19 Western Australia

Justin Harbord; Narelle Miragliotta; and Sarah Murray

Key terms/names

Constitution Act 1889 (WA), Constitution Acts Amendment Act 1899 (WA), Electoral Act 1907 (WA), Federation, secession, Western Australian Constitution Act 1890 (UK)

This chapter[1] provides an overview of the political history of Western Australia (WA), explores the state’s relationship to the federation and outlines its key constitutional, political and electoral features. We argue that WA’s relationship to the federation is shaped by its particular historical, economic and spatial characteristics.

European settlement

Indigenous peoples inhabited the territory of what is now WA for many millennia before the official establishment of the Swan River Colony, in June 1829, by British legislation introduced the month prior. The British view of this land at that time has been described as: an area ‘that had been known to the Europeans longer than any other part of the continent and was the least wanted’.[2] British settlement was ultimately a pre-emptive response to concerns about French colonial ambitions in the western half of the continent.

The particular circumstances that led to the colony’s founding by the British would shape its developmental arc for the first five decades of settlement. The British showed little appetite to invest in the nascent colony, which hampered WA’s economic growth for several decades and undermined the business case for self-government.[3] Moreover, well into the first half of the 1880s, there was little urgency for responsible government among WA’s elites, who feared that mass enfranchisement would weaken their privileged grip over colonial society.[4]

When WA did attain self-government, it did so a number of decades behind the other original colonies. Self-government of the colony became effective from 21 October 1890, with the UK parliament’s enactment of the Western Australian Constitution Act 1890 (UK), to which was scheduled the Constitution Act 1889 (WA) (CA).

The achievement of self-government was not without tribulation. On some views, the colony could have asserted responsible government unilaterally; however, it opted to petition the Imperial parliament in order to ensure its control over crown lands. Unlike its colonial counterparts, any declaration of responsible government, while arguably constitutionally possible, did not come with an automatic claim to unused crown lands. The Imperial powers reckoned that the small size of the colony’s population, concentrated in the south-west corner, rendered it inadequate to the task of managing the vast territory that it sought to govern. The Imperial authorities also held a well-founded view that the colony could not be trusted to respect the dignity and liberty of Aboriginal peoples.[5]

For these reasons, the eventual grant of self-government by the Imperial parliament was encumbered by several conditions: a nominated upper house, constitutional protections for the Aboriginal inhabitants of the colony in the form of the now redundant section 70,[6] and the ability of British government to divide the colony or unite it with another should circumstances require it. While the compromises were reluctantly agreed to by the colony, the outcome was nevertheless hailed as a triumph of ‘the cherished birthright of Englishmen’.[7]


The elation of achieving self-government was, however, quickly overshadowed by the inexorable march towards Federation. WA faced the spectre of having to relinquish its newfound independence before it had a chance to exercise it fully. Compounding WA’s apprehension was that almost half of its revenue was drawn from intercolonial tariffs. The new federal Constitution would make trade, commerce and intercourse among the states ‘free’, thereby undercutting an important revenue source for WA.[8]

WA did eventually vote to enter the federation, with the initiative obtaining nearly a 70 per cent ‘yes’ vote on 31 July 1900. However, the question was only presented to the people as a result of intervention by colonial authorities. In order to counter the recalcitrance exhibited by WA’s political elite, colonial authorities adopted a carrot and stick approach. The carrot took the form of a deal to address the colony’s financial anxieties, while the stick was the threat to annex the colony’s lucrative goldfields.[9]

WA’s sluggish acceptance of its political fate meant that the vote on the question of Federation occurred 22 days after the enactment of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 (UK), but in time for the commencement of Federation on 1 January the following year. WA’s initial reticence is captured in the preamble of the federal Constitution, which omits WA as one of the parties that ‘have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth’.

The state’s ambivalence towards the federation has remained a distinctive feature of its history and its identity. Some regard WA’s tentativeness as pathological, with one former state government minister arguing that one need only ‘[s]cratch a Western Australian and you find a secessionist underneath’.[10] At various points in time, WA’s feelings of grievance have found expression in the call for secession.

The most serious of such efforts occurred in 1933, when WA, reeling from the Great Depression, voted to secede from the federation. The plebiscite obtained over 50 per cent of the electorate’s support.[11] While the government of the time, led by Premier Collier, dutifully – if reluctantly – petitioned the Imperial parliament for relief, its refusal to hear the matter led to the supplication being dropped.[12] It was the position of the Imperial parliament that it would be unconstitutional for the state to secede without federal parliamentary support.[13]

There have been intermittent calls for WA to consider its future outside of the federation.[14] While the political class have generally been careful not to utter the ‘s(ecession)’ word, they have come close at times. In 2015,[15] the premier warned that WA’s ‘future’ might not ‘lay with the rest of Australia in a financial or economic sense’, with the state facing its ‘Boston tea party ­moment’.[16] Questions about WA’s commitment to the federation again resurfaced during the COVID pandemic following the premier’s declaration that the state would be turned ‘into its own island, within an island – our own country’.[17]

WA and the federation today

While WA’s testy relationship with the federation has led to it being labelled by scholars as the ‘reluctant state’,[18] others have questioned whether secessionist sentiments have ever truly reflected a genuine intention to renounce the federation.[19]

