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History of the Northern Territory Parliament

Historical Background
The first attempt at European settlement in northern Australia was made in 1824. In 1827 a portion of north Australia extending to the border of Western Australia was included in New South Wales. In 1863 the portion subsequently known as the Northern Territory was annexed by Letters Patent to the colony of South Australia. However, from January 1911, the Territory, with its adjacent islands, was transferred to the Commonwealth by the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910. One of the conditions of the transfer was that such of the laws of South Australia as were applicable to the Territory at the time of transfer were to continue in force until such time as they were altered or repealed by, or under, any law of the Commonwealth.

At the time of Federation the Northern Territory was a part of South Australia and was then ceded to the Commonwealth as a Territory. The Commonwealth had responsibility for the administration of the Territory pursuant to the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910 of the Commonwealth.

From 1911 to 1947 the laws of the Territory were made by the Commonwealth Government and Parliament.

In 1947 the Northern Territory (Administration) Act was amended to provide for a Territory legislature. The first Legislative Council for the Northern Territory assembled in Darwin in March 1948. It consisted of seven official members appointed by the Governor-General, six elected members and the Administrator as President of the Council.

Further amendments to the Act made the following changes to membership of the Legislative Council:

  • 1959 - six official and three non-official members appointed by the Governor-General, eight elected members and the Administrator as President.
  • 1965 - The Administrator was excluded from membership and the President elected from official and non-official members.
  • 1969 - Non-official members were replaced by elected members.

In 1974 the Legislative Council was replaced by a fully elected Legislative Assembly with ninteen members.

For the General Election of 3 December 1983 membership of the Assembly was increased to 25, pursuant to the Electoral Amendment Act, No.73 of 1982.

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Self-Government
Self-government was conferred on the Northern Territory on 1 July 1978 by the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 of the Commonwealth.

This Act is effectively the Northern Territory's "constitution". As an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament it is entrenched and subject to amendment or repeal by the Commonwealth.

The Northern Territory Parliament became responsible for most state-type functions during the second half of 1979 with the power to legislate for state-type functions except:

  • matters relating to Aboriginal land;
  • the mining of uranium;
  • national parks; and
  • most matters of industrial relations

For inter-governmental financial purposes the Northern Territory has been regarded by the Commonwealth as a State since 1 July 1988.

Persons who, pursuant to the Commonwealth Electoral Act are qualified to vote at an election for a member to represent the Northern Territory in the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth, are qualified to vote at an election for the Legislative Assembly.

The Territory now has 2 Electoral Divisions for which a person may be elected to represent the Northern Territory for the House of Representives of the Commonwealth, Lingiari and Solomon.

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
The first Legislative Assembly met in the Legislative Assembly Chamber at 2.00pm on Wednesday 20 November 1974 pursuant to a notice signed by the Administrator of the Northern Territory, John Norman Nelson, in exercise of his power conferred by the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910-1974. According to the notice, the Legislative Assembly was 'to assemble and beholden for the dispatch of diverse urgent and important affairs'.

The term of the Parliament is determined pursuant to section 17(2) of Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 of the Commonwealth which states:

The period from the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly after a general election of members of the Assembly to the date of the next succeeding general election shall not be more than 4 years.

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Convening and Prorogation of Legislative Assembly
The Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 of the Commonwealth establishes the following conditions for the convening of Parliament and its prorogation from time to time

22.  Sessions of Legislative Assembly
(1) The Administrator may, by notice published in the Government Gazette of the Territory, appoint such times for holding the sessions of the Legislative Assembly as he thinks fit and may also, from time to time, in like manner, prorogue the Legislative Assembly.

(2) At the request of such number of members of the Legislative Assembly as is prescribed by enactment, the Administrator shall, by notice published in the Government Gazette of the Territory, appoint a time, being not later than 14 days after the day on which he receives the request, for holding a session of the Legislative Assembly.

Quorum of the Assembly
Section 23 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 of the Commonwealth provides that the number of members required to constitute a meeting of the Legislative Assembly shall be prescribed by enactment. Section 64 provides that until provision is made by enactment, the number required for a quorum shall be 10.

