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Electing the Council

Electing the Council

The Legislative Council has 42 members who are elected according to a system of proportional representation, with the entire State acting as a single electoral district. Periodic Council elections are held at the same time as the general election for the Legislative Assembly. The next periodic Council election is due in March 2019.

At each periodic election, one half (or 21 members) of the Legislative Council are elected for a term of eight years.

The ballot paper on election day
The ballot paper for the Council has two parts, often referred to as ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’. Voters must vote either above or below the line. The form of the ballot paper is reproduced below.
Ballot paper for the Legislative Council

Counting the votes
The procedure for the counting of votes is based on determining a quota of votes for election to the Council, currently 4.55 per cent of the total number of valid (unspoilt) first preference votes cast. Those candidates that achieve this quota, either through first preferences, or through the later transfer of preferences, are elected.

The Electoral Commissioner is responsible for determining the result of periodic Council elections.

Seats won in the Council since 1978
The following table shows seats won by party since the 1978 reconstitution of the Council.  

ALP Lib/Nat Dem CDP Grns SFP AJP ONP Other Elected
1978 9 6 - - - - - - - 15
1981 8 5 1 1 - - - - - 15
1984 7 7 - 1 - - - - - 15
1988 6 7 1 1 - - - - - 15
1991 6 7 1 1 - - - - - 15
1995 8 8 1 1 1 1 - - 1 21
1999 8 6 1 1 1 - - 1 3 21
2003 10 7 - 1 2 1 - - - 21
2007 9 8 - 1 2 1 - - - 21
2011 5 11 - 1 3 1 - - - 21
2015 7 9 - 1 2 1 1 - - 21

A table depicting the composition of the Council since the introduction of popular elections for the Council is available here.


Parliamentary Calendar and Elections

"Parliaments" and Terms of the Legislative Council
The period of a Parliament is prescribed by the Constitution Act as 4 years (s.24 Constitution Act - Duration of Assembly). Members of the Legislative Council are elected for two terms of the Assembly, that is eight years, with 21 members of the 42 members up for election at each election.

The Legislative Council, unlike the Assembly, is a continuing House which does not expire and cannot be dissolved. However in the period preceding an election, the Council is adjourned, its business is suspended by the Constitution Act 1902 and it is prorogued by the Governor.

Under section 24 of the Constitution Act, a Legislative Assembly expires on the Friday before the first Saturday in March four years after the previous general election for the Legislative Assembly. Under section 24A of the Act general elections for the Legislative Assembly are to take place on the fourth Saturday in March. From the day of the expiry of the Assembly, to the day fixed for the return of the writs (see below), the Council is not able to conduct any business, by virtue of s22F of the Constitution Act.

What happens after the Parliament expires or is dissolved?
Section 68 of the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act 1912 states that:

writs for Assembly general elections are to be issued within 4 clear days after the publication in the Gazette of the proclamation dissolving the Assembly or after the Assembly has been allowed to expire by effluxion of time.
the writs are made returnable on a day within 60 days after the date of issue or to a later day as the Governor may direct by proclamation.

A writ is a document which is in the form of a command in the name of the sovereign, State, court etc. issued to an official or other person directing that person to act or abstain from acting in some way. (Oxford Dictionary)

The writs are prepared by The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), signed by the Governor and the Premier. One writ is issued for the 21 vacancies to be filled in the Legislative Council. The Speaker issues writs for casual vacancies in the Assembly.

Under the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act 1912, the Electoral Commissioner is responsible for the conduct and administration of general elections. The Electoral Commissioner may appoint Returning Officers for each electoral district to assist in the administration of elections. The Returning Officer is responsible to the Electoral Commissioner for the administration of all elections within the district to which appointed (ss. 75 and 76).

The writ itself contains all the information necessary for the Electoral Commissioner and Returning Officer to make arrangements for the poll to be conducted in the Electoral District. It contains:
the last day for nomination (by candidates). 
the polling day and 
the date the writs are to be returned.

Section 74D of the Parliamentary Electorates, and Elections Act 1912 outlines the duties of the Electoral Commissioner on receipt of a writ. They include such actions as advertising the relevant dates; receiving the nomination papers and advertising the names and locality of place of residence of the candidates. Returning Officers assist the Electoral Commissioner to conduct elections. Under section 87 the Returning Officer presides over and takes the poll at one polling place and appoints polling place managers to oversight the poll at the others in the Electoral District. 

Council Ballot Papers

Voters must either vote above the line (which consists of group or party voting squares)or below the line (which lists all candidates individually).At an election for members of the Council (periodic Council election), every elector is required to cast a vote for at least 15 candidates, but may vote for more than 15 if he or she chooses. This may be achieved by voting “1” in one of the group voting squares above the line, and then numbering other group voting squares if desired in the order of the voter’s preferences; or by numbering at least 15 squares below the line for individual candidates.. 

