One of the principles of maintaining a bicameral Parliament in a system of responsible government is that the two Houses should have different representational compositions. Consequently, in Western Australia, the members of the Legislative Council are elected from different geographical regions and by a different system of voting from the way in which members of the Legislative Assembly are elected. This means that the political composition of the Council may be different to that of the Assembly.
The Government is formed in the lower House, regardless of the composition of the upper House. However, laws can only be made with the approval of both Houses. This gives the upper House an important role as a check on the Government, particularly when the Government does not have a majority in the upper House, and so needs to obtain the support of at least some non-Government members in order to pass legislation. While most Government Ministers are drawn from the lower House, at least one Minister (and usually more) is always an upper House member.
Any Bill, apart from a money Bill, can be initiated in the Legislative Council. In practice, most Bills are introduced by the Government in the Legislative Assembly. Bills that are introduced in the Legislative Assembly must also be passed by the Council (as Bills that are introduced in the Council must also be passed by the Assembly). Click on the Legislative Process for more information on this subject.
The Council is often called a "house of review" because of its function of monitoring and reviewing legislation and scrutinising the Government's budget and the administration of Government departments and other public agencies.
One of Parliament's responsibilities is to inform the public of, and debate, the Government's actions and any other matters of concern within our society.
These consist of nominated members drawn from the various parties in the Council. There are standing (permanent) committees, which play an ongoing role such as reviewing delegated or subordinate legislation, and select (temporary) committees, which are set up for a particular purpose and dissolve once that is completed. Often complex or controversial matters are referred to a committee so that difficulties can be resolved by the committee, rather than by lengthy debate in the Council itself. Time is set aside each week for the House to discuss Committee reports to the House.
Members may ask Ministers who are members of the Council questions about their portfolios, or those of lower House Ministers they represent. Sometimes members give prior notice of the question to enable the Minister to collate information. The questions and their answers, like all Council proceedings, are published in Hansard. Members may also submit written questions to Ministers, to which Ministers may give a written reply.
Members of the Council can move motions, conduct urgency debates, introduce Bills, and table petitions on behalf of members of the public, all in an effort to monitor or comment on the Government in a public forum.