No enactment has been made from the commencement of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 to date, varying the number of members to constitute a quorum for the purposes set out in section 23. Accordingly, the quorum requirement for 10 members remains in place.

Decision making in the Assembly
All questions arising in the Assembly are determined by a majority of votes and the Speaker, or other member presiding, is also entitled to vote. Where there is an equality of votes the Speaker, or other member presiding, shall have a casting vote.

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Members of the Legislative Assembly
The First Assembly consisted of 19 members, 17 members representing the Country Liberal Party and 2 Independent members.

In 1982, an Act was passed to increase the number of Members of the Assembly to 25 Members. Section 138B of the Electoral Amendment Act 1982, (Act No.73 of 1982) provided for the election of 25 Members. This amendment was commenced with the next General Election of Members to the Legislative Assembly, 3 December 1983.

Qualifications and disqualifications for candidates are set out in section 20 and section 21 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 :

20.  Qualifications for election
Subject to section 21, a person is qualified to be a candidate for election as a member of the Legislative Assembly if, at the date of nomination:

(a) he is an Australian citizen;
(b) he has attained the age of 18 years;
(c) he is entitled, or qualified to become entitled, to vote at elections of members of the Legislative Assembly; and
(d) he has been resident within the Commonwealth for at least 6 months and within the Territory for at least 3 months.

21.  Disqualifications for membership of Legislative Assembly
(1) A person is not qualified to be a candidate for election as a member of the Legislative Assembly if, at the date of nomination:

(a) he:

(i) holds an office or appointment (other than a prescribed office or appointment) under a law of the Commonwealth (including this Act) or a law of a State or Territory; or

(ii) not being the holder of any office or appointment under such a law, is employed by the Commonwealth, by a State or Territory or by a body corporate established for a public purpose by such a law, and he is entitled to any remuneration or allowance (other than reimbursement of expenses reasonably incurred) in respect of that office, appointment or employment;

(b) he is an undischarged bankrupt; or

(c) he has been convicted and is under sentence of imprisonment for one year or longer for an offence against the law of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory.

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Disqualification of a Member
A member of the Legislative Assembly vacates his office if section 21(A) of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 above applies and/or -

  • he ceases to be an Australian citizen;
  • he fails to attend the Legislative Assembly for 3 consecutive sitting days of the Assembly without the permission of the Assembly;
  • he ceases to be entitled, or qualified to become entitled, to vote at elections of members of the Legislative Assembly; or
  • he takes or agrees to take, directly or indirectly, any remuneration, allowance or honorarium for services rendered in the Legislative Assembly, otherwise than in accordance with an enactment that provides for remuneration and allowances to be paid to persons in respect of their services as members of the Legislative Assembly, members of the Executive Council or Ministers of the Territory

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Disputed elections and qualification for membership
The Electoral Act provides for disputed returns and related matters. Part 12 of the Act refers to a Court of Returns, Disputed Elections and section 232 provides for the establishment of a Court of Disputed Returns which consists of a Judge of the Supreme Court.

The validity of an election may only be disputed on application in accordance with Division 2 of Part 12 of the Electoral Act after the result of the election is declared.

238 Making Application
1) The application must be made to the Master not later than 21 days after the day fixed for the return of the writ for the election.

(2) The application must –

(a) be addressed to the Court of Disputed Returns;

(b) state the facts relied on to invalidate the election;

(c) state the facts with sufficient particularity to identify the specific matter or matters on which the applicant relies as justifying the grant of relief;

(d) ask for the relief to which the applicant claims to be entitled;

(e) be signed by the applicant; and

(f) be signed by 2 witnesses whose occupations and addresses are stated.

239 Lodgement of security for costs
Section 239 provides that an applicant must, when making the application, lodge $500 with the Master as security for costs.

242 Reply to Application
(1) A person given notice of the application may contest the application by filing a reply with the Master and giving a copy of the reply to the applicant.

(2) The person must comply with subsection (1) not later than 7 days after the person receives the notice or the further time the Court of Disputed Returns allows.

(3) The reply must –

(a) state the facts on which the person proposes to reply;

(b) ask for the relief to which the person claims to be entitled;

(c) be signed by the person; and

(d) if the reply is by a person other than the Commission – be signed by 2 witnesses whose occupations and addresses are stated.