It is, perhaps, overly simplistic to interpret secession rhetoric as a quirk of WA’s political culture or a provocation to extract concessions from the Commonwealth. Such claims are better understood as an ‘expression of the powerlessness felt by the residents’ who perceive themselves to be on the periphery of political power.[20]

Several factors conspire to fuel WA’s grievance. The first emerges from fiscal demands arising from the state’s geography and demography. WA occupies 33 per cent of the continent, covering a total area of 2.5 million square kilometres, with a population of 2.47 million people. It is the second least densely populated region in Australia, behind the Northern Territory.[21] And while the majority of the population is urbanised, 23 per cent of its residents are located in regional areas, in ‘some of the least hospitable places on Earth’.[22] This includes estimates of 12,000 people living in 274 remote Indigenous communities.[23]

WA’s nine regions are vital to the economic health of the state and the federation.[24] In 2017–2018,[25] for example, WA accounted for 42 per cent of Australia’s merchandise exports, the bulk of which was generated from natural resources and agricultural production derived from its regions.

However, the state’s size, population dispersion and the physical diversity of its regions generate significant governance demands.[26] In ‘lacking economies of scale’, the regions present ‘multiple challenges, especially in terms of inadequate infrastructure provision and service delivery’,[27] that are not confronted by WA’s counterparts to the same extent.[28] The WA government must spend significantly more per capita on delivering an average level of services to ensure that all Western Australians enjoy a comparable standard of living to their counterparts across the federation.[29]

The second factor that complicates WA’s relationship to the federation is the ‘tyranny of distance’. WA’s capital is closer to Jakarta than it is to Canberra, and it does not share a time zone with any of its federal cousins. Easement of the physical obstacles of distance from the eastern seaboard was slow to occur.[30] While contemporary innovations in communication and transportation have removed the burden of geographic isolation to a great extent, the perception that remoteness equates to political invisibility endures.

Pre-Federation WA politicians were aware of the challenges that distance would present for the state’s visibility in the Commonwealth.[31] Moreover, the usefulness of the federal parliament for channelling the state’s grievances quickly proved ineffectual. WA’s representation in the federal lower house was, as it is today, diminutive (10 per cent of the total share) owing to its small population, while the party politicisation of the Senate quickly extinguished its role as a genuine states’ chamber.

A third factorthat places a strain on the state’s relationship with the federation is the structure of its economy. From its inception, the structure of the WA economy was distinct from the more populous ‘manufacturing’ eastern states. WA’s economy has depended heavily on exports, principally agricultural commodities and resources. This has meant that economic decisions that benefit the eastern economies have not always aligned with WA interests.

One of the earliest indications of how economic differences could prompt a misalignment of policy preferences between WA and the federal government occurred with the introduction of a federal tariff in 1902. While the tariff was a boon for the eastern states, it represented a grave economic liability for the import-dependent west.[32]

In more recent times, the federal government’s efforts to tax profits on non-renewable resources reignited disaffection. The first iteration, the ill-fated Resource Super Profit Tax (RSPT) proposed by the Rudd national government in 2010, was perceived as imposing a disproportionate burden on the WA economy. As then-Premier Colin Barnett argued:

With 65 per cent of this revenue coming from Western Australia, it was … an attack on the mining industry and on our resource income base. People talk about these resources belonging to all Australians. Well, constitutionally, they don’t. They belong to the people of each state.[33]

The second coming of the mineral tax, the Minerals Resources Rent Tax, while a watered-down version of the RSPT, was similarly unwelcomed by the WA government. When the tax was finally implemented in 2012, the WA government increased mining royalties, which miners could offset against the federal tax. This action reduced the federal take of the tax by $160 million annually,[34] thus prompting a threat from the Commonwealth to withhold infrastructure funding from WA.[35]

The sense of disenfranchisement has been magnified by the belief that the Commonwealth has exploited the state’s resource-rich economy without fair recompense. The consequences of WA’s booming resource economy have collided with fiscal equalisation arrangements that are slow to adjust to changes in the economic fortunes of the states.

WA’s concerns assumed particular urgency when the Commonwealth Grants Commission (CGC) recommended, in 2015, that WA’s share of Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue be reduced from 37 per cent of the per capita average to 30 per cent. The CGC justified its recommendation on the grounds that ‘Western Australia can raise so much more per capita in mining royalties at average rates, other things being equal … its capacity to raise revenue from most other tax bases is also above average, implying it requires less GST’.[36] However, the CGC’s recommendation occurred at a time when WA’s economic fortunes were stalling due to falling iron ore prices. The sense of grievance was intensified when the Commonwealth sought to exploit the situation to compel WA to implement far reaching reforms in exchange for financial relief.[37]

However, the source of much of WA’s disgruntlement can ultimately be traced to the expansionist tendencies of the Commonwealth. Very quickly, the federation collapsed into an arrangement that is more ‘centralised than was ever envisaged or intended, indeed one of the most centralised of all true federations’.[38]

The failures of the original design, judgements of the High Court and the Commonwealth’s willingness to use its financial clout to encroach into state policy areas has led to what one former premier has described as the ‘smothering of the states’.[39]

Constitutional overview

Prior to 1890, the colony was under British control, with a locally residing governor, the first being Captain James Stirling. While it had a Legislative Council of 18 men, of which six were appointed and the remainder elected, its enactments had to be reserved for Her Majesty’s pleasure, and the extent of executive power forestalled responsible government in the colony.

