OP-ED: Daily Work About Helping Communities
Thursday 14 May 2020, The Examiner
As a Legislative Councillor, it’s important for people to know what we do, our function in the wider operation of Parliament and everything we do in our communities as it is not widely understood. Like any political office, the functions of an MLC aren’t limited to legislative duties. Our day-to-day work is usually wrapped up in meetings with constituents or getting out into the community to events, school and to spend time with, and assist community groups.
Legislative Council member are local people who deeply know and understand their communities and constituents, dealing with a wide range of issues. Like other political members, we build and maintain relationships with as many constituents and community groups as possible, through volunteering on boards, helping out with events and keeping in touch with some of our fabulous community groups such as New Horizons Tasmania, Self Help and the schools that are in our electorates.
If constituents have an issue, be it federal, state or local, and are not sure where to go to seek help, a good first point of call is their Legislative Council member. We will always try to help, and if it is not within our means, can often suggest a way forward with other contacts.
Assisting constituents is one of the most rewarding parts of my work. We have an open-door policy and are readily available with Members for Launceston, Windermere and Rosevears all situated on the ground floor at Henty House in Civic Square.
The Tasmanian Legislative Council was established in 1825 and is the only house of Parliament in Australia – and perhaps the world – that has never been controlled by any government or political party. This should inspire a great deal of confidence in the Tasmanian Legislative Council, as it gives us the means to apply greater scrutiny to bills, with nine of its current fifteen members being beholden to no particular political party.
Most Australian states and territories (in addition to the Federal Parliament) are bicameral systems, meaning that there are two houses of Parliament. Tasmania’s House of Assembly, known as the Lower House, is usually where the government is formed and the Legislative Council or Upper House being where Bills are scrutinized and further debated. This functions as a check and balance on the power that is typically held in the Lower House, which is almost always controlled by a political party either as a majority or minority government.
Some jurisdictions, like Queensland, only have one house of Parliament – this is known as a unicameral Parliament. Tasmanian Legislative Councillors each represent a single electorate of around 25,000 constituents – fifteen in total and are responsible to the constituents in each of these areas. Currently, nine MLC are independent, four represent the Labor Party and two represent the Liberal Party.
This is unlike the Federal Upper House (the Senate) where Tasmania’s twelve senators of for Labor, five Liberal, two Greens and one Jacqui Lambie Network, who first and foremost represent the interests of the entire state.
Bills (draft Acts or proposed laws) which generally originate in the Lower House are debated and considered clause by clause and possibly amended. They are then sent to the Upper House for approval. The Upper House, being a house of review, scrutinizes and debates the Bill, making amendments if considered necessary. At times, a Bill is sent off to a committee for more intense scrutiny before being reviewed. If there are no amendments passed, the Bill is approved and sent off to the Tasmanian Governor for Royal Assent, at which time it becomes an Act of Parliament or a law.
If amendments are made, the Bill is returned to the Lower House for agreement, however, if amendments are not agreed to by the Lower House or the Upper House doesn’t pass the bill, it is thrown out.
Another integral duty of a Legislative Councillor is service on various committees. House of Assembly Members of Parliament also serve on committees, but for Legislative Councillors, their role as scrutineers of legislation extends to other actions of government. This includes scrutinising government policies through the budget estimates period, through Government Business Enterprise herrings and through the Joint Standing Parliamentary Accounts Committee, which is also comprised of members from the House of Assembly.
Legislative Councillors also find themselves participating in committees examining one-off issues through select committees such as the Short-Stay Accommodation Inquiry.
I urge anyone interested in the Legislative Council, or the Parliament more generally, to get online and to look at some of the great resources available. Please remember, should you require assistance on any issue, but particularly in these difficult times, I, along with my colleagues at federal, state and local levels of government, are here for you.
Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor
Rosemary Armitage MLC