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A Glossary of New South Wales Parliamentary Terms

A Glossary of New South Wales Parliamentary Terms


(Words in Italics within definitions are defined elsewhere in the Glossary)


Act (of Parliament): A Bill which has passed all stages in each House of Parliament, received Assent and become law.

Adjournment debate: A debate held at the end of each sitting day in Parliament, so called because it takes place on the motion to adjourn the House each day.

Amendment: An alteration to a Bill or Act.

Appropriation Bill: A Bill which, when passed by Parliament, will allow the Government to spend money.

Assent: The final stage in the process by which a Bill becomes an Act. Once the Bill has passed through all stages in both Houses, the Governor signs it to give it formal approval (assent).

Backbencher: A Member of Parliament who is not a minister or special office holder. These Members sit on the benches behind the ministers.

Balance of Power: Where no party holds a majority, another person or group may have enough votes to decide the issue and hence hold the ‘balance of power’.

Bicameral: A parliament that has two houses - an upper house (Legislative Council in NSW) and a lower house (Legislative Assembly in NSW).

Bill: A proposed law as it passes through Parliament. After it receives Royal Assent it becomes an Act.

Black Rod: The symbol of authority of the Usher of the Black Rod in the Legislative Council.

By-law: A rule or regulation.

Cabinet: The Ministers, who as senior Members of the governing party, are responsible for the development and implementation of policy, and with the Government departments and agencies for which they are responsible, carry out the day-to-day functions of government. They are also referred to as the Executive Government.

Casting Vote: A vote (usually the Chairperson’s) which decides a matter when the voting is equally divided.

Censure: A motion, usually from the Opposition, reprimanding or disapproving of the Government, a Minister or Member.

Chair of Committees: A Member who chairs proceedings during Committee of the Whole, replacing the Presiding Officer for that period.

Chamber: The room in which a particular house of parliament meets.

Clerk: The senior permanent officer in the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council responsible for ensuring that correct procedure is followed and administration and records are properly maintained.

Committee: A group of Members of Parliament appointed by a House to consider matters referred to it. Its findings are reported to the House.

Committee Stage (Committee of the Whole): The stage during the passage of a Bill (after the Second Reading) when it is examined clause by clause and amendments are considered. The ‘Committee’ is the whole House operating under different rules and presided over by the Chair of Committees.
    Constitution: The basic laws that define the powers and responsibilities of the government. New South Wales’ cur- rent Constitution began to operate in 1856 but has been modified by the Constitution Act of 1902, other Federal and State laws, legal decisions and conventions.

    Cross Bench: The seats in a House occupied by Members who are neither part of the Government nor the Opposition. They may be Independents or members of minor parties.

    Dissolution: The bringing to an end, by the Governor, of a Parliament, making a new election necessary.

    Division: A vote taken in a House of Parliament in which a record of the names of Members and how they vote is kept.

    Enact, enactment: The point at which a Bill comes into force as an Act of Parliament,

    First Reading: The first stage in the progress of a Bill through the Legislative Council. The Bill is presented and the Clerk reads aloud its short title. See also Introduction.

    Front Bench: Refers to the Ministers and Shadow Ministers who traditionally sit on the front benches in each House.

    Government: In Parliament, this is the party or Coalition of parties with majority support in the Legislative Assembly and therefore able to govern. The term ‘Government’ is also used to describe Executive Government.

    Government Bill: A Bill introduced by a Minister on behalf of the Government.

    Governor: The formal Head of State in New South Wales, the Queen’s representative.

    Hansard: The written record of Parliamentary debates, kept in NSW since 1879-80.

    House of Review: A term applied to the Legislative Council which is responsible for reviewing and providing a second opinion on Bills passed by the Legislative Assembly. Legislation sometimes originates in the Legislative Council and is reviewed in the Legislative Assembly.

    Independent: A Member of Parliament who is not a member of a political party.

    Leader of the Government: In the Legislative Assembly, the Premier; in the Legislative Council, a Government Member, elected to manage proceedings on behalf of the Government.

    Leader of the House: A person appointed from the government party or parties, to organise and arrange the proceedings of the House. The Opposition equivalent is called Manager of Opposition Business.

    Leader of the Opposition: A Member elected by the Opposition to lead them and to ‘shadow’ the Premier.

    Legislation: Laws enacted by a Parliament.

