26 January 2015
Controversial though Fred Nile might well have been for decades, how much the State Parliament of New South Wales has changed since his election to it long ago might only be known to political junkies. But this isn’t to say that Parliament has changed strictly because of the Christian Democrat Nile. He just happened to be there during its gradual period of change, and he’s been there ever since, bar a brief period in 2004 when he resigned to run for the Senate in a Federal election and then returned after his Senate run failed.
In NSW, Parliament has two representative chambers, the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. The religious Nile was elected to the latter in 1981. But it wasn’t until 1978 that the Council, the Upper House of Parliament, was open to general elections – in those days, state election in NSW were only for the Assembly, the Lower House of Parliament, where governments are formed.
Members of the Legislative Council, or MLCs for short, were instead elected internally and separately from general elections. Every three years or so, there’d be a joint meeting of Assembly and Council members to elect people to new Council terms, lasting twelve years. These joint meetings were sometimes held months in advance, which occasionally meant during the year before terms were due to commence, and they were also held to elect replacements to complete the terms of MLCs who died or resigned before their terms ended. By 1978 there were sixty MLCs, divided into four groups by virtue of the years in which their terms were deemed to have commenced – the years in question were 1967, 1970, 1973, and 1976.
After Neville Wran became Premier in 1976, he strove to “democratise” the Council, and he was ultimately able to do so despite initially lacking support for it within Parliament. As a result, when the next election came in 1978, NSW MLCs were popularly elected for the first time. The size of the Council was also reduced. At this point, to keep things simple, I should point out the years in which subsequent elections took place – they were in 1981, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1995, and 1999.
The terms of MLCs dating back to 1967 and 1970 ended at that 1978 election. The terms of MLCs dating back to 1973 would end in 1981, and the terms of MLCs dating back to 1976 would end in 1984. After the 1984 election, there were forty-five MLCs, a third of whom would face the voters at each state election afterwards. The subsequent years in which terms would end were scheduled to be 1988 for those MLCs elected in 1978 and 1991 for those in 1981 and 1995 for those in 1984.
New reforms affecting MLCs came after the 1991 election. The number of them was reduced from forty-five to forty-two, and half of them would face the voters at each election. As a result, the terms of the last three MLCs elected in 1984 ended immediately. The remaining twelve MLCs from 1984 would face the voters in 1995, as would the last nine MLCs elected in 1988. Meanwhile, the first six MLCs elected in 1988 and all fifteen MLCs elected in 1991 would face the voters in 1999. As such, the NSW Parliament now has the whole Assembly and twenty-one MLCs facing the voters at each election.
Also, in the 1990s Parliament moved to fixed terms. Whereas previously the Premier of the day could call an election at will, terms are now set for late March every fourth year.
This shows how much the NSW Parliament has changed during Nile’s time there. Perhaps Nile was unlucky that he hadn’t been there when it all began just a few years before he entered it.