The enactment of the CA brought about a fully elected Legislative Assembly and, initially, an appointed Legislative Council, which also became an elected body in 1893, prior to the six-year limit allowed for by section 6 of the Act.[40]

Within a decade, amendments to the franchise and the Council and Assembly were proposed by the colony’s first premier, Sir John Forrest. While initially taking the form of amendments to the CA, it was eventually determined that a separate and distinct constitutional enactment should be introduced.[41] To this day, WA retains two unconsolidated constitutional enactments: the CA and the Constitution Acts Amendment Act 1899 (WA).

A little over a century later, the state’s colonial apron strings were loosened with the passage of the Australia Acts 1986 (Cth and UK). These dual enactments meant that the British parliament no longer had legislative powers over the states, repugnant legislative restrictions were removed and the avenue of appeal from the state Supreme Courts to the Privy Council was abolished.

In 2015, the preamble to the CA was amended to ‘acknowledge the Aboriginal people as the First People of Western Australia and traditional custodians of the land’, followed by the statement that the WA parliament ‘seeks to effect a reconciliation with the Aboriginal people of Western Australia’.

Key government institutions

The Australia Acts 1986, although releasing Imperial legislative control, retained the role of the monarchy in the state governmental structure. The state governor was ‘Her Majesty’s representative’ (section 7[1]) although slight alterations were made to the governor’s office and it was set out that advice to the monarch was to be ‘tendered by the Premier’ (section 7[5]).

The governor’s role includes ceremonial as well as constitutional functions, such as assenting to legislation, proroguing parliament, issuing electoral writs, chairing the Executive Council (which makes official governmental decisions) and making governmental appointments.[42] In almost all instances, the WA governor acts on advice, unless rare circumstances arise to justify the exercise of the governor’s reserve powers.

The present Assembly contains 59 members with a maximum four-year term, and the Council currently has 36 members, drawn from six electorates, with a fixed four-year term. The premier leads the party with a majority in the Assembly and presides over ministerial decisions made by the Cabinet. There can be up to 17 state ministerial positions, and one must be filled by a member of the Council.

The WA parliament has plenary legislative power to make ‘laws for the peace, order and good government’ of the state,[43] including the ability to enact extra-territorial laws. While there are some express constitutional limits on its power through the terms of the Commonwealth Constitution, the High Court of Australia, since Federation, has also determined that some implied legislative limits exist.[44] Further, the CA includes restrictive procedures that seek to make it more difficult for the parliament to enact or amend particular laws by standard legislative procedures (Bills must be passed by absolute majorities or referendum, or both). While such provisions will not always be binding on a later parliament and require a suitably authoritative source to be so, they seek to apply to Bills that, for example, abolish the Council or Assembly, alter the office of governor or seek to amend the restrictive procedures themselves.

The state courts, comprised of the Supreme Court, the Magistrates Court, the District Court, the Children’s Court and the Family Court, although not formally independent from the legislative and executive arms, enjoy a de facto separation by convention. This is also protected to an extent by the integrated court structure that chapter III of the Commonwealth Constitution contemplates for ‘courts of a State’ and by the constitutional role vested in the Supreme Court of WA by the CA in section 73(6).[45]

Other governmental agencies, referred to as the fourth arm or integrity arm, include the Corruption and Crime Commission, the Auditor-General, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrative Investigations (the WA Ombudsman), the Commissioner for Public Sector Standards and the Office of the Information Commissioner. These offices jointly comprise the ‘Integrity Coordinating Group’ of WA.[46]

Electoral law

WA operates under the oldest electoral legislation in Australia, with the current statute, the Electoral Act 1907 (WA), passed during the reign of Edward VII. While many of the original provisions of the primary Act remain in force, it has been significantly updated in response to changing societal and political norms (see Appendix).

The franchise

The initial entitlement to vote in elections was based on a property franchise for those electors over 21 years of age, with the result that mostly white males met the qualification. While the property qualification was extinguished for the Assembly by 1907, an indirect property privilege prevailed until 1923 in that voters with property holdings in multiple electorates were entitled to vote in each of those districts. The property franchise remained for the Council until 1962.[47]

Women were granted the vote in the Assembly in 1899, making WA second only to South Australia (SA) to confer women’s suffrage. It was also the first state to elect a woman to parliament: Edith Cowan in 1921. The extension of suffrage to Aboriginal people on fully equal terms was not achieved until 1962. Initially, enrolment and voting were optional for Aboriginal electors, even though voting was compulsory for non-Indigenous electors from 1936.

Fixed-term elections

Prior to the 2000s, the government had the power to call an election at any time of their choosing, provided they did not exceed the maximum length of the term of parliament. However, by 2011 a cross-party consensus that this privilege afforded the government an unfair electoral advantage had emerged, leading to calls to introduce fixed-term elections.[48] Since this time, general elections have been held every four years on the second Saturday in March.

