The Legislative Assembly is one of two houses of the Parliament of Western Australia and is the house where government is formed.
Often known as the lower house, it is independent from the Legislative Council, but shares the work of legislating and scrutinising government performance and expenditure.
There are 59 members of the Legislative Assembly drawn from 59 electoral districts. Members are elected under a system of preferential voting as opposed to members of the Legislative Council who are elected under a system of proportional representation.
The Legislative Assembly operates according to a set of rules known as the standing orders and rulings issued by the Speaker to clarify the meaning of the standing orders and how they apply.
The Legislative Assembly has the following five main roles:
The Legislative Assembly is the house where government is formed. The party (or coalition of parties) with the majority of members forms government. The leader of the majority, known as the Premier, appoints ministers from the governing party’s membership. They are jointly called the cabinet or executive government and hold portfolio responsibilities for government departments and authorities.
Moneys are allocated for the operation of government through legislation (bills) passed by the Parliament. All bills that appropriate money (money bills) must be introduced into the Legislative Assembly. The appropriation bills are usually introduced into the Legislative Assembly just prior to the commencement of the financial year (usually May each year). These bills are carefully scrutinised by the Parliament. When passed by both houses of Parliament, they provide the annual recurrent and capital budget for government operations, including government departments and authorities.
Legislation or bills when introduced into Parliament are a method used by governments to regulate society by way of new laws. Most bills are introduced by the government through the responsible minister. Private members (backbenchers) of Parliament can also introduce private members’ bills.
To introduce a new law, or amend or repeal an existing law, a bill (draft law) must be passed in identical form by both houses of Parliament, and be assented to by the Governor. Once assented, the bill becomes an act.
A bill can be introduced into either house with the exception of a money bill, which must originate in the Legislative Assembly as the house of government.
During debate, members scrutinise the detail of the bill to ensure the laws introduced by the government are acceptable to their constituents. Amendments to the legislation may be accepted by government, if they improve or clarify the bill.
All members, who are not ministers, may participate in scrutinising the work of government. Generally, though, the role of monitoring and scrutinising the cabinet’s administration of operations is the primary function of the opposition, the largest non-government party. Parliamentary questions, motions in the house and parliamentary committees are key processes used to scrutinise the work of the government.
Members may seek clarification from ministers on issues of concern within their electorate. This includes issues that have not been resolved through normal channels, for example, when departmental rules have been too rigidly applied. The primary mechanisms for debate in the house are motions, matters of public interest, grievances, and questions asked of ministers.
Members can ask questions of responsible ministers about matters relating to their various portfolio responsibilities (government departments and authorities). Questions can be asked with notice (placed on the notice paper of the house) or asked in the house without notice during question time. Question time is normally held in the Legislative Assembly at approximately 2.00 pm on each sitting day and is televised. Parliamentary questions and answers are published in Hansard.
Motions in the house
Members can raise matters relating to government policy and actions by moving a motion. This is usually debated until the house reaches a decision by way of a vote on the matter.
Members can present petitions on behalf of members of the public. Petitions allow citizens to request the Parliament to redress any local or personal grievance they may have, request changes to the law or have a government decision reconsidered. Petitions may also request the redress of a personal grievance, but they cannot ask for a direct grant of money.
Committees conduct investigations into matters of concern or interest within the community and report back to the house with recommendations on how an issue can be resolved. Topics of investigation could include a matter of government policy, receipt and expenditure of public moneys, proposed legislation and review of regulations (subordinate legislation), et cetera.