THE PRESIDENTIAL ROLE
The Role of President of the Legislative council
If you sit in on Question Time in the Legislative Council, or tune in to proceedings on the TV or radio, you will undoubtedly hear the President command “order, order!” when Members of Parliament become disorderly or disruptive. You will hear Members say “Mr President” when they raise a point of order or seek a ruling from the chair.
These verbal cues offer an insight into the President’s responsibility, to maintain order and facilitate proceedings in the Legislative Council. Bruce recognises his role in upholding the right of all members of Parliament to speak.
After seven years in the chair, Bruce knows that debate in Parliament, especially during Question Time can appear fierce and rigorous. However, there is a good reason behind the robust debate. Debate is a necessary part of the parliamentary process as it ensures bills are scrutinised and will serve their most effective purpose.
Debate serves an important role in informing members about the implications of voting for or against a bill. Strong debate is all the more important currently because Parliament has a political composition of unprecedented diversity. Due to the closeness of numbers on the floor of the Upper House outcomes are uncertain until the final vote is counted.
Question Time is only a small part of the role that the President and Members of Parliament play in the parliamentary process. Behind the scenes, the President undertakes a number of other roles to ensure parliament runs smoothly.
The President’s main responsibility is to guide the House's deliberations by maintaining order and ensuring that votes and proceedings are conducted in accordance with parliamentary rules and conventions. The majority of the President’s procedural authority are the Standing Orders and Sessional Orders. The President’s responsibilities include allocating speaking rights (having regard to the proportionality of the political representation of the whole house), determining by the voices whether the 'Ayes' or 'Noes' are in the majority; and receiving and signing any official communications involving the Legislative Council (for example, messages from or to the Legislative Assembly regarding the passage of Bills).
On a daily basis, the President oversees matters of administration in Parliament. The President makes decisions on Parliament’s budgetary needs, building decisions and the allocation of offices to members and staff. The President determines the joint investigatory committees and decides on the provision of information to the public.
The President represents the interests of the Legislative Council. The President can represent the Legislative Council on parliamentary matters and (as determined recently) on legal matters.The President also represents the interests of Victoria and Australia through dealings with officials such as foreign members of parliamentary delegations, diplomats, ambassadors and high commissioners. He does this through upholding Parliament’s relationship with overseas officials and attending cultural events and overseas conferences.
The President’s ceremonial role represents the relationship between the House and the Crown (represented by the Governor). A newly elected President must inform the Governor that he or she has been chosen by the Legislative Council as President and subsequently inform the House of the Governor's reply. When a new Parliament first meets, the President formally presents the contents of the Governor's Speech (which outlines the Government's policies and proposed legislation) to the House. The House debates the Governor’s speech and the President presents the Address in Reply to the Governor and, again, advises the House of the Governor's response.