Electoral boundaries and ‘one vote, one value’

Prior to 1947, decisions regarding the state’s electoral boundaries were subject to ratification by parliament. However, the Electoral Distribution Act 1947 (WA) changed this and formalised the criteria to be considered when determining boundaries. This Act remained in force until the ‘one vote, one value’ reforms were introduced in 2005, removing vote weighting in the Assembly by no longer specifying the number of metropolitan and country districts.

The challenge of balancing geography and demography when drawing electoral boundaries has been particularly contentious in WA. It was the last state to remove the zonal system, whereby country electorates averaged half the number of voters in metropolitan electorates. While this system was designed to compensate remote and regional areas for the challenges afforded by distance, it meant that country electorates could have 3–4 times fewer electors than metropolitan counterparts.

The principle of ‘one vote, one value’ was eventually secured by the Gallop Labor government with the passage of the Constitution and Electoral Amendment Bill 2005 (WA). Prior to this time, Labor’s efforts to introduce ‘one vote, one value’ legislation had been unsuccessful because the conservative parties, the beneficiaries of the zonal system, had enjoyed uninterrupted control of the Council and were able to block such reforms.

Despite the introduction of ‘one vote, one value’, significant affordances for geographically large regional Council electorates persisted ostensibly in recognition of the challenges of adequately representing a large area. Districts larger than 100,000 square kilometres were permitted 20 per cent fewer voters, compared to the usual 10 per cent tolerance allowed for other regions. This, however, produced significant malapportionment with some rural Council regions enjoying six times the number of voters than some metropolitan Council regions.

Labor’s emphatic win at the 2021 state election provided the opportunity for the McGowan government to legislate for electoral equality in the Council. The resultant Constitutional and Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Equality) Act 2021 provided, among other reforms, for a single statewide electorate, finally eradicating the last vestiges of rural malapportionment. The reform also promises an expansion in the number of Councillors from 36 to 37 members beginning in 2025.

Since 2005, the state’s electoral boundaries are determined by the three electoral distribution commissioners: a current or former Supreme Court judge (chair), the electoral commissioner and the government statistician.

Electoral systems

As is common to bicameral parliaments, WA’s two chambers are elected under different electoral systems.

At the inception of responsible government, elections for the Assembly were conducted under first-past-the-post (plurality), combined with single-member electoral districts. In 1907, plurality was replaced with optional preferential voting (OPV), making WA the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce this method. In response to concerns from non-Labor parties about preference losses in three-way electoral contests, full preferential voting was adopted in 1911.[49]

Elections for the Council occur under proportional representation using the single transferrable vote (PR-STV), introduced in 1987.[50] PR-STV superseded the 1965 regime, comprised of two-person electorates with staggered six-year terms, conducted under full preferential voting.[51] In 2021, a small but consequential change to the requirements for PR-STV was instituted. Group Voting Tickets[52] were abolished and optional preferential voting was introduced. This reform ends the practice of ‘secret preference deals’ among parties[53] and reduces the likelihood that a candidate will be elected on a very small primary vote as a result of a fortuitous preference deal.[54]

Campaign finance and public funding

Campaign finance restrictions were initially introduced in WA in 1904, in the form of election expenditure caps on candidates. But it was not until 1996 that a more comprehensive scheme was adopted, with requirements for an annual disclosure of donations and electoral expenditure by parties and associated entities. The current disclosure threshold is $2,600.[55]

Public funding of elections was introduced in 2006. Under the provisions, candidates can apply to be reimbursed for electoral expenditure they incurred if they secured more than 4 per cent of first preference votes ($2.136827 per vote as of 1 July 2022).

Concerns about the role of money in elections prompted the McGowan Labor government to introduce the Electoral Amendment Bill 2020 which sought, among other matters, to impose expenditure caps, reduce the political donation threshold, thwart the ability for parties to use the (much lower) federal return for state purposes, as well as impose a ban on foreign donations. However, the Bill was referred by the Council to a Committee, thereby languishing.  The re-elected McGowan government has declared its intention to revive the matter, with reports that Cabinet has approved a new reform package.[56]

Parties and the party system

The core elements of WA’s modern party system had emerged by 1914. Prior to this time, elections and parliament were largely the preserve of ‘notables’, who formed loose groupings in parliament. The formation of the Australian Labor Party (Labor) in 1902 radically altered this dynamic. Created to represent newly enfranchised workers and unionists, Labor quickly developed into a disciplined electoral party, enabling it to dominate the contest for government for much of the period until the late 1950s.[57]

Labor’s organisational and political successes triggered the mobilisation of the Liberal and National (formerly Country) parties. While a group claiming to represent business interests used the ‘Liberal’ label in 1911, it was not until the establishment of the federal Liberals in 1944 that the WA Liberals acquired the organisational discipline to emerge as the major non-Labor rival. For much of the period from the late 1950s until the 1980s,[58] the Liberals dominated government, although, since this time, they have alternated with Labor in office. In the nine elections held since 1980, the Liberals have held government on five occasions, and Labor seven times.

The 2021 state election, however, marked a potentially significant turning point for the party system. Following this election, the Liberals’ presence in the Assembly was reduced from 13 MPs to two – the second dramatic decline in their representation since 2013. In contrast, Labor won 53 Assembly seats and 22 of the 36 Council vacancies (seven for the Liberals), granting it control over both chambers. The Council outcome was particularly momentous for Labor as it was the first time that it achieved an absolute majority in the Council.

