The federal government, based in Canberra and with the Prime Minister as head of government, makes laws for all of Australia e.g. Defence, Foreign Policy, Immigration, Marriage and Social Security. These responsibilities are broadly defined within the Australian Constitution. State governments, with a Premier as head of government, make laws for the state e.g. Education, Health, Roads and Transport. The states are essentially responsible for those powers that are not granted to the federal government under the Australian Constitution.
Local government, headed by a mayor or shire president, is responsible for certain matters within the local council or shire area e.g. rubbish collection, recycling, local building permits and pavements. Local government is not included in the Australian Constitution.
The Prime Minister is a member of the federal Parliament in Canberra. The Prime Minister is the leader of the political party that is in government, and is a member of the House of Representatives. The federal Parliament and state Parliaments are separate and have separate responsibilities.
The Western Australian Parliament sits approximately 22 weeks per year on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of a sitting week, often for extended hours. The sitting calendar, available on this website under Parliamentary Business, provides the sitting dates for both houses. When Parliament is not sitting, members are based in their electorates and undertake work for their constituents.
Parliament has three parts: the Legislative Council (upper house), the Legislative Assembly (lower house), and the Crown (represented by the Governor). The Clerk of each house is the principal adviser on the standing orders (rules of debate) and matters of procedure. The Clerk is supported in his/her role by senior advisory and administrative staff.
In the 13th Century in the Westminster Parliament, the Mace was carried by the Sergeant-at-Arms and used as a weapon to protect the Speaker from attack. At that time, the Speaker, as spokesman for the Parliament, was often the focus of anger for people who did not support the work of the Parliament. The Mace is still carried today by the Sergeant-at-Arms at the beginning and end of a sitting day of the Legislative Assembly, as a symbol of the power of the Speaker and the need to protect the Speaker’s authority.
The Order of Business (schedule for a sitting day) sets out the agreed timetable for business on a sitting day for the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly. The Standing Orders (rules of debate) for each house set out the time periods that a member may speak for a particular category of business. A digital clock in each house counts down the amount of speaking time remaining for the member.
The sandglass measures the two-minutes provided to members to return to the Chamber when a division (or count) is called. After expiry of time, the Chair (President or Speaker or a member acting in the role) will order that the doors be locked and that no member may enter or leave the Chamber until after the division concludes.
The Clerks-at-the-Table sit in front of the President and Speaker’s chair and include the Clerk, Deputy Clerk and Clerk Assistants. There are also the Usher of the Black Rod and Advisory Officer (Procedure) in the Legislative Council, and the Sergeant-at-Arms in the Legislative Assembly. These officers provide advice on parliamentary law, practice and procedure for the house.
Ministers and their advisers (Ministerial or government officers) will sit at the Table of the house when a bill is being debated. Ministers respond to questions asked by members about the intent and content of the bill. These staff provide advice to the Minister but cannot take part in the debate. In the Parliament of Western Australia, Hansard reporters also sit at the Table to record the proceedings of the house.
When Parliament House was first designed in the late 1890s, Western Australia was a British Colony and did not have a separate coat of arms. It therefore adopted the coat of arms of the United Kingdom, whose sovereign at the time was Queen Victoria. It was not until 1969 that Queen Elizabeth II granted Western Australia its own coat of arms.
The upper House, or Legislative Council, is red, which reflects the colour of the House of Lords in the United Kingdom. Red represents nobility, as the nobles originally formed the membership of the House of Lords. The House of Commons, or lower house, in the United Kingdom is green, representing the common people who are said to meet on grass.
It is not known why the Western Australian Legislative Assembly, or lower house, is blue. One theory is that the original furnishings from the Legislative Council, when it was located in the Perth CBD, were transferred to the new building on completion in 1904. The gold rush in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie in the 1890s meant that the colony transitioned from being the poorest colony in Australia to one of the wealthiest, and there was a requirement to build infrastructure such as railways, Fremantle Harbour, the Supreme Court, the Parliament and the costly pipeline to Kalgoorlie. It is thought that perhaps there was not enough money left to furnish the new Legislative Assembly.
The concept of upper and lower houses derives from the Westminster Parliament. One theory is that the lower house was the house of the lower classes and the upper house was the house of the upper classes.
The party or coalition of parties that wins control of the lower house wins control of government, so it could be said that government begins 'down' in the lower house. However, bills passed in the lower house must now go 'up' to the upper house for detailed scrutiny by the members of that house.
The Black Rod is the symbol of the authority of the sovereign in the upper house, the Legislative Council. The position of Black Rod dates back to 1350, and was created by King Edward III. If the King was not present, the Black Rod remained as a reminder of the authority of the sovereign.
There are 42 chandeliers in Parliament House, with the main chandelier located in the ground floor foyer. This larger chandelier was acquired and installed in Parliament House on completion of the eastern extension in 1964. It came from ‘Mount House’ in West Perth, the former home of William Knight, the fourth Auditor General of Western Australia. Made from Austrian crystal, William Knight brought the chandelier to Western Australia from London in 1851. Mount House was demolished when the Mitchell Freeway was constructed. All chandeliers are cleaned annually.