Hearings of the Court must be open to the public.

246 Decision on application
(1) In making its decision on the application, the Court of Disputed Returns may dismiss or uphold the application in whole or part.

(2) For subsection (1), the Court may make a declaration as follows:

(a) declare a candidate who was returned as elected was not properly elected;

(b) declare a candidate properly elected who was not returned as elected;

(c) declare the election void.

(3) The Court must make a declaration under subsection (2)(a) if it finds the candidate returned as elected has, in relation to the election at which the candidate was elected, committed or attempted to commit an offence against Part IV, Division 3 of the Criminal Code.

(4) In addition, without limiting subsection (2)(a) or (c), the Court may make a declaration under the provision on the ground that illegal practices were committed in relation to the election.

(5) However, the Court must not make a declaration under subsection (2)(a) or (c) on one of the following grounds unless it is satisfied of the matters mentioned in subsection (7):

(a) an action that occurred without the knowledge of the candidate declared elected at the election;

(b) the commission of an offence against this Act by the candidate declared elected at the election unless the Court is required to make the declaration under subsection (3).

(6) In addition, the Court must not make a declaration under subsection (2)(c) –

(a) merely because of a delay in the declaration of nominations, the polling or the return of the writ; or

(b) on the ground that a person whose name appears on the roll for a division and who voted as an elector for the division was not qualified to be enrolled or to continue to be enrolled as an elector for the division.

(7) For subsection (5), the matters are –

(a) the result of the election was likely to have been affected by the action or commission of the offence; and

(b) it is just that the Court make the declaration.

(8) Subsection (3) does not prevent a prosecution for an offence mentioned in the subsection or another law in force in the Territory.

250 Copy of decision and declaration to be given to Clerk of Legislative Assembly
The Master must give the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly a copy of the decision of the Court of Disputed Returns on the application and any declaration made for it by the Court.

251 Issue of writ if necessary
If on the hearing the Court of Disputed Returns declares an election void, the Administrator must issue the writ necessary to hold a fresh election.

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Casual vacancy
The Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 provides for the filling of casual vacancies.

19.  Casual Vacancies
Where a casual vacancy occurs in the office of a member of the Legislative Assembly less than 3 years and 6 months after the first meeting of the Assembly following the last preceding general election, an election shall be held in the electoral division in respect of which the vacancy occurred for the purpose of filling the vacant office for the remainder of the term of office of the member who last held that office.

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Election of Speaker
The Speaker is the Presiding Officer of the Legislative Assembly and is elected by the Members of the Assembly.

Section 24 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 provides that -

(1) The Legislative Assembly shall, before proceeding to the dispatch of any other business, choose a member of the Legislative Assembly to be the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and, as often as the office of Speaker becomes vacant, the Legislative Assembly shall again choose a member to be the Speaker.

(2) The Speaker continues to hold his office until:

(a) the Legislative Assembly first meets after a general election of the Legislative Assembly that takes place after his election under subsection (1);

(b) he resigns his office by writing signed by him and delivered to the Administrator;

(c) he ceases to be a member of the Legislative Assembly otherwise than by reason of the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly; or

(d) he is removed from office by the Legislative Assembly;

whichever first happens.

Standing Order 7 of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly outlines the process involved in the nomination and election of a member to the office of Speaker, which is effectively a process of exhaustive ballot.

The Standing Orders also provide for situations where there is an equality of votes for the office to be determined by lot.

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The Administrator as Head of State Appointment
The Administrator is the person appointed by the Governor-General to govern the Northern Territory. Section 32 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 provides that the Administrator is the Governor-General's representative in the Northern Territory. The Administrator is appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Executive Council (Commonwealth). Section 32 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 provides as follows:

32.  Office of Administrator
(1) There shall be an Administrator of the Territory, who shall be appointed by the Governor-General by Commission under the Seal of Australia and shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General.

(2) The Administrator is charged with the duty of administering the government of the Territory.