While the Liberals were slow to institutionalise, the Nationals had established robust organisational underpinnings by 1914. The Nationals were able to leverage their close relationship with rural interests, along with their organisational structures, to become a competitive conservative party. However, similar to divisions of the National Party elsewhere, the WA Nationals have been under intense pressure from demographic changes, structural change to the economy, electoral reforms and competitive pressures from the Liberals.[59] At various times, this has led to internal fracture and the existence of two separate rural parties in the state.[60]

Acrimony within the Nationals has also affected the party’s ties with the Liberals. There have been two key inflection points in the relationship between the conservative parties, the first of which was between 1978 and 1986, when the coalition disbanded. The second, and present, opened up in 2006, when the Nationals abandoned the coalition to pursue a looser post-election ‘partnership’ with the Liberals, in which they sought ministries and funding commitments in exchange for supporting the Liberals in office. While some scholars have declared the Nationals’ latest strategy a triumph,[61] it is unclear whether this tactic will be sufficient to save the party from demographic forces over which it has no control.

The size of Labor’s victory at the 2021 state election induced the Nationals and Liberals to enter a formal alliance.[62] Unlike most other agreements entered into between these parties, the Liberals are the junior partner and do not hold the position of deputy leader within the alliance. Whether this upending of the usual dynamic between the two parties is a portent of things to come will depend, in part, on the effect that the end of rural malapportionment in the Council has on the future of Nationals representation in that chamber.

Prior to the 1990s, the Council overwhelming favoured the election of members from the three major party groupings, and the conservative parties more particularly. Between 1911 and 1993, election of persons entirely unconnected to one of the three longstanding party groupings was a novel occurrence. However, in the eight elections held since 1993, 37 independents and non-major parties have gained election. PR-STV is credited with facilitating the election of ‘other’ electoral actors to the Council and breaking the almost exclusive monopoly held by the three oldest parties in the chamber. The most successful of the newer entrants has been the WA Greens, which elected its first member to the Council in 1993 and has managed to elect between one and five members of the Council at every election since.


WA’s formative historical experiences, its economy and its geography have made it a sometimes-disgruntled member of the federation. But WA has more in common, politically and culturally, with other units within the federation than it does differences. Its grievances have been fiscal, as against identity-based, with the result that outpourings of disaffection have ebbed and flowed with prevailing economic circumstances.[63] These grievances aside, WA is an integral constitutive unit of the federation.

appendix: Timeline of key changes to elections in WA since 1890


Creation of Legislative Assembly (LA) with four-year terms. Members of Legislative Council (LC) nominated by the governor until 1893. Plural voting with property qualification.


Voting extended to male British subjects over 21 years of age. Property qualification continued. Optional enrolment.


Adult suffrage. Women awarded the vote in LA.


Payment of members and triennial terms.


Plural voting abolished.


Current Electoral Act passed. Preferential voting introduced.


Full preferential voting introduced.


Compulsory voting for the Assembly.


Women became eligible to be MLAs.


Edith Cowan elected as first woman in LA.


Independent electoral distribution commissioners to determine electoral boundaries. Decisions ratified by parliament.


Compulsory voting introduced for LA.


First parliamentary election with compulsory voting.


New distribution legislation – three commissioners, country ‘vote-weighting’ and no ratification of decisions by parliament.


Ruby Hutchison elected as first woman in LC.


Voluntary enrolment and voting for Indigenous peoples. LC franchise extended to include spouses, but property qualification remained. Women gained the vote in the LC.


Adult franchise introduced for the LC with removal of the property qualification. Voting entitlements for both houses became identical. Enrolment and voting for the LC made compulsory.


Voting age reduced to 18 years.


Restrictions on clergymen standing for election were abolished.


Reduction in number of members of either house now only by referendum.


First Indigenous MP – Ernie Bridge – elected, later became first Indigenous minister.


Joint enrolment procedure introduced for Commonwealth/state enrolment. Enrolment and voting became compulsory for Indigenous people. Australian citizenship became a requirement to enrol.


WA Electoral Commission established. Four-year term for MPs. Multi-member regions introduced in LC to replace provinces. LC voting changed to PR-STV.


Funding and disclosure law introduced. Party registration law introduced.


One vote, one value. Distributions in Electoral Act.


Nomination qualifications – citizenship. Overseas voting expanded. Authorisation of online advertising.


Itinerant voting introduced.


Fixed election dates.


Federal direct enrolment and update introduced. Internet voting for a limited cohort of electors. Early voting – removal of reasons.


Abolition of six LC multi-member regions and the introduction of a single state wide electorate composed of 37 members. Optional preferential voting for the LC introduced.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2016). Regional population growth, Australia, 2016. Cat. No. 3218.0. Canberra: ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/3218.0Main+Features12016?OpenDocument

Besant, Christopher (1990). Two nations, two destinies: a reflection on the significance of the Western Australian secessionist movement to Australia, Canada and the British Empire. University of Western Australia Law Review 209: 226–7.

Black, David (1991). Factionalism and stability, 1911–1947. In D. Black, ed. The house on the hill. Perth: WA Parliament.

