Constitutional Changes in Australia
The Constitutions which had been framed for the colonies by the Imperial Parliament in 1850 were not expected to be more than temporary. The British Government had wisely determined to allow each of the colonies to frame for itself the constitution which it deemed most suitable for its requirements and had instructed the Legislative Councils which were elected in 1851 to reports as to the wishes of the respective colonies.
In Sydney the Council entrusted the framing of the new Constitution to a committee, which decided to adopt the English system of Government by two houses; the one to represent the people as a whole, the other to watch over the interests of those who, by their superior wealth, might be supposed to have more than an ordinary stake in the welfare of the country. It was very quickly arranged that the popular house should consist of no less than fifty four members, to be elected by men who paid a small rental, or possessed property of a certain annual value. But with regard to the nature of the Upper House, it was much more difficult to come to a decision. Wentworth proposed that Queen Victoria should establish a colonial peerage to form a small House of Lords, holding their seats by hereditary right; but this raised so great an outcry, that he made haste to abandon it. Several of the committee were in favour of the scheme, afterwards adopted in Victoria, of making the Upper House elective, while limiting the choise of members to those who possessed at least £5,000 worth of real property. After much discussion, however, it was decided to give to the Governor the power of nominating the members of this chamber, which was to consist of not less than 21 people.
The Legislative Council adopted the scheme and sent it home to England fo the assent of the Queen ; they also requested that their constitution might be still further assimilated to that of Great Britain, by the introduction of reponsible government, so that the ministers who controlled the affairs of the colony should be no longer officials appointed or dismissed by the Governor and Secretary of State, but should, in future, be chosen by the Parliament to advise the Governor on all matters of public interest and should be liable to dismissal from office so soon as the Parliament lost confidence in their ability or prudence.
The British Government at once gave its agreement to this Constitution, which was accordingly inaugurated in 1856; and from that date onward New South Wales has been, in political matters, an imitation, in miniature, of the British Empire. In 1858, two small modifications were introduced ; the Lower House was increased in numbers to 68 members and the privilege of voting for it was extended to every male person over 21 years of age who had dwelt not less than 6 months in the colony.