Published: 30 May 2022

TASMANIA'S Legislative Council should be restored to 19 seats, former president Jim Wilkinson says.

With the government set to introduce a Bill this year to restore the House of Assembly to 35 seats, he says it is timely to consider increasing numbers in the upper house from 15 to 19.

"It would be better to have the Legislative Council go back to 19 seats, but even by two to 17 would be a good first step and compromise," Mr Wilkinson said.

"More members in the upper house would add to debates and it would certainly add to the committee work which as a house of review is so highly important.

"It is hard for ministers to have time for committee work and with more party people in the Council now they tend to toe the party line and can't look at finding solutions." Mr Wilkinson, who was in the upper house for 24 years and president for six years until he retired in 2019, was pleased at Premier Jeremy Rockliff's surprise announcement on restoring the lower house numbers and said "we've seen by experience that 25 members hasn't worked".

Meg Webb, an independent who replaced Mr Wilkinson in Nelson said restoring the lower house would "strengthen democracy" but she saw no need to increase the size of the upper house.

Ms Webb wanted confirmation that it would be a return to seven seats in the existing five electorates.

"The effectiveness of the upper house is under greater threat from the slide towards party-dominance, rather than a lack of overall numbers," she said. "I haven't yet seen a convincing argument that the upper house numbers need to increase." Independent MLC for Hobart Rob Valentine said he would wait to see the government's legislation but he believed backbenchers had a heavy workload with their work on committees.

"As for the Legislative Council, I don't believe there is anything that is being brought forward in this move regarding any increase," he said.

Independent member for Murchison Ruth Forrest said any increase in the numbers in the upper house should be part of the debate.

"We need more detail around the approach as well as costings to be open, transparent and well explained," she said.

"The number of Legislative Council members works well, however, since the unprecedented increase in the number of party-aligned members, I have observed less debate overall on motions and Bills before the House.

"This is to the detriment of our scrutiny role." Independent Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney said: "Fewer members of the lower house does impact one of the independent review functions of the upper house; when we have MLCs with ministerial powers potentially reviewing their own legislation."

The Mercury, Monday 30 May 2022

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