Bolton, Geoffrey (2008). Land of vision and mirage: a history of Western Australia since 1826. Perth: UWA Press.

—— (1993) The civil war we never had. Proceedings of the third conference of the Samuel Griffith Society, Fremantle, 5–6 November.

Burrell, Andrew (2018). Premiers urged to take back control. The Australian, 26 January.

—— (2015). Barnett’s ‘tea party’ revolt. The Australian, 13 April.

Committee for Economic Development (CEDA) (2016). CEDA State of the Regions series: regional development in Western Australia, June 2016. Melbourne: CEDA. https://www.ceda.com.au/publications/regional-development-in-western-australia

Commonwealth Grants Commission (CGC) (2015). Report on GST revenue sharing relativities 2015 review – volume 1. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Congdon, Peter (2013). In a fix: fixed-term parliaments in the Australian states. Federal Law Review 41(2): 265–98. DOI: 10.1177/0067205X1304100203

Creyke, Robin (2012). An ‘Integrity’ branch. AIAL Forum 70: 33–37.

Curthoys, Ann, and Jane Lydon, eds. (2016). Governing Western Australian Aboriginal people: section 70 of WA’s 1889 constitution. Studies in Western Australian History 30.

Curthoys, Ann, and Jeremy Martens (2013). Serious collisions: settlers, Indigenous people, and Imperial policy in Western Australia and Natal. Journal of Australian Colonial History 15: 121–44.

de Garis, Brian (1991) The first Legislative Council. In D. Black, ed. The house on the hill. Perth: WA Parliament.

Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (2019). Western Australia economic profile (May). Perth: Government of Western Australia.

Fenna, Alan (2015a). Federalism the loser as Hickey ransoms GST to push WA reforms. The Conversation, 14 April.

—— (2015b). Best laid plans? Intentions, design, and outcomes in Australian federalism. Paper published by Constitutional Centre of Western Australia.

Gallo, Lee-Maree (2011). Barnett backs away from senior WA minister’s secession call. WAtoday, 13 July. https://www.watoday.com.au/national/western-australia/barnett-backs-away-from-senior-wa-ministers-secession-call-20110713-1hd2n.html

Gallop, Geoff, and Lenore Laymen (1985). Western Australia. In Brian Costar and Dennis Woodward eds. Country to National: Australian rural politics and beyond. Sydney: George Allen & Unwin.

Harvey, Ben (2022). New State Parliament laws set to crackdown on political donations. West Australian, 26 July: https://thewest.com.au/politics/new-state-parliament-laws-set-to-crackdown-on-political-donations-c-7634094.

Hiller, Harry (1987). Secession in Western Australia: a continuing phenomenon? Australian Quarterly 59(2): 222. DOI: 10.2307/20635434

Johnston, Peter (2010). Going it alone – republican states under a monarchical Commonwealth. In Sarah Murray, ed. Constitutional perspectives on an Australian republic: essays in honour of Professor George Winterton. Annandale, NSW: Federation Press.

Kelly, P. (2010). The west is digging in against Labor. Weekend Australian, 30 October, 11.

Ker, Peter (2011). WA entitled to royalties, says Barnett. Australian Financial Review, 21 July.

Laschon, Eliza (2018). The GST overhaul has been given the green light – here’s what it all means for WA. ABC News, 14 November. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-14/gst-explainer-how-will-wa-spend-its-windfall/10493500

Lecours, André, and Daniel Béland (2018). From secessionism to regionalism: the changing nature of territorial politics in Western Australia. Regional and Federal Studies 29(1): 25–44. DOI: 10.1080/13597566.2018.1443918

Letters patent relating to the Office of Governor of the State of Western Australia (1986, 14 February).

Martens, Jeremy (2016). Crown land, territorial integrity and responsible government in Western Australia. Studies in Western Australian History 30: 29–41.

McGowan, Mark (2020). Temporary border closure to better protect Western Australians, 2 April. https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2020/04/Temporary-border-closure-to-better-protect-Western-Australians.aspx.

McGowan, Mark, and Quiqley, John (2021). Electoral Equality Bill introduced into State Parliament, 15 September. https://bit.ly/4940M62

McNeill, Heather (2018). Scathing report finds Barnett government spent ‘large buckets of money’ on poorly planned projects. WAtoday, 20 February. https://bit.ly/2VwT7ZD

Miragliotta, Narelle (2003). Western Australia: a tale of two constitutional acts. University of Western Australia Law Review 31: 154–70.

—— (2002). Determining the result: transferring surplus votes in the Western Australian Legislative Council. Perth: Western Australian Electoral Commission.

Miragliotta, Narelle and Sharman, Campbell (2017). Managing midterm vacancies: institutional design and partisan strategy in the Australian parliament, 1901–2013. Australian Journal of Political Science, 52(3): 351–366.

Moon, Jeremy, and Campbell Sharman (2003). Western Australia. In Jeremy Moon and Campbell Sharman, eds. Australian politics and government, 183–208. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Murray, Sarah, and James Thomson (2013). A Western Australian constitution? Documents, difficulties and dramatis personae. University of Western Australia Law Review 36(2): 1–48.

Musgrave, Thomas (2003). The Western Australian secessionist movement. Macquarie Law Journal 3: 95–129.

