Government and politics are important because they affect our everyday lives every day, but it can be confusing if you’re not sure how it all works.
HISTORY OF GOVERNMENT IN VICTORIA
This land was originally home to many indigenous nations that had been here for about 40,000 years, living a semi-nomadic existence of fishing, hunting and gathering, and farming eels. These nations were divided by language, geography, family and tribal allegiances, and were guided by elders and a culture of oral histories and mythology.
The first European settlement in the area later known as Victoria was established in October 1803. At the time it was called the Port Phillip District and it was part of the Colony of New South Wales, although many of the first colonists were from the Colony of Tasmania (known then as Van Diemen’s Land) or they sailed directly from England.
The village (later town, then city and capital) of Melbourne (at first known as Batmania after John Batman) was founded in 1835.
On 1 July 1851, writs were issued for the election of the first Victorian Legislative Council, and the absolute independence of Victoria was established proclaiming a new Colony of Victoria.
FROM COLONY TO STATE
In 1901 Victoria became a State in the newly created Commonwealth of Australia. We often refer to this time, known as Federation, as the birth of our nation because the Constitution created a federal system of government bringing together 6 different and separate colonies occupying the continent of Australia.
Between 1901 and 1927, Melbourne was the capital of Australia while Canberra was still under construction. Melbourne was also the largest city in Australia at the time, mostly due to the previous 20 years of gold rush driven prosperity.
GOVERNMENT IN AUSTRALIA
There are three tiers of government in Australia:
- The Federal Government represents the whole of Australia, to the world, and in national services such as taxation, universities, defence and telecommunications delegated from the states by the 1901 constitution and any amendments since;
- The State Government represents us in Victoria, for statewide services like police, schools and hospitals; and
- Local Government represents us in our local community, for local services like parks, rubbish collection and building approvals, as delegated by laws of State Parliament.
WESTMINSTER SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT
The State Governments of Australia have their own constitutions. Like Australia, Victoria has a parliamentary form of government based on the Westminster System, a model that operated (and still operates) in the United Kingdom. As such, both the Australian and the Victorian governments have three divisions of principle:
- the Legislature (or Parliament) is responsible for debating and voting on new laws to be introduced;
- the Executive (the Government) is responsible for enacting and upholding the laws established by the legislature; and
- the Judiciary is the legal arm of the government and consists of the courts and their associated entities.
The function of each of these divisions are as follows:
VICTORIAN PARLIAMENT (THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH)
The Constitution of Australia holds that for the Government of Victoria, there are certain powers, both legislative and judicial, that are matters for the Commonwealth, and in other areas it functions independently with full power and authority.
The Parliament of Victoria is bicameral: made up of the Legislative Assembly (the lower house) and the Legislative Council (the upper house).
Currently, all 88 members of the Legislative Assembly are elected from 88 equally sized single-member electorates by the preferential system of voting.
Victorian Legislative Council elections are held at the same time as those for the Assembly, but by a multi-member proportional representation system. Victoria is divided into 8 Legislative Council electorates (each encompassing 11 Legislative Assembly electorates) with each electorate represented by five representatives elected by Single Transferable Vote. The total number of upper house members is 40.
Laws must pass BOTH houses of Parliament to be enacted. The Legislative Council is often (and traditionally) seen as a house tasked with the function of reviewing laws passed by the Legislative Assembly, as a proportionally elected legislature similar to the Australian Senate. But laws can be initiated in either house, and often minor parties and independents are only elected to the Legislative Council, so must do so from there.
The Premier and the Government is elected from the Legislative Assembly, but Government Ministers can come from either house, and the Government of the day is expected to be represented and accountable in the Legislative Council by its elected members.
Election dates for the Victorian Parliament are now fixed, and occur in November every four years. Voting in Victoria (and Australia) is compulsory for registered citizens.
STATE GOVERNMENT (THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH)
The Premier of Victoria is the leader of the political party or coalition with the most seats in the Legislative Assembly, and on the basis of being able to command a majority in Parliament, is appointed to the post by the Governor. The Premier is the public face of the Executive Branch of government and, with cabinet, sets the legislative and political agenda. Cabinet consists of representatives elected to either house of parliament, and nominated by the Premier to also be appointed by the Governor.
The Executive Branch of the State Government is divided into departments responsible for carrying out executive policy and administering the works of government:
- Department of Premier and Cabinet as well as being the responsible for serving the elected Premier and their appointed cabinet, looks after Multiculturalism, Arts and Women & Equality
- Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources is responsible for the creation of sustainable growth in the economy and employment
- Department of Education and Training provides services and resources in learning for the development of Victorians
- Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning works to create sustainable and habitable communities
- Department of Health and Human Services looks after developing policies, programs and services to strengthen health and well-being
- Department of Justice & Regulation provides a safe, supportive and innovative place to grow
- Department of Treasury and Finance governs economic, financial and resource management and advice for the delivery of policies in Victoria
THE COURTS (THE JUDICIAL BRANCH)
The Supreme Court of Victoria is the superior court for the State of Victoria. It was founded in 1852, and is a superior court of common law and equity, with unlimited jurisdiction within the state. Above it lies the High Court of Australia, which is part of the Federal Government. Also part of the Federal Government is the Federal Court of Australia, primarily hearing matters relating to corporations, trade practices, industrial relations, bankruptcy, customs, immigration and other areas of federal law; and the Family Court of Australia which has jurisdiction over family law matters.
The judicial heirarchy for courts in Victoria is as follow:
- Supreme Court of Victoria
- County Court of Victoria handles most criminal trials for less serious indictable offences, and most civil matters below a threshold (usually around $1 million).
- Magistrates’ Court of Victoria handles summary matters and smaller civil matters.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which is not a court, serves a judicial function.
There are 79 municipalities in Victoria for the purposed of local government. The Shires and city councils are responsible for functions delegated by the Victorian parliament. Some of these include city planning, road infrastructure and waste management.