing the theme evident between 1851 and 1856 these restrictions reflected the intention of the original framers of the Constitution that the Council be a check on democracy's ‘excesses' by ensuring that its membership was dominated by those considered to have sufficient knowledge and experience to manage Victoria's affairs. It was considered that the essential characteristics of Council Members were that they were mature, wealthy, propertied, educated and (during the nineteenth century) male members of society.

Incremental changes were made to the rules governing membership and voting qualifications for the Legislative Council between 1908 and 1950. In 1908 women were granted suffrage for Legislative Council elections. In the same year, property conditions for voters were relaxed to £10 of freehold property or a £15 annual lease. In 1922 Legislative Council Members first received a wage (£200 per year), the minimum age for a Member was reduced to 21 years of age in 1937 and in 1950 universal adult suffrage was adopted in the Legislative Council.

The transition of the Council, from a House with electoral processes dominated by restrictive qualifications to one of universal adult suffrage, was slow by Australian standards. By 1900 no other Australian Upper House had property requirements associated with membership of the legislature, or restrictive conditions on male voters 21 years of age or above, like the ones that existed in Victoria 's Upper House.

Victoria was the last Australian State to grant women's suffrage. South Australia was the most progressive Australian State in this respect – granting women's suffrage in 1894. The remaining Australian States enacted similar laws between 1899 and 1904.

Voting System

The Council used a ‘first past the post' voting system until 1921 when preferential voting was introduced. Victoria's Legislative Assembly had changed to preferential voting in 1911. Debate surrounding the switch to preferential voting in the Legislative Council revolved around whether it was in fact the best system to switch to. Elements within the Victorian Labor Party argued that in practice it was no better than the first past the post system already in place because like that system it did not address issues involving making parliamentary representation more proportional. They argued instead for the adoption of proportional representation. Those arguing for the preferential system in the Council won the day.

The form of preferential voting adopted in Victoria required candidates to obtain an absolute majority (50% plus 1) of the total formal votes cast to be elected. Preferential voting meant that voters could indicate their order of preference of the candidates. If no candidate obtained an absolute majority, after the distribution of the first preference, subsequent preferences would be distributed until a candidate gained the necessary share of the vote.

Voting in Legislative Council elections was not compulsory until 1935 (voting became compulsory in the Legislative Assembly in 1926). Some debate surrounded the adoption of compulsory voting. Those in favour of it argued that it would help alleviate the public's apathetic attitude toward Victorian State politics, whereas its opponents said that it was an infringement against the rights of the individual. Due to the lack of a structured party system in Victoria at the time it is hard to describe this debate in terms of party politics as we now understand them. The debate took place between roughly formed alliances formed across party lines.

An important subsidiary issue to the introduction of compulsory voting in the Legislative Assembly was the decision in 1926 to hold elections on Saturdays for both Houses of the Victorian legislature. This was done for the simple reason that many ‘ordinary' people found it difficult to vote during work hours.

Electoral Provinces

A final aspect of the history of the Legislative Council's electoral system that warrants discussion concerns the division of Victoria into electoral provinces. In 1856 Victoria's Legislative Council was comprised of thirty Members representing six electoral provinces; with five candidates elected in each province. Only half of the Council was elected at every Legislative Assembly election which meant in practical terms that a Legislative Council Member sat for the duration of two terms of the Assembly. The Legislative Council was indissoluble in the sense that, unlike the Assembly, the entire House never faced the electorate at one election. Unlike the Australian Senate and other Upper Houses the Council did not have a mechanism where a full election of the Upper House could be called as a result of a legislative deadlock.

The numbers of Council provinces and Members underwent a series of changes between 1856 and 2003. The first date in Table 2 indicates the year of the enabling legislation; while the date in parentheses is the electoral year from which the legislation applied. Between 1904 and 1907 one legislative councillor represented railway employees and public servants rather than specific electoral provinces. This is demonstrated in Table 2 where it can be seen that in 1907 the number of Members in the Council increased – but the number of provinces did not. By 2003 the Council was comprised of twenty two electoral provinces, with each province represented by two elected Members. Table 2 outlines the way in which these changes to the number of provinces and Members evolved:

Table 2: No. of Provinces/No. of Members


Number of Provinces

Number of Members

1855 (1856)



1881 (1882)



1888 (1889)



1903 (1904)



1906 (1907)



1965 (1967)



1974 (1976)





1. Figures from, Wright, R., A Blended House: The Legislative Council of Victoria 1851-1856, Department of the Legislative Council, Parliament of Victoria, Melbourne Victoria, 2001, p. 69.

2. For further details, see: Wright, R., A People's Counsel: A History of the Parliament of Victoria 1856 – 1990, Oxford University Press, Melbourne Victoria, 1992, & Wright, R., A Blended House: The Legislative Council of Victoria 1851-1856, Department of the Legislative Council, Parliament of Victoria, Melbourne Victoria, 2001.

Prepared by: Table Office
Department of the Legislative Council
Parliament of Victoria
Reissued April 2009