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The constitutional history of all the Australian Colonies begins with the general 'Act for the better Government 'of Her Majesty's Australian Colonies'1 passed in the year 1850 by the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain. This Act created a Legislative Council, partly elected and partly nominated, for the Colony of Victoria, and gave power to this Council' by any Act or Acts to alter 'the provisions or laws for the time being in force under 'the said Act,' or to establish in the said Colony in the place of itself' a Council and a House of Representa'tives, or other separate Legislative Houses, to consist 'respectively of such members, to be appointed or 'elected respectively by such persons, and in such 'manner, as by such Act or Acts should be determined, 'and to vest in such Council and House of Represen'tatives, or other separate Legislative Houses, the 'powers and functions of the Legislative Council for 'which the same might be substituted.' In the year 1854 the Legislative Council of the Colony exercised the powers given it by the Imperial Act of 1850, and established in its own place a Legislative Council of thirty members, elected by constituencies having a high property qualification, and of which every member was also to have a high property qualification; and a Legislative Assembly of sixty members, having themselves a low property qualification, and elected by a constituency very slightly removed from one including all men who had been settled for the space of twelve months in the Colony. Six members of the Legislative Council were to retire every two years, so that a total change was to be effected in ten years; the Assembly
1 13 and 14 Vict. cap. 59.
The Victorian Legislature. 161
was to be summoned for five years, though it might be dissolved sooner by the Governor. It was enacted that the Legislature of Victoria should be empowered ' by
* any Act or Acts to define the privileges, immunities, 'and powers to be held, enjoyed, and exercised by the 'Council and Assembly, and by the members thereof 'respectively: provided that no such privileges, immu'nities, or powers should exceed those then held, en'joyed, or exercised by the Commons House of Parlia
* ment or the members thereof.' This clause was limited by a later one, which provided that that Act should not be repealed, altered, or varied unless the second and third readings of the amending Bill were passed with the concurrence of an absolute majority of the whole number of the members of the Legislative Council and of the Legislative Assembly; and every such Bill was to be reserved for the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure. The 56th section enacts that' all 'Bills for appropriating any part of the revenue of 'Victoria, and for imposing any duty, rate, tax, rent, 'return, or impost, shall originate in the Assembly, and 'may be rejected, but not altered, by the Council.'
It was provided also by the Act that its provisions should have no force and effect' until so much and such 'parts of certain Acts of Parliament specified in the 'Bill as severally related to the Colony, and were re
* pugnant to its provisions, had been repealed; and the 'entire management and control of the waste lands 'belonging to the Crown in the said Colony, and of the 'proceeds thereof, including all royalties, mines, and 'minerals, should be vested in the Legislature of the 'Colony.'
In the year 1855 an Imperial Act of Parliament
was passed 1 for the purpose of repealing the last-named Acts or parts of Acts which were repugnant to the Act of the Victorian Legislature just cited. This Act recites that it is not competent to Her Majesty to assent to the reserved Bill of the Victorian Legislature without the authority of Parliament for that purpose; and that it is expedient that Her Majesty should he authorised to assent to the said reserved Bill, amended by the omission of certain provisions thereof. The Act then proceeds to give the necessary powers to enable Her Majesty in Council to assent to the said Bill as amended, 'anything in the said specified Acts of Parliament or 'any other Act, law, or usage to the contrary in any 'wise notwithstanding.'
The Victorian Legislature was not slow in availing itself of the power of amending its own so-called Constitution Act of 1854, especially as respects the Constitution of the Legislative Assembly. In 1857 the property qualiBcation for members was abolished, and in the same year vote by ballot was introduced. In 1858 a triennial term was substituted for the term of five years for the duration of the Assembly.
But it was not long before serious differences began to manifest themselves between the spirit, temper, and principles of the Council, which represented what may be called the moneyed aristocracy of the Colony, and the Assembly, which represented everybody else. These differences manifested themselves in a variety of ways, especially by a persistent habit on the part of the Council of rejecting important measures presented by the Assembly, and by reprisals on the part of the Assembly
Tfie Constitutional Question in Victoria. 163
in the form of forcing the Council to accept distasteful measures at the risk of rejecting with them Appropriation Bills on the passing of which the whole working of Government depended. In a memorandum addressed to the Governor, dated the 27th of December, 1878, and signed by Mr. Graham Berry, the Prime Minister, on behalf of the Ministry, it is complained that 'during twenty'four years of legislative activity the Council has thrown 'out more than eighty Bills, has amended more than 'twenty others so that the Assembly preferred to let 'them drop, and has entirely transformed others, which 'the Assembly has agreed to take in their mutilated 'form. It maintained State aid to religion during 'fifteen years, in opposition to the expressed will of 'the country. It has thrown out, or mutilated till they 'were useless, six Bills for Mining on Private Property. 'It has seven times thrown out Bills for the Payment of 'Members. It has thrown out an Electoral Bill and a 'Tariff Bill that had been passed by large majorities. 'Besides the four Appropriation Bills, it has rejected 'one Temporary Supply Bill. It has thrown out a Bill 'to provide for the defence of the country at a time 'when invasion seemed imminent. A Bill for an Inter'national Exhibition in Melbourne was contemptuously * thrown out on the plea that a protectionist colony had 'nothing to exhibit. It transformed a Bill for aiding 'industrial schools raised and maintained by voluntary 'efforts, into a system of schools almost at the sole 'charge of the State, which have proved costly and in'effective. Every Act that deals with the public domain 'will be found to contain a clause favourable to the 4 capitalist class, which has been consented to by the 'Assembly on the ground that the Bill would otherwise 'be rejected in the Council.'1
This, no doubt, is the language of political adversaries; but it suffices to show the spirit and nature of the conflict, and it is not probable that the members of the Council would care to dispute the bare accuracy of the facts enumerated. There is no doubt whatever of the reality of the constitutional crisis, which is sufficiently apparent from the mere fact of there having been in 1878 two distinct measures before the Legislature for the amending of the Constitution Act, and from the great but unsuccessful efforts made through the medium of a conference between the two Houses to find a basis of reconciliation. The objects of the Assembly are declared to be (1) 'that the annual Appropriation Bill 'should in no circumstances be rejected by the Council,' and (2) 'that definite legislative finality should be pro'vided with respect to all other Bills.' As a means of securing the latter object, it was proposed that when a Bill, other than a Money Bill, had been passed by the Legislative Assembly in two consecutive annual Sessions of Parliament and rejected by the Legislative Council in each Session, it should—unless it were ' submitted to 'and disapproved of by the electors for the Legislative 'Assembly at a general poll'—be deemed to be a Bill which had been properly passed by the Legislative Council.
The Council in their turn ' refused to consider any 'proposal that implied any legislative inferiority' in their House, and that was inconsistent with its independence. They also propounded two schemes as bases of reform,
1 'Further Correspondence respecting the Constitutional Question in Victoria,' 1879.