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Special Article - The History of Government in New South Wales
Executive government in NSW is based on the British system, known as Cabinet government. The essential condition is that Cabinet is responsible to Parliament. Its main principles are that the Head of State - the Governor - should perform governmental acts on the advice of the ministers. The Governor should choose the principal ministers from members of the party, or coalition of parties, commanding a majority in the Lower House of Parliament (the Legislative Assembly). The Ministry chosen should be collectively responsible to that House for the government of the State and should resign if it ceases to command the confidence of the House.
THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL
All important actions of State are performed or sanctioned by the Governor-in-Council (the Executive Council). Invariably members of the Executive Council are members of the Ministry formed by the leader of the dominant party in the Legislative Assembly.
The Governor presides at the meetings of the Executive Council, or in his absence the Vice-President of the Council or the next most senior member. The quorum is two. The meetings are formal and official in character. At the meetings the decisions of the Cabinet are given legal form, appointments are made, resignations are accepted, proclamations are issued and regulations are approved.
THE MINISTRY OR CABINET
While the formal executive power is vested in the Governor, in practice the whole policy of a Ministry is determined by the ministers meeting, without the Governor, under the chair of the Premier. This group of ministers is known as the Cabinet.
The Ministry consists of those members of Parliament chosen to administer departments of State and to perform other executive functions. Most ministers come from the Legislative Assembly. The Constitution limits the numbers of ministers to 20. The Ministry is answerable to Parliament for its administration. It continues in office only as long as it commands the confidence of the Legislative Assembly. An adverse vote in the Legislative Council does not affect the life of the Ministry.
Table 3.1 Ministries of NSW since 1973
The State Legislature consists of the Sovereign and the two Houses of Parliament - the Legislative Council (the Upper House) and the Legislative Assembly (the Lower House).
All Bills for appropriating revenue or imposing taxation must originate in the Legislative Assembly; any other Bill may originate in either House.
Each member must take an oath or affirmation of allegiance and must declare his or her pecuniary or other interests. Disclosures are open to public inspection.
Both Houses must meet at least once a year. The Constitution (Fixed Term Parliaments) Amendment Act 1993 fixed the term of Parliament to four years and specified that ‘A Legislative Assembly shall, unless sooner dissolved [by the Governor], expire on the Friday before the first Saturday in March in the fourth calendar year after the calendar year in which the return of the writs for choosing that Assembly occurred.’
The party system has become a dominant feature of Parliamentary government in NSW. Most members of Parliament belong to one of the three main parties - the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party.
Table 3.2 Parliaments of NSW since 1965
THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
The Legislative Council has 42 members, each elected for two terms of the Legislative Assembly. The term of office of 21 members expires at each general election, at which time 21 members are elected.
The executive officers of the Council are the President and the Chairman of Committees who are chosen by and from the members of the Council.
THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
There are 99 members of the Legislative Assembly - one member per electorate - who are elected on a system of universal suffrage. The term of office is for a maximum of four years.
A Speaker presides over the House and the election for the position is the first business of the House after an election. The Speaker presides over debate, maintains order, represents the House officially, communicates its wishes and resolutions, defends its privileges when necessary and determines its procedure. There is also a Chairman of Committees elected by the House at the beginning of each Parliament. The Chairman presides over the deliberations of the House in Committee of the Whole and acts as Deputy Speaker.
(a) Does not include results of by-elections.
(b) Prior to 1982, the ‘National Country Party’.
The elections of both Houses are conducted by secret ballot. Only Australian citizens resident in NSW who are 18 years of age or over are eligible to enrol to vote. British subjects who were on the roll on 26 January 1984 retain the right to vote. Enrolment and voting are compulsory.
OPTIONAL PREFERENTIAL VOTING
A member of the Legislative Assembly is elected by the optional preferential method of voting. Using this method, a voter is required to record a vote for one candidate only, but is permitted to record a vote for as many more candidates as desired, indicating the preferred order. In counting, the candidate with an absolute majority of first preference votes is elected. If there is no such candidate, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and the votes cast for that candidate are transferred, according to the second preferences, to the other candidates. This is repeated until a candidate has an absolute majority. That candidate is then declared elected.
The optional preferential proportional representation method is used in the Legislative Council with the whole State as a single electorate. A voter is required to vote for ten candidates but may indicate preferences beyond ten.
At general elections, polling is held on the same day for all electorates. Polling day is invariably a Saturday. The Polls are open from 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES
Since 1 July 1993, an area established for local government purposes is known as a Council. A Council may be proclaimed a City Council if it has a distinct character and entity as a centre of population. At 1 July 1993 there were 39 city councils and 138 councils in NSW. In addition, there is one unincorporated area in the far west of NSW.
Each local government area is governed by an elected council. Each council has an elected Mayor (Lord Mayor in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong) and a General Manager appointed by the council.
LOCAL GOVERNMENR ACT
The Local Government Act 1993 came into effect on 1 July 1993 and replaced the Local Government Act 1919. The new Act abolished the separate funds which had been established to record transactions for general functions and trading activities of councils, and replaced it with one fund. Another significant effect is the requirement for councils to value their infrastructure, such as roads and recreation amenities, and to bring these assets into the councils’ balance sheets.
With the introduction of the new Act, the elected representatives of councils are known as councillors (instead of aldermen in the case of municipalities) and all leaders of councils are called mayors (instead of presidents in the case of shires).
LOCAL GOVERNMENT FUNCTIONS
Local government councils in NSW provide a wide range of services. The most important of these are the general services of administration, health, community amenities, recreation and culture, roads and debt servicing throughout the area controlled by the council. Councils also provide a range of trading activities, mainly in country areas of NSW. These trading activities include water supply, sewerage services, gas services and abattoir facilities.
Local government’s principal functions are to maintain public roads, operate garbage disposal services, run health services, provide recreation services, control building construction, and provide sundry other services of benefit to the local population.
County councils are constituted for the administration of specified local services of common benefit in districts which comprise a number of councils. County councils’ responsibilities can include the supply of water, flood control and eradication of noxious weeds and pests.
Text for the section entitled The history of government in NSW courtesy of the Parliament of New South Wales.
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