National Party (2021). Opposition Alliance Agreement Finalised. Press Release, 19 April: https://www.nationalswa.com/opposition-alliance-agreement-finalised/

Perpitch, Nicolas, and Eliza Laschon (2018). GST changes explained: how WA will benefit from long-wanted tax overhaul. ABC News, 5 July. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-05/gst-changes-explained-how-wa-will-benefit/9943784

Phillimore, John, and Lance McMahon (2015). Moving beyond 100 years: the ‘WA approach’ to National Party survival. Australian Journal of Politics and History 61(1): 37–52. DOI: 10.1111/ajph.12085

Phillips, Harry (2013). Electoral law in the state of Western Australia: an overview, 3rd edn. Perth: Western Australian Electoral Commission.

Regional Services Reform Unit (2016). Resilient families, strong communities: a roadmap for regional and remote Aboriginal communities. Perth: Government of Western Australia.

Reid, G.S. (1979). Western Australia and the federation. In R. Pervan and C. Sharman, eds. Essays on Western Australian politics. Crawley, WA: UWA Press.

Sharman, Campbell (1993). Secession and federalism. Proceedings of the third conference of the Samuel Griffith Society, volume 3, Fremantle, 5–6 November.

Stone, Bruce (1993). Accountability reform in Australia: the WA Inc. Royal Commission in context. Australian Quarterly 65(2), 17–30. DOI: 10.2307/20635717

Taylor, Paige (2015). Premier told to hold out on deals. The Australian, 14 April.

Thomson, James (1992). Western Australia. Public Law Review 3(1): 66–72.

Zimmermann, Augusto (2011). The still reluctant state: Western Australia and the conceptual foundations of Australian federalism. In N. Aroney, G. Appleby and T. John, eds. The future of Australian federalism: comparative and inter-disciplinary perspectives. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

About the authors

Narelle Miragliotta is a senior lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Monash University, where she researches and teaches in the areas of Australian political institutions, comparative government and political parties.

Dr Sarah Murray is a professor of law at the University of Western Australia. She researches in the areas of constitutional law and court innovation. Dr Murray’s PhD thesis was awarded the 2011 Mollie Holman Doctoral Medal for Law by Monash University and was published as The remaking of the courts: less-adversarial practice and the constitutional role of the judiciary in Australia (2014). She is the co-author of The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia: history, principle and interpretation (2015) and Winterton’s Australian federal constitutional law: commentary & materials (2017), and co-edited Regulating preventive justice: principle, policy and paradox (2017).

Justin Harbord is the director of enrolment and community education at the Western Australian Electoral Commission. He has extensive electoral experience in the areas of operations, legislation, policy, technology, reform, communications, enrolment, education and reviews of electoral boundaries spanning more than 25 years. Justin is also a convenor of the Electoral Regulation Research Network.

