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Victoria - Concept

Law in Victoria (1836 - )


The way laws have been made and amended in Victoria has varied over time and been significantly impacted by the many changes in Victoria's system of government from a district of New South Wales to a fully elected representative parliament. A number of groups and institutions have been responsible for the creation and amendment of law in Victoria over time, these include:
Port Phillip District (1836 - 1851)
Colony of Victoria (1851 - 1901)
State Government of Victoria (1901 - )


From 1836 Victoria was known as the Port Phillip District and was a district under the control of New South Wales. New South Wales became increasingly concerned about the number of colonists 'squatting' land in the region and when prohibitions failed to move the fledgling communities New South Wales sent a Commandant to manage the settlements.

The settlers were soon pushing for independence from New South Wales and were successful in 1851 when the Australian Colonies Act was passed. This act granted The Port Phillip District status as its own colony independent from New South Wales and re-named it the Colony of Victoria.

The colonial era from 1851 to Federation in 1901 saw many dramatic changes in the way law was made in Victoria. Up until 1855 the Colony of Victoria was governed by a Governor appointed by Britain, and 30 members on a Legislative Council. 10 of the 30 members were appointed by the Governor and the other 20 were elected by the wealthy land owners of the colony. Women and people without a certain amount of land were not allowed to vote. This Legislative Council shared responsibility for making, amending and repealing law in Victoria with the British Government.

In 1855 the Colony of Victoria achieved self-government. This meant the British Government had less power over legislation in Victoria. As a part of self-government a Westminster parliamentary system was established consisting of two houses: a Legislative Council (upper house) and a Legislative Assembly (lower house). Laws now had to be debated and agreed upon by these two houses and the Governor before they could be passed.

The political party or coalition of parties who held the most seats in the Legislative Assembly (lower house) became the government and the leader of their group or coalition was the Premier. One of the main ideas behind having multiple parties and two houses is that it will ensure as many perspectives as possible go into making laws and that the people making and debating these laws represent as many sections of the Victorian community as possible.

Despite the fact that everyone in the Colony of Victoria had to follow the laws made by the parliament only a select group of people were allowed to vote. Up until 1857 only men who owned a large amount of land could vote. After 1857 all male British Subjects over the age of 21 could vote. Women were not permitted to vote until after federation. This meant large portions of the population had little say about the people who would represent them in parliament, and as a consequence the kind of laws that would be made.

In 1901 when the colonies of Australia federated, the Colony of Victoria became the State of Victoria. This meant the new Victorian Government had to follow laws passed by the new Federal Government of Australia, but the State Government of Victoria could still make its own law in certain areas. For example laws about schools, hospitals and police are the responsibility of the State Government while laws about taxation and foreign affairs are the responsibility of the Federal Government.

Related Legislation


Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: Law Research Service, Melbourne Law School, Law Library, The University of Melbourne. 'Find and Connect Project - Victorian Legislation', 1 February 2013, held in the project files at the University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre.

Prepared by: Elizabeth Daniels and Christine Moje