Premier of Western Australia
|Premier of Western Australia|
|Department of the Premier and Cabinet|
|Status||Head of Government|
|Seat||Dumas House, Perth|
|Appointer||Governor of Western Australia|
by convention, based on appointee's ability to command confidence in the Legislative Assembly
|Term length||At the Governor's pleasure|
contingent on the premier's ability to command confidence in the lower house of Parliament
|Constituting instrument||None (constitutional convention)|
|Formation||29 December 1890|
|First holder||John Forrest|
|Deputy||Deputy Premier of Western Australia|
The premier of Western Australia is the head of government of the state of Western Australia. The role of premier at a state level is similar to the role of the prime minister of Australia at a federal level. The premier leads the executive branch of the Government of Western Australia and is accountable to the Parliament of Western Australia. The premier is appointed by the governor of Western Australia. By convention, the governor appoints as premier whoever has the support of the majority of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly. In practice, this means that the premier is the leader of the political party or group of parties with a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly (lower house). Since Western Australia achieved self-governance in 1890, there have been 31 premiers. Mark McGowan is the current premier, having been appointed to the position on 17 March 2017.
The position of premier is not mentioned in the constitution of Western Australia. From 1890 to 1917, the premier was not an official position, rather, it was the title unofficially given, but widely used to refer, to the head of the government. When Western Australia became a self-governing colony in 1890, Governor William Robinson initially indicated he would use the title prime minister to refer to the head of the government. However, after he selected John Forrest, the title premier was used for consistency with the other Australian colonies. The position was first officially mentioned when the governor appointed Henry Lefroy as premier on 28 June 1917. However, when the governor designated and declared the six executive offices of the government on 2 July 1917, the position of premier was not listed, creating an ambiguity. It was not until 3 April 1947 that the premier became one of the executive offices of the government.
The most common cause for a change of premier is an election. Since the 1990s, elections have occurred roughly every four years. Before then, elections were at most three years apart, except for during World War II. A less common cause for a change of premier is the ruling party changing its leader. This can occur as a result of a resignation, death or leadership spill. In this case, the new premier is whoever the party elects as its new leader. Another cause for a change of premier is a loss of majority support in the legislative assembly. This commonly occurred in the first three decades of self-governance, but has not occurred since 1916. If this occurs, the premier must either resign or be dismissed by the governor.
Powers and function
The powers of the premier are set out by convention and by legislation. By convention, the premier advises the monarch of Australia as to who to appoint as governor. The premier advises the governor as to who to appoint to cabinet and which portfolios should be given to each cabinet minister, and the governor follows this advice by convention. The premier sets out the responsibilities of ministers and the acts that they would administer. The premier leads the cabinet and chairs cabinet meetings. They communicate with the governor, the cabinet, the state government, other state and territory governments, the federal government, and overseas governments. The premier advises the governor on when state elections should be held. They oversee the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. Whilst premier, they stay as a member of parliament, and they retain their responsibility for representing their electorate.
As of 2022, there have been 31 premiers of Western Australia. Carmen Lawrence, who was appointed on 12 February 1990, is the first and only woman to be premier of Western Australia. She is also the first woman to be premier of an Australian state. By convention, the premier is a member of the Legislative Assembly. However, the premier can be a member of either house of parliament. Hal Colebatch is the only premier to be a member of the Legislative Council (upper house). He served for 30 days in 1919, making him the shortest serving premier of Western Australia. David Brand is the longest serving premier, serving for 11 years and 335 days between 1959 and 1971. The youngest premier is John Scaddan, who was 35 years, 2 months and 3 days old when he was sworn in in 1911. The oldest premier is John Tonkin, who was 69 years, 1 month and 1 day old when he was sworn in in 1971. Newton Moore became premier after two years in parliament, the least time aside from John Forrest. John Tonkin became premier after almost 38 years in parliament, the most time in parliament before becoming premier. The only father and son pair to have both been premier is Charles Court and his son Richard Court. George Leake, who died of pneumonia on 24 June 1902, is the only premier to have died in office. Newton Moore, Philip Collier, John Willcock and Geoff Gallop are the only premiers to have resigned due to ill health. The only premier to subsequently serve as governor is James Mitchell.
