The role of the Legislative Assembly
The New South Wales Parliament has two Houses, the Legislative Assembly, or Lower House, and the Legislative Council, or Upper House. The party, or coalition of parties, that hold the majority in the Legislative Assembly, is commissioned by the Governor to form Government.
Historically, the Assembly's special role stemmed from its representative nature, its Members having been directly elected by the people of NSW since 1856. In contrast, the Legislative Council has only been popularly elected since 1978. Accordingly, the Legislative Assembly has some important differences from the Legislative Council:
- The Government is the party that enjoys the confidence of the Legislative Assembly;
- Bills to impose taxes or spend public money (called "money bills") may only be initiated in the Legislative Assembly;
- The Legislative Council cannot prevent the passage of a bill for "the ordinary annual services of Government"; and
- If the Legislative Council fails to pass a bill from the Legislative Assembly, that bill may become law after being agreed to by the majority of the people at a referendum.
The Legislative Assembly has four main roles: to represent the people; to form the Executive Government for New South Wales; to legislate; and to approve the Government's request for money.
1. To represent the people
The Legislative Assembly is constituted by representatives elected by the people. The State is divided into ninety-three electorates with one member representing each electorate. Elections must be held every four years or at a lesser period with the consent of the Governor. Members of the Assembly are elected for a four year term under a system of optional preferential voting within each electorate.
The majority of Members elected to the Legislative Assembly are members of the major political parties. There have been a number of Independent Members elected to the Assembly in recent years and the current Parliament has seen the election of the first Member of a minor party to the Assembly (The Greens). Members of parties vote along party lines unless the matter being voted upon is one which the parties allow Members to vote according to their consciences.
Members of the Assembly are elected to represent their electorates and are able to raise issues of concern to their constituents and community.
2. To form the Executive Government for New South Wales
The leader of the party or parties which command a majority in the Legislative Assembly is commissioned by the Governor to form a Government.
The Ministry or Cabinet consists of Members of Parliament chosen from the party or parties commanding a majority in the Legislative Assembly. This Executive Government remains in office for as long as it commands the confidence of the Assembly, from which the majority of Ministers are chosen.
3. To legislate
The Parliament makes laws by considering bills which, if agreed to by both Houses, are then sent to the Governor for Royal Assent. Bills are considered by being debated in each House and, if further investigation is needed, by referral to a committee of a House for inquiry and report.
Both Houses in New South Wales can initiate legislation. However, the Legislative Assembly, as the seat of Government, is the only House where money bills may be initiated. In addition, if the Legislative Council fails to pass a bill from the Assembly that bill may become law after being agreed to by the majority of voters at a referendum.
While the majority of legislation introduced into the Legislative Assembly is brought in by Ministers, all Members of the Legislative Assembly can introduce legislation. Bills introduced by Members who are not Ministers are referred to as "Private Members' Bills".
4. To approve the Government's request for money
One of the fundamental roles of Parliament is to consent to the appropriation of monies. The Government must initiate any legislation appropriating money for expenses such as the annual State Budget, or legislation imposing new taxes or levies, in the Legislative Assembly.
As the seat of Government, the Legislative Assembly is able to grant approval for any legislation appropriating money for the "ordinary annual services of Government" with or without the support of the Legislative Council. Accordingly, in New South Wales the Upper House is unable to prevent the passing of the Government's budget.
5. Other roles
Other roles that the Legislative Assembly has are to scrutinise the activity of the Government and keep it accountable to the people of New South Wales, and advising Government on public policy.
The Legislative Assembly does this by:
- Debate of bills and motions;
- Asking questions;
- Moving motions raising concerns or expressing opinions;
- Raising matters of public importance;
- Establishing parliamentary committees to inquire into and report on matters;
- Lodging petitions; and
- Requiring reports to be presented to it, such as annual reports of Government departments and agencies.