(3) Subject to this Act, the Administrator shall exercise and perform all powers and functions that belong to his office, or that are conferred on him by or under a law in force in the Territory, in accordance with the tenor of his Commission and (in the case of powers and functions other than powers and functions relating to matters specified under section 35 and powers and functions under sections 34 and 36) in accordance with such instructions as are given to him by the Minister.

Term of Appointment
The Head of State, the Administrator of the Northern Territory, is appointed by the Governor-General and the term of appointment is at his pleasure. The Commission appointing the Administrator sets out the term of the period of appointment. It has become the practice to appoint the Administrator for periods varying from 2 to 4 years.

Powers and functions of the Head of State (Administrator)
Proposed laws passed by the Legislative Assembly are presented to the Administrator for assent.

The Administrator may assent to such proposed laws, withhold assent or reserve the proposed law for the Governor-General's pleasure.

The Administrator may return the proposed law to the Legislative Assembly with amendments that he recommends. The Legislative Assembly shall consider the amendments recommended by the Administrator and the proposed law, with those or any other amendments or without amendments, may be presented again to the Administrator for assent.

Where the Administrator reserves a proposed law for the Governor-General's pleasure, the Governor-General shall declare that he assents to the proposed law, in whole or in part, and return it to the Administrator with the amendments that he recommends.

The Legislative Assembly shall consider the amendments recommended by the Governor-General and the proposed law, with those or any other amendments or without amendments, may be presented again to the Administrator for assent. The Governor-General may, within 6 months after the Administrator's assent to a proposed law, disallow the law or part of the law.

The Governor-General may, within 6 months after the Administrator's assent to a proposed law, recommend to the Administrator any amendments of the laws of the Territory that the Governor-General considers to be desirable as a result of his consideration of the law.

Where, as a result of his consideration of a law, the Governor-General so recommends any amendments of the laws of the Territory, the time within which the Governor-General may disallow the law, or a part of the law, is extended until the expiration of 6 months after the date of the Governor-General's recommendation.  Upon publication of a notice of the disallowance of a law, or part of a law, in the Government Gazette of the Territory, the disallowance has the same effect as a repeal of the law or part of the law.

If a provision of a disallowed law, or a provision of a disallowed part of a law, amended or repealed a law in force immediately before the commencement of the provision, the disallowance revives the previous law from the date of publication of the notice of disallowance as if the disallowed provision had not been made.

Where the Administrator withholds assent to a proposed law, or the Governor-General withholds assent to a proposed law or part of a proposed law or disallows a law or part of a law, a message from the Administrator stating the reasons for the withholding of assent, or for the disallowance, as the case may be, shall be laid before the Legislative Assembly within 6 sitting days of the Legislative Assembly after the date on which the assent was withheld or the date of the disallowance, as the case may be.

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The Ministry

Appointment of Ministers
As in the case of the Commonwealth Government, the office of the Chief Minister is governed by convention. The Chief Minister is chosen by the political party with the majority of members in the Legislative Assembly, usually following a General Election. Ministers of the Crown are elected by caucus (ALP government) or selected by the Chief Minister (CLP government) and are subsequently appointed by the Administrator pursuant to section 36 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 of the Commonwealth which provides:

36.  Appointment of Ministers
The Administrator may appoint a member of the Legislative Assembly to a Ministerial Office, and may, at any time, terminate the appointment.

Ministers retain their office subject to the conditions set out below in accordance with section 37 of theNorthern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978:

37.  Tenure of office
The appointment of a person to a Ministerial office takes effect on the day specified in the instrument of appointment and terminates when:

(a) he ceases, by reason of his resignation or by reason of the provisions of section 21, to be a member of the Legislative Assembly;

(b) his appointment is terminated by the Administrator;

(c) he resigns his office by writing signed by him and delivered to the Administrator and the resignation is accepted by the Administrator; or

(d) the Legislative Assembly first meets after a general election of the Legislative Assembly that takes place after the appointment takes effect.

Number of Ministers
At present the Northern Territory has nine Ministers of the Crown appointed by the Administrator, including the Chief Minister. Section 34 of the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 provides for:

34. Ministerial Offices
There shall be such number of offices of Minister of the Territory, having such respective designations, as the Administrator from time to time determines.

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