  1. Revised by the authors in 2023. Miragliotta, Narelle, Sarah Murray and Justin Harbord (2024). Western Australia. In Nicholas Barry, Alan Fenna, Zareh Ghazarian, Yvonne Haigh and Diana Perche, eds. Australian politics and policy: 2024. Sydney: Sydney University Press. DOI: 10.30722/sup.9781743329542.
  2. Bolton 2008, 5.
  3. Moon and Sharman 2003, 184.
  4. Curthoys and Martens 2013, 130.
  5. Martens 2016.
  6. The British were under no illusions about the brutal conduct of many of the colonists towards Aboriginal peoples and sought to secure some protections for them when WA became self-governing. This came in the form of section 70, which specified: ‘There shall be payable to Her Majesty, in every year, out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund the sum of five thousand pounds mentioned in Schedule C to this Act to be appropriated to the welfare of the Aboriginal Natives, and expended in providing them with food and clothing when they would otherwise be destitute, in promoting the education of Aboriginal children (including half-castes), and in assisting generally to promote the preservation and wellbeing of the Aborigines.’ However, the Imperial parliament’s commitment to the survival of section 70 was weak and by 1897 the provision was radically amended. See Curthoys and Lydon 2016.
  7. Martens 2016, 41.
  8. Musgrave 2003.
  9. Musgrave 2003.
  10. Quoted in Taylor 2015, 2.
  11. Besant 1990.
  12. Bolton 1993.
  13. Besant 1990.
  14. Over the years, secessionist calls have emerged from several quarters. In the 1970s, mining magnate Lang Hancock bankrolled the Westralian Secession Movement. More recently, in 2016, the Western Australia Party was established for ‘the sole purpose of representing the people of WA to get a better deal from Canberra’ (https://westernaustraliaparty.org.au/about-us).
  15. This was not the first of such calls in recent times. In 2011, Norman Moore, then state minister for the regions, proposed that ‘WA should give some thought to going it alone’ (Gallo 2011).
  16. Burrell 2015.
  17. McGowan 2020.
  18. Reid 1979; Zimmerman 2011.
  19. Bolton 1993; Sharman 1993.
  20. Hiller 1987; Sharman 1993.
  21. ABS 2016.
  22. CEDA 2016, 11.
  23. Regional Services Reform Unit 2016.
  24. CEDA 2016, 13.
  25. Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation 2019.
  26. Concerns about neglect of the regions led to the Royalties for Regions scheme in 2008. The scheme was the result of a political bargain struck between the Nationals and the Barnett Liberal government following the 2008 state election. Under the agreement, the Barnett government agreed to transfer 25 per cent of all royalty payments to the state for reinvestment into regional WA. The McGowan Labor government, elected in 2017, has retained the program but capped annual spending at $1 billion. The McGowan government’s announcement followed the conclusion of a special inquiry into the program which criticised it for operating outside of the state’s budget and destabilising WA’s finances (McNeill 2018).
  27. CEDA 2016, 24.
  28. It was also attributed to longstanding tendencies towards ‘government driven development’, the high point of which was the infamous ‘WA Inc.’ affair when the secretive and procedurally suspect commercial activities of the Burke Labor government (1983–86) led to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of WA taxpayers’ money. In its aftermath, the Richard Court government embarked on reform of state utilities and government practices, ostensibly to disrupt the longstanding public policy paradigm (Stone 1993).
  29. CGC 2015, 3–4.
  30. Moon and Sharman 2003, 203–4.
  31. As one member of the WA parliament then opined: ‘Our only connection with the other colonies is by the intervening stormy sea, and the distance from Albany to Adelaide is the same, some 1150 miles … We shall be situated at such a distance from the seat of Government that I do not think we can expect that consideration for our wants and requests which we would be entitled to’ (Parker quoted in Bolton 1993).
  32. Musgrave 2003, 99.
  33. Quoted in Kelly 2010.
  34. Ker 2011.
  35. The federal mining tax was repealed in 2014.
  36. CGC 2015.
  37. Fenna 2015a. In 2018, the Morrison federal government announced a 70 per cent floor in the GST dollar to begin in 2022–23, increasing to 75 per cent in 2025 (Laschon 2018). While the WA treasurer, Ben Wyatt, welcomed the reform, he rejected that it was a ‘windfall’, reasoning that ‘A windfall would suggest that WA had somehow won the lotto, got some money that it doesn’t deserve or money unexpectedly that for some reason wasn’t, or shouldn’t have, come to Western Australia’ (Perpitch and Laschon 2018).
  38. Fenna 2015b.
  39. Burrell 2018. It is important to note that WA’s constitutions, as with all of the original states, retained their constitutional status post-Federation with sections 106–108 preserving state constitutions, parliamentary powers and enactments, subject to the dictates of the Commonwealth Constitution. However, several High Court judgements, in expanding the scope of the national government’s policy competency, have largely eroded the sphere of the states’ activities.
  40. Murray and Thomson 2013, 22.
  41. While there are differing explanations for this departure from consolidating the amendments, it is likely that it avoided the possible activation of the provision in the CA 1889 which potentially required an absolute majority in both the Assembly and Council, rather than a simple majority, for some amendments to the text of the CA 1889. For more, see Miragliotta 2003, 157; Murray and Thomson 2013, 27–8.
  42. ‘Letters patent’ 1986.
  43. CA, section 2(1).
  44. These include intergovernmental immunity (Re Residential Tenancies Tribunal (NSW); ex parte Defence House Authority (1997) 190 CLR 410) and the implied freedom of political communication (Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997) 189 CLR 520; McCloy v New South Wales (2015) 257 CLR 178).
  45. Johnston 2010, 101.
  46. Creyke 2012, 37.
  47. Phillips 2013, 3–5.
  48. Constitutionally, however, such a change to the law required absolute majorities of both houses and a referendum. To get around these provisions, legislation was introduced that provided that, for conjoint elections, there were set dates when the writs were to be issued. This achieved the desired outcome without extinguishing the governor’s entitlement to prorogue or dissolve parliament (Congdon 2013).
  49. Phillips 2013.
  50. The original form of PR-STV used the ‘inclusive Gregory method’ to transfer unused ballot papers, or a portion thereof, won by elected candidates. This was amended to the ‘weighted-inclusive Gregory method’ in order to address an anomaly where a transferred ballot paper could potentially increase in value to more than one vote (Miragliotta 2002).
  51. Phillips 2013.
  52. Group ticket voting refers to the practice whereby each party group ranks all listed candidates on the ballot paper in order of their preferred election. Electors who vote above the line on the ballot paper (i.e., vote by party grouping) effectively endorse the full list of preferences lodged by that group (Miragliotta and Sharman 2017).
  53. McGowan and Quiqley 2021.
  54. Preference deals are agreements that involves party groups ranking certain competitors’ candidates favourably on their group ticket vote in exchange for them doing the same. In doing so, this better allows party votes to flow to certain candidates that would otherwise be difficult to guarantee if each voter personally awarded all of their preferences.
  55. In comparative terms, WA’s disclosure threshold as at 2022 is lower than most other comparable jurisdictions except SA ($5,576) and the Commonwealth ($14,500).
  56. Harvey 2022.
  57. de Garis 1991.
  58. Black 1991.
  59. Moon and Sharman 2003.
  60. Gallop and Layman 1985.
  61. Phillimore and Mahon 2015.
  62. National Party 2021.
  63. Lecours and Béland 2018.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Australian Politics and Policy Copyright © 2024 by Justin Harbord; Narelle Miragliotta; and Sarah Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book