Two former premiers have been sentenced to jail. In 1994, Brian Burke was sentenced to two years in jail for defrauding the state by $17,000 by making false claims on the parliamentary imprest account. He was released on parole after serving seven months. In 1995, Ray O'Connor was sentenced to six months in jail for stealing a $25,000 cheque from the Bond Corporation during his time as premier. In 1997, Burke was sentenced to three years jail for stealing $122,585 in Labor Party campaign donations. He served six months before this conviction was quashed upon appeal.
|Constituency||Term of office||Political party/alignment||Ministry||Ref.|
|Took office||Left office||Time in office|
|1||Sir John Forrest||MLA for Bunbury||29 December 1890||14 February 1901||10 years, 48 days||Ministerialist||Forrest Ministry|||
|Appointed by Governor William Robinson as the first premier of Western Australia. Began large-scale public works projects, including Fremantle Harbour and the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme. Perth Mint opened. Represented Western Australia at Federation conferences. Resigned in February 1901 to run for the seat of Swan in the federal House of Representatives.|
|2||George Throssell||MLA for Northam||14 February 1901||27 May 1901||101 days||Ministerialist||Throssell Ministry|||
|Took over as Premier and Treasurer after Forrest's resignation in February 1901. Contested the 1901 election as Premier, but resigned after his faction failed to win a majority of seats.|
|3||George Leake||MLA for West Perth||27 May 1901||21 November 1901||178 days||Oppositionist||First Leake Ministry|||
|Became Premier as a compromise between the opposing factions of Frederick Illingworth and George Throssell. Served for five months before his government was defeated on a no-confidence vote.|
|4||Alf Morgans||MLA for Coolgardie||21 November 1901||23 December 1901||32 days||Ministerialist||Morgans Ministry|||
|Served as Premier for 32 days as a compromise after George Leake's government was defeated. Resigned after members of his Cabinet were defeated in a ministerial by-election.|
|George Leake||MLA for West Perth||23 December 1901||1 July 1902||190 days||Oppositionist||Second Leake Ministry|||
|Again became Premier after the failure of Alf Morgans' government. Died in office on 24 June 1902.|
|5||Sir Walter James||MLA for East Perth||1 July 1902||10 August 1904||2 years, 40 days||Oppositionist||James Ministry|||
|Sworn in as Premier after Leake's death. Led a reforming government, which legalised trade unions and introduced workers' compensation and a stronger Arbitration Act. Unsuccessfully attempted to reform the franchise. Defeated in a no-confidence motion after the 1904 election.|
|6||Henry Daglish||MLA for Subiaco||10 August 1904||25 August 1905||1 year, 15 days||Labor||Daglish Ministry|||
|Western Australia's first Labor premier. John Drayon, a newspaper editor, imprisoned under parliamentary privilege. Resigned after twelve months after his plan to buy the Midland Railway Company for £1.5 million was defeated in parliament.|
|7||Sir Hector Rason||MLA for Guildford||25 August 1905||7 May 1906||255 days||Ministerialist||Rason Ministry|||
|Headed a Royal Commission on immigration. Resigned in 1906 after appointing himself Agent General.|
|8||Sir Newton Moore||MLA for Bunbury||7 May 1906||16 September 1910||1 year, 21 days||Ministerialist||Moore Ministry|||
|Began as premier at age 36, with only two years of parliamentary experience, at the time the youngest ever premier. Placed emphasis on agriculture and rural development, establishing the Wheatbelt and implementing the Income and Land Tax. Resigned in September 1910 on grounds of ill health.|
|9||Frank Wilson||MLA for Sussex||16 September 1910||7 October 1911||1 year, 21 days||Ministerialist||First Wilson Ministry|||
|Pushed through legislation which established the University of Western Australia and a number of electoral reform bills. Lost in a landslide to Labor at the 1911 election.|
|10||John Scaddan||MLA for Brown Hill-Ivanhoe||7 October 1911||27 July 1916||4 years, 294 days||Labor||Scaddan Ministry|||
|Passed a number of reform bills, established a state income tax, extended workers' compensation, reformed the education system, and set up a number of state-owned industries, including the State Shipping Service, abattoirs, sawmills, quarries, brickworks and farms. SS Koombana wrecked off the coast of Port Hedland. Government defeated July 1916, in part due to heavy debt and the Nevanas affair.|
|Frank Wilson||MLA for Sussex||27 July 1916||28 June 1917||336 days||Liberal||Second Wilson Ministry|||
|Returned as premier after Scaddan's Labor government lost a majority in the lower house. Replaced by Henry Lefroy as premier after a new Nationalist Party was formed, without Wilson and several of his ministers.|
|11||Sir Henry Lefroy||MLA for Moore||28 June 1917||17 April 1919||1 year, 293 days||Nationalist||Lefroy Ministry|||
|Elected leader by the newly formed majority Nationalist Party. Moore River Native Settlement established 1918. Resigned in 1919 after an unsuccessful leadership spill which forced Lefroy to cast the deciding vote on his premiership.|
|12||Sir Hal Colebatch||MLC for East Province||17 April 1919||17 May 1919||30 days||Nationalist||Colebatch Ministry|||
|After being elected leader of the Nationalist Party, Colebatch served as premier from the Legislative Council with the understanding that a lower house seat would be found for him. Resigned after a month when no seat could be found for him. Pelted with rocks during the Fremantle wharf crisis. The only person to serve as premier while a member of the upper house, and the short-serving premier.|
|13||Sir James Mitchell||MLA for Northam||17 May 1919||15 April 1924||4 years, 335 days||Nationalist||First Mitchell Ministry|||
|Established a strong Western Australian dairy industry. Initiated the Group Settlement and Soldier Settlement Schemes in the South West. Race riots in Broome in 1920. Defeated by Labor at the 1924 election.|
|14||Philip Collier||MLA for Boulder||15 April 1924||23 April 1930||6 years, 8 days||Labor||First Collier Ministry|||
|Reduced taxation, allowing the first surplus in 16 years. Continued the previous government's rural development initiatives. Woods Royal Commission on the Forrest River massacre. Centenary of Western Australia celebrated. Introduced a minimum wage and a 40-hour working week.|
|Sir James Mitchell||MLA for Northam||23 April 1930||24 April 1933||3 years||Nationalist||Second Mitchell Ministry|||
|Returned after the 1930 election, governing in coalition with the Country Party. Secession referendum held in 1933 was passed with 66% of the vote, however, the Nationalist/Country coalition lost power at the 1933, and the returning Labor government did not act on the results. Moseley Royal Commission regarding the treatment of Aboriginals established.|
|Philip Collier||MLA for Boulder||24 April 1933||19 August 1936||3 years, 118 days||Labor||Second Collier Ministry|||
|Led his party to victory at the 1936 election. Resigned August 1936. Over his two terms, served nine years and 126 days, the longest by a Labor premier.|
|15||John Willcock||MLA for Geraldton||19 August 1936||31 July 1945||8 years, 345 days||Labor||Willcock Ministry|||
|Introduced a range of small secondary industries. Considered a plan for a Jewish homeland in the Kimberley. Japanese planes attack Broome and the MV Koolama. Represented Western Australia at the coronation of King George V in 1937. Resigned in 1945 due to ill health.|
|16||Frank Wise||MLA for Gascoyne||31 July 1945||1 April 1947||1 year, 244 days||Labor||Wise Ministry|||
|Chosen to serve as premier after John Willcock's resignation. Introduced Air Beef Scheme in the Kimberley. Wise's government was defeated at the 1947 election.|
|17||Sir Ross McLarty||MLA for Murray-Wellington||1 April 1947||23 February 1953||5 years, 328 days||Liberal||McLarty–Watts Ministry|||
|Governed in coalition with the Country Party. Introduced post-war industrial development, including oil refineries at Kwinana. Established the State Housing Commission. Lost office at the 1953 election.|
|18||Albert Hawke||MLA for Northam||23 February 1953||2 April 1959||6 years, 37 days||Labor||Hawke Ministry|||
|Improved public housing. Aboriginal Australians given citizenship rights in 1954. Passed heavily criticised anti-profiteering legislation. The first premier born in the 20th century.|
|19||Sir David Brand||MLA for Greenough||2 April 1959||3 March 1971||11 years, 335 days||Liberal||Brand–Watts Ministry
|First mining of iron ore in the Pilbara. Expanded mineral processing at Kwinana and in the South West. 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Perth. Initiated the Standard Gauge Railway project. Federal funding obtained for Ord River Scheme. Controversy over proposed demolition of the Barracks Arch. Mining Poseidon bubble burst. Conflict with the federal government over wheat quotas. Lost power at the 1971 election.|
|20||John Tonkin||MLA for Melville||3 March 1971||8 April 1974||3 years, 66 days||Labor||Tonkin Ministry|||
|Emphasis on education and further industrial development.|
|21||Sir Charles Court||MLA for Nedlands||8 April 1974||25 January 1982||7 years, 292 days||Liberal||Court–McPharlin Ministry
|Emphasised development of mining, oil and natural gas industries, precipitating a mining boom. Perth–Fremantle railway line closed September 1979. Murdoch University and Art Gallery of Western Australia opened. 150th anniversary of European settlement celebrated. Retired January 1982.|
|22||Ray O'Connor||MLA for Mount Lawley||25 January 1982||25 February 1983||1 year, 31 days||Liberal||O'Connor Ministry|||
|Continued Charles Court's policies of mining and industrial development. Perth Mint Swindle. Lost power at the 1983 election. Sentenced to six months jail for stealing a $25,000 cheque from the Bond Corporation.|
|23||Brian Burke||MLA for Balga||25 February 1983||25 February 1988||5 years||Labor||Burke Ministry|||
|Won the 1983 and 1986 elections. Reopened the Fremantle railway line. Abolished capital punishment. Resigned in 1988 for personal reasons. WA Inc controversy emerged after his resignation. Sentenced to two years jail in 1994 for defrauding the state, but was released on parole after seven months. Sentenced to three years jail in 1997 for stealing campaign donations but the convictions were quashed upon appeal six months later.|
|24||Peter Dowding||MLA for Maylands||25 February 1988||13 March 1990||1 year, 352 days||Labor||Dowding Ministry|||
|Won the leadership of the Labor Party after Burke's resignation. Won the 1989 election. Resigned during the 1990 leadership spill after controversy over WA Inc.|
|25||Carmen Lawrence||MLA for Glendalough||13 March 1990||16 February 1993||3 years, 4 days||Labor||Lawrence Ministry|||
|Won the leadership of the Labor Party during the 1990 leadership spill, making her the first women to be premier of any Australian state. Established the WA Inc royal commission. Opened the Joondalup line in December 1992. Involved in controversy due to her role in the Easton affair. Defeated at the 1993 election. Entered federal parliament in 1994. Was charged with perjury in 1997 over the Easton affair but was acquitted in 1999.|
|26||Richard Court||MLA for Nedlands||16 February 1993||16 February 2001||7 years, 360 days||Liberal||Court–Cowan Ministry|||
|Won the 1993 and 1996 elections in coalition with the National Party. Constructed the Graham Farmer Freeway, which involved a 1.6 kilometres (0.99 mi) tunnel through the Perth CBD. Controversy over the logging of old-growth forests and a finance-broking scheme. Lost the 2001 election. His father is Charles Court, making them the only father-son pair of Western Australian premiers.|
|27||Geoff Gallop||MLA for Victoria Park||16 February 2001||3 February 2006||4 years, 343 days||Labor||Gallop Ministry|||
|Won the 2001 and 2005 elections. Protected 230,000 hectares (570,000 acres) of old-growth forests. Closed Swan Valley Nyungah Community after allegations of rape, substance abuse and child abuse. Started construction on the Mandurah line. Resigned in January 2006 to deal with depression.|
|28||Alan Carpenter||MLA for Willagee||3 February 2006||23 September 2008||2 years, 242 days||Labor||Carpenter Ministry|||
|Won the leadership of the Labor Party after Gallop's resignation. Opened the Mandurah line. Sacked three ministers after allegations of impropriety involving former premier Brian Burke by the Corruption and Crime Commission. Defeated at the 2008 election.|
|29||Colin Barnett||MLA for Cottesloe||23 September 2008||17 March 2017||8 years, 175 days||Liberal||Barnett Ministry|||
|Won the 2008 election after gaining the support of the National Party and three Independent MPs. Won a majority at the 2013 election but continued in partnership with the National Party. Constructed Elizabeth Quay and the Gateway WA road upgrade. Started construction on NorthLink WA, the Perth Freight Link, Perth Stadium, Perth City Link, and the Forrestfield-Airport Link. Lost the state's AAA credit rating. Defeated at the 2017 election.|
|30||Mark McGowan||MLA for Rockingham||17 March 2017||incumbent||5 years, 257 days||Labor||First McGowan Ministry
Second McGowan Ministry
|Won the 2017 and 2021 elections. Cancelled the Perth Freight Link highway project. Legalised voluntary assisted dying. Created Metronet to handle various passenger rail expansions. Premier during the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Western Australia remained largely free of the virus from 2020 to 2021. Brought the state into a surplus.|
Premiers to have gone into federal politics
Ministries held by premiers
Prior to 2001, the premier was typically the treasurer (colonial treasurer prior to 1924) as well. Since then, the only premiers to also be treasurer are Colin Barnett, who held the position intermittently, and Mark McGowan, who has held the position since March 2021.
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