    Legislative Assembly: The Lower House of the New South Wales Parliament which first met in 1856.

    Legislative Council: The Upper House of the New South Wales Parliament.

    Legislature: A law-making body (e.g. a parliament).

    Lower House: One of the two houses in a bicameral system. In New South Wales, the Legislative Assembly.

    Mace: The symbol of authority of the Speaker. It is carried by the Serjeant-at-Arms on ceremonial occasions. The Mace rests on the top of the table in the Legislative Assembly while the House is sitting.

    Minister: A Member of the Government responsible for one or more government departments.

    MLC: Member of the Legislative Council.

    Money Bill: A Bill for the purpose of raising or spending money, commonly known as the Budget. Money Bills can only be introduced in the Legislative Assembly in NSW and cannot be prevented by the Legislative Council.

    MP: A Member of Parliament, but in NSW this refers to Members of the Legislative Assembly.

    Motion: A proposal put to the House, which is debated upon and seeks the opinion of the House, either for or against.

    Notice / Notice of Motion: The formal process by which the House is notified of forthcoming business – proposals to introduce Bills or move motions. Notices are printed on the Notice Paper and circulated before each sitting of the House.

    Opposition: The second largest political party or coalition of parties after the Government in the Lower House.

    Parliamentary Privilege: The rights, powers and immunities of Parliament and its Members necessary to uphold and protect the dignity and authority of Parliament – for example freedom of speech. They ensure that the business of Parliament can proceed without fear of attacks on Parliament’s authority.

    Petition: A document, usually with multiple signatures, presented to a House of Parliament, through a Member, by a person or group of people requesting that the Parliament consider action on a particular matter.

    Point of Order: When a Member suggests to the Presiding Officer that another Member is breaking the rules of the House.

    Portfolio: The specific responsibilities of a Minister, the Department or Departments for which the Minister is responsible.

    Premier: The chief minister of a state government in Australia; the leader of the party or coalition which gains a majority in the Lower House.

    Presiding Officers: The Members of Parliament elected by each House to preside over the meetings of that House (President in the Legislative Council, Speaker in the Legislative Assembly). They are also responsible for the ad- ministration of the Parliamentary departments and services.

    Press Gallery: The term applies both to the journalists accredited to report on Parliamentary proceedings, and to the special galleries provided for them in each House to observe Parliamentary debates.

    Prorogation: The termination of a session of Parliament by the Governor.

    Question Time: The time allotted in the Parliamentary day in each House when Members direct verbal questions (without notice) to Ministers.

    Quorum: The minimum number of Members necessary to be present to allow business to be conducted in a House of Parliament or a Committee. A quorum for the Legislative Assembly is 20 Members, for the Legislative Council 8 Members, and for Committees usually 3 Members.

    Responsible Government: Normally, a political system in which the Ministers of the Government must be supported by (and therefore be responsible to) a majority in the Lower House of Parliament.

    Seat: A term for a Member’s electorate or place in Parliament.

    Second Reading: The stage in the passage of a Bill at which the major debate takes place on its principle or purpose.

    Serjeant-at-Arms: An officer of the Legislative Assembly whose traditional duties include carrying the Mace on ceremonial occasions together with carrying out the Speaker’s orders during sittings of the House.

    Session: The period between the opening and the prorogation of Parliament.

    Shadow Minister: A member of the Opposition who follows closely (“shadows”) a particular area of responsibility and activities of a Government Minister.

    Sitting Days: Days on which one or both Houses of Parliament meet.

    Speaker: The Presiding Officer of the Legislative Assembly.

    Standing Committee: A committee existing for the life of a Parliament.

    Standing Rules and Orders: Permanent rules governing the conduct of business in the House, e.g., the stages through which Bills proceed, the conduct of debates, etc.

    Statute law: Parliament-made law as expressed in an Act.

    Third Reading: The final stage in a Bill’s passage through the Legislative Council or Legislative Assembly before it is passed.

    Upper House: One of the two houses in a bicameral system, in New South Wales, the Legislative Council.

    Usher of the Black Rod: The Parliamentary officer who carries out certain executive and administrative duties on behalf of the President of the Legislative Council, including carrying the Black Rod on sitting days and ceremonial occasions.

    Whip: A member of a political party in each House of Parliament who organises members’ attendance in the House and their participation in divisions and debates.