Parliament in Western Australia
Western Australia inherited the English system of Government and law when it was colonised in 1829. Its first legislative body was the Legislative Council which met for the first time on 7 February 1832 and was presided over by the Governor of Western Australia, Captain James Stirling, who nominated the other four members.
In 1850 Western Australia was denied a two-thirds elected Legislative Council because the convict system required the British Government to provide the bulk of expenses for the Colony. As a compromise, in 1867 the Governor agreed to nominate to the Legislative Council those persons elected by all free adult males who owned property.
In 1870 Western Australia was granted representative Government with a Legislative Council consisting of 12 elected members and 6 members nominated by the Governor. Western Australia was not granted responsible government until 1890 when Parliament was formed with a Legislative Assembly of 30 elected members and a Legislative Council of 15 members who initially were nominated by the Governor. In 1893 when the Colony’s population reached 60,000, the Legislative Council became an elected body of 21 members with three members elected from each of the seven provinces.
In 1899 the Legislative Assembly increased its number of electoral districts to 50; in 1968 to 51; in 1975 to 55; and in 1981 to 57. In 1899 the Legislative Council had 10 electoral provinces, each returning three members for a term of six years. In 1963/64 this was increased to 15 provinces each returning two members, with half of the total number of members elected every 3 years. In 1976 it was increased to 16 provinces with two members each, and in 1981 to 17 provinces with two members each. In 1987 the Legislative Council underwent a major reform when all members’ terms were reduced to a fixed term of four years and all members retired at the same time for an election. This reform took effect from the 1989 election. More information on elections is contained in the relevant sections of the pages of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly and also at the Internet site for the Western Australian Electoral Commission.
Until 1964, only those people who owned property were entitled to vote in Legislative Council elections. Women were not entitled to vote until 1899; however, few were able to vote because most did not own property. In 1920 women became eligible for election. In 1921 Edith Cowan became the first Australian woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament. The only other female Member of Parliament to be elected before her in the British Empire was Lady Astor, who took her seat in the House of Commons in 1919.