The Lion and the Unicorn were a gift from a visiting delegation from the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1935. The Lion represents England and the Unicorn represents Scotland. Until 2015, the Lion and the Unicorn sat on the top of the 1904 portion of the Parliament House building, overlooking Harvest Terrace. As a result of wear and tear and a need to preserve these heritage icons, the statues were restored and relocated to the Lee Steere foyer. Replicas now adorn the façade.
The black swan and kangaroo paw are the bird and floral emblems of Western Australia. Four swans, accompanied by kangaroo paws, are placed so they can be seen from every angle of the chamber. The swans and kangaroo paws replaced the Crown of St Edward, which graced the former carpet of the Legislative Assembly. The Assembly was recarpeted in late 2006.
The black swan is the bird emblem of Western Australia. The swan in the Forrest foyer is made from local timbers: jarrah, marri, wandoo and blackbutt. It also includes mother of pearl, banded ironstone, agate and iron ore. The timber industry in Western Australia was established in 1829, on the arrival of European settlers and establishment of the Swan River Colony. The names of the timber—jarrah, marri and wandoo—are of Noongar origin, honouring the traditional owners and custodians of this land. Mother of pearl represents the pearling industry, in particular the early Aboriginal, Chinese, Japanese and Malay pearl divers in the north of Western Australia. The semi-precious minerals—banded iron stone, agate and iron ore—represent the mining industry.
The swan was installed in 1992 when the parquetry floor was replaced. The previous floor also included a swan.
From left to right, the painting by renowned artist Owen Garde includes Peter Broun, William Mackie, Captain Frederick Irwin, John Septimus Roe, Governor James Stirling and Commander Mark Currie. The portrait features WA’s first Governor, Sir James Stirling, and the four men he appointed to help him administer the Swan River Colony. The painting shows the first meeting of the Legislative Council on 7 February 1832. It was commissioned by the Parliament to commemorate the 150th anniversary of that meeting.
The busts of Sir John Forrest, first Premier of Western Australia, and Sir James Lee Steere, first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, were sculpted by Italian born sculptor Pietro Giacomo Porcelli (1872-1943). The bust of Sir John Forrest is located on the ground floor in the Forrest foyer, and the bust of Sir James Lee Steere is in the Lee Steere foyer on the first floor.
The Salaries and Allowances Tribunal, an independent statutory authority, determines members’ salaries and allowances. Details of salaries and allowances can be accessed through www.sat.wa.gov.au
. The Salaries and Allowances Tribunal is an independent statutory authority with specific responsibilities. The Tribunal has the powers of a royal commission while undertaking inquiries in respect to its statutory responsibilities.
The longest-serving member of the Parliament of Western Australia was Hon John Tonkin, who served in the Legislative Assembly for 43 years, 10 months and 11 days, from 1933 to 1977.
The longest-serving member of the Legislative Council was Hon Vernon Hamersley, who served for 42 years, 2 months and 19 days, from 1904 to1946. For further information, see fact sheet – longest-serving WA MPs
Edith Cowan, elected to the Western Australian Parliament in 1921, just one year after women were granted the vote in Western Australia, was the first female member of an Australian Parliament. Edith Cowan served one term as the member for West Perth.
Elected in 1980, Ernie Bridge was the first Aboriginal member of the Western Australian Parliament. He was also the first Aboriginal member of a lower house and the first Aboriginal cabinet minister in an Australian Parliament. Elected in 2001 to the lower house, Carol Martin was the first female Aboriginal member of the Western Australian Parliament and the first female Aboriginal member of any Australian Parliament. Both Ernie Bridge and Carol Martin represented the seat of Kimberley in the Legislative Assembly. For further information, see fact sheet – Australian political first by Western Australian MPs.
The longest-serving Western Australian Premier was Sir David Brand, who served for 11 years, 11 months and one day. Sir David Brand became Premier on 2 April 1959 and served until his Liberal government lost the election by one seat on 3 March 1971. Sir David continued to serve as Leader of the Opposition until June 1972. He was succeeded as Premier by John Tonkin, who is Western Australia’s longest-serving member of Parliament.
Edwin Wilkie Corboy was the youngest person elected to the Parliament of Western Australia, winning the seat of Yilgarn in 1921, aged 24 years.
Edwin Corboy had previously served in the federal Parliament as the member for Swan, after being elected in October 1918 at the age of 22. At that time, he was also the youngest person elected to the federal Parliament.
Edwin Corboy served in the Western Australian Parliament for 12 years, until 1933. For further information, see fact sheet – Youngest MPs in WA.
There have been several family dynasties amongst members of the Western Australian Parliament. Sir Charles Court and Richard Court were the first father and son Premiers in Western Australia. The Holman family is represented by three members, all elected to the seat of Forrest. Jack Holman represented Forrest for the Labor Party from 1901 to 1921 and from 1923 to 1925. His daughter, May Holman, was also member for Forