Victoria's Government


The Victorian Legislative Council

The Australian Colonies Government Act of 1850 gave Victoria its own representative government in a Legislative Council. Two-thirds of the members were elected and one-third nominated. Victoria becomes an independent colony on 1st July the very next year (1851), and it’s to be governed by a Lieutenant Governor (Charles La Trobe was the first governor) and this Legislative Council.

The Legislative Council at this time were amateurs, and the population was expanding due to the gold rush: but they did achieve three vital things. Firstly they wrote a Constitution for Victoria. Secondly, the council invented the secret ballot- which has over time spread throughout the Western world as the preferred method of controlling voting. Lastly, the council was wise enough to realise that if they were going to develop as a nation and particularly as a colony, they needed appropriate accommodation. Therefore they started the process of constructing Parliament House.


In the early 1850s, only men who owned a large property had the right to vote. This lead to much controversy, as any man, rich or poor, would be required by law to pay tax. The predicament grew in 1854, when Governor Hotham enforced the law that all miners had to pay tax (8 pound) for a license- no matter their income. The diggers in Eureka, Ballarat responded by burning licenses, making an oath on the Southern Cross, and joining forces in a makeshift wooden barricade enclosing about an acre of goldfields. Authorities attacked the stockade on the 3rd of December, a 20 minute battler occurred- 13 people were arrested, and 22 diggers and 5 troops were killed during the battle. Although violent, this battle did result in a positive movement. In March 1855, a bill was passed changing the tax to 1 pound- and all men over age 21 in Australia could vote (with the exception of Aborigines, who didn't earn the right until almost one hundred years later). This battle would always be remembered as the Eureka Rebellion or Eureka Stockade.

Upper House, Upper Class

The Victorian parliamentary system was unicameral, consisting of one chamber, between 1851-1856. From then on there were two houses in Victorian parliament, the Victorian Legislative Council (upper house) and the Victorian Legislative Assembly (lower house). Victoria was governed using the Westminster System, explained in the video below.

On the 21st November 1856 the first Parliament of Victoria is elected. There are 30 members of the Legislative Council and 60 members of the Legislative Assembly, all of which were elected earlier that year.

For the next few decades there is a constant power struggle from within Victorian Parliament. The Governor's role, importance and power gradually lessens over time. The Parliament asserts itself in this situation, stating that the Governor has no direct influence on the affairs of the colony: that is the Parliament's role alone.

Although assertive and strong as a whole, from within itself the Parliament had it's own issues. The Legislative Assembly believed that they were popularly elected, and should have the right to pass policy and legislation as the Legislative Council does. The Legislative Council had a different viewpoint: that the lower house is just a house of review, and it is in place to assist the upper house and should not have the right to write laws.

At this time, mostly upper class, wealthy men were elected into the Legislative Council: whereas the Legislative Assembly consisted of many different men from all different backgrounds (over age 21). Women and Aborigines wouldn't be in parliament for many more years.

from westminster to victoria

What is the Westminster System?

Read the fine print, gentleman

The Parliament of Victoria accidentally allowed women the right to vote, back in 1863. There was a fault in legislative drafting; therefore the Electoral Act of 1863 enfranchised all ratepayers listed on local municipal rolls. They had managed to overlook the fact that local government legislation had permitted women to be added to municipal rolls. Those particular women therefore had the vote and could use it in the election the very next year (1864). The Legislative Assembly hastily fixed this clause in early 1865, restricting the vote for parliamentary elections strictly to male ratepayers over 21.