The ballot papers for the Council (enclosed in separate parcels containing used ballot papers; unused ballot papers; electoral rolls, books, other papers) are then forwarded to the Electoral Commissioner for safekeeping until the period has expired during which the election can be disputed in the Supreme Court (acting as the Court of Disputed Returns) i.e. within 40 days of the return of the writ or, if a petition has been filed, the Court of Disputed Returns has made a determination, or the period of 6 months after the day of polling has expired.

The counting of the votes is based upon the 21 candidates being elected each having obtained a “quota” of votes, with typically 4.55% of the total valid primary votes being sufficient for a candidate to gain a seat in the Council. If fewer than 21 candidates receive a quota a process of transferring preferences from the candidates with the least primary votes begins until all vacancies are filled. The count and distribution of preferences are conducted using the NSW Electoral Commission’s computer system.

When does the new Parliament meet?

Under the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Act, section 69 and s 74B, the Governor must issue a proclamation calling the Parliament together to meet on a day not later than the 7th clear day after the return of the writs for the General Election or the date for the return of the writ for the periodic Council election, whichever is the later. If the counting of votes is delayed the Governor may issue a proclamation extending the date for the return of the writs for either the Legislative Assembly or the Legislative Council. 

At the first sitting of the new Parliament

In answer to the Governor's proclamation, the members of the Legislative Council, including newly elected members will assemble in the Chamber at the time specified. The following events then take place:

The Clerk reads the Governor's proclamation convening Parliament.

A Commissioner then directs the Usher of the Black Rod to summon the members of the Legislative Assembly. Members will then receive the members of the Assembly in the Legislative Council Chamber to hear the Governor's reasons for calling the Parliament together, after which the Assembly departs.

The Clerk announces the receipt of the writ and the members elected.

The House is informed of the Commissioners appointed by the Governor to administer the pledge of loyalty or Oath of Allegiance to Members.

Members make the pledge or take the Oath before a Commissioner and sign the Roll of the House (under section 12 of the Constitution Act a Member cannot sit or vote in the House until the pledge of loyalty or oath of allegiance is made).

The House then elects a President; normal business can then be conducted.

Key Events/Dates for General Elections

EventOccurs when...
Expiry of ParliamentFriday before the first Saturday in March four years after the previous Assembly elected. (12.01am on Friday 6 March 2015).
Issue of the WritsWithin four clear days after above date. (Last day - Tuesday 10 March 2015).
Polling DayAssembly expired - fourth Saturday in March next following the expiry.
Assembly dissolved - not later than the 40th day from the date of the issue of the writs (Election to be Saturday 28 March 2015).
Declaration of the PollAnnouncement made by Electoral Commissioner after the votes are counted.
Return of the WritsWithin 60 days of issue or as the Governor directs. As the 60th day falls on a Saturday (9 May) the last day is Monday 11 May 2015 - Interpretation Act 1987 sec.36(2)).
Meeting of new ParliamentWithin seven clear days of the date the writs are returnable, unless the date for the return of the writs is extended by the Governor. (Last day - Monday 18 May 2015).

Administrative Arrangements
The recent practice has been for the Legislative Council to be prorogued until the date the new Parliament will meet after the election. While members are unable to meet collectively in Parliament, they still undertake their duties and responsibilities as members This is reflected in the fact that members, including the 21 whose terms expire, continue to receive a salary and most of their entitlements/allowances up to the day preceding polling .

In the case of the Premier and Ministers, after a General Election, they still continue to exercise the duties and responsibilities of their offices until the new Ministry is formed or until the Premier resigns (an action which automatically involves the resignation of all other Ministers). The Government acts in a caretaker capacity until the formation of a new Government.

Under the Parliamentary Remuneration Act 1989, for the purposes of that Act, a person elected as a member of the Legislative Council is deemed to become a Member on the date of election (that is, polling day) and ceases to be a member if not elected, from polling day


The duration of a Parliament is divided into sitting periods called sessions. It is also the Governor's duty to prorogue or discontinue a session until the next session. The House is said to be in recess after it is prorogued. It is mandatory for a session to be held at least once in every year so that a period of 12 months does not intervene between sittings. During a session the Council of its own motion may adjourn from one sitting day to the next.


There are usually two distinct sitting periods during the course of a year: the Budget (or Autumn) Sittings and the Spring Sittings.. The Budget sittings, when the State Budget is presented and debated, are usually held between February and June. The Budget sittings also often include a debate called the Address-in-Reply if a new session has been opened by the Governor. The Address-in-Reply is a debate which revolves around the Governor's speech opening the session. 

More information
New South Wales Legislative Council Practice, Chapter 4.
Electing the Parliament