You have been called to interpret for a tour guide at the Parliament of Victoria. The guide is giving a talk to a visiting delegation from China about the history and function of the building.
Listen to Dialogue
Transcript and reference translation
Hello and welcome to the Parliament of Victoria.
The Parliament was constructed between 1856 and 1930, during the gold rush period.
It is a bicameral parliament – in other words, it has two houses, with representatives elected to the Legislative Council – the Upper House – and the Legislative Assembly – the Lower House.
The Assembly has 88 members and the Council 40.
One of the Parliament’s major roles is to make laws.
Bills can be introduced in either House but must be agreed to by both Houses, and the Governor must give royal assent before they become law.
Like all parliaments in Australia and in the Commonwealth, the Victorian parliament is designed according to the Westminster System.
To reflect this, the interior of the Assembly Chamber is decorated green, the Council Chamber, red.
Today we begin our tour in the Lower House – the Legislative Assembly – and as you can see, everything in this room – the seats, carpet, the books, even my tie! – is green.
The function of the Lower House is to review any laws under consideration.
You can see here – in the front row – this is where the government ministers sit.
On the other side is where the opposition and the shadow ministers sit; their job is to hold the government to account on any decisions they make.
Both the government and opposition seats are divided into front and back benchers.
The front benches are reserved for members of the cabinet.
A backbencher may be a new parliamentary member yet to receive high office or even a senior figure who has been dropped from government.
They can engage in debates in parliament, and pass on the views of their constituents, but do not wield much influence in the party.
At the front of the house is the Speaker, whose job is to mediate the discussions.
Members of the general public can sit in to observe the parliament in the public gallery; as for the press gallery, this is reserved for journalists.
In the centre of the house there are 67 books which make up the bulk of Victoria’s laws.
At the moment, the numbers in the Parliament are very close – in total there are 88 Members of Parliament: 45 Liberal-Nationals and 43 Labor.
Have a look here – this is where the Premier sits, and over here is where the Treasurer sits.
Note that the role of the Treasurer is different to that of the Minister of Finance – the former looks after the budget, while the latter checks whether the money is being used reasonably.
So what’s been happening in the Victorian Parliament as of late? Let me see…
Just yesterday, MPs were discussing the use of crown land – in particular, a hospital they were proposing to tear down and use for another purpose.
They were also talking about creating a national system for the registration of chemists and whether traditional Chinese herbalists could be considered medical practitioners.
All right, now it’s time to go to the Upper House, also known as the Legislative Council.
The first thing you should notice is that this room is much nicer than the previous one; the design here is all in red and looks quite luxurious.
The arrangement of the seats in the Upper House is quite similar to that of the Lower House.
On the right side is the Government – on the left, the Opposition.
The President here plays a similar role to that of the Speaker in the Lower House.
There are 21 Liberal-National seats, 16 Labor and 3 Greens – all up, that’s 21 seats for the Government and 19 for the Opposition.
Oh, wait, don’t sit on this chair – it’s meant only for the Queen or the Governor of Victoria!
In the past 156 years it’s only been sat on 57 times, and only one time by the Queen, in 1954.
As the Queen is 86 years of age, she can’t really fly down from Britain to make a speech here, while the Governor, on the other hand, is only 15 minutes away by car!
I heard one of you would like to know a bit about conscience votes – well, first let me say they don’t happen very often.
In the past 17 years, there have only been eight of these kind of votes, and in the past three years none at all.
They usually only come up if the MPs find they have moral or religious objections to laws being discussed.
In general, though, most MPs vote on party lines – so how they will vote is already determined during discussions made before parliament sits.
In fact, only some controversial subjects such as abortion, artificial insemination, same-sex marriage, etc. attract conscience votes.
What you find is that, during a conscience vote, you get to know what the politicians really think, as they have the opportunity to vote according to their personal beliefs, rather than toe the party line.
So, at times, Government MPs agree with Opposition MPs, or MPs within the same party may have conflicting views.
So conscience votes, though rare, are often the most interesting votes in the parliament.
Now, each MP here represents a region within the state, and in Victoria there are eight regions, which are represented by five people.
If you get 12% of the vote, you win the seat, which means that minor parties find it easier to win because they only need this small percentage of support, as opposed to a majority vote.
There are three Greens here, and in the last election the Democratic Labor Party had one seat here.
Although he originally only got 2% of the vote, he got through on preferences, and stayed an MP here for four years.
Next week, during the first week of May, the state budget will come out, so the parliament has to decide how to spend over $40 billion dollars.
They will look at how to allocate funds for areas such as public transport – trains, trams, buses, etc., hospitals, schools, the police, the fire brigade, and so on.
I look forward to meeting you all here at the parliament again, thank you.
Content adapted from a tour of the Parliament given in April 2012, and from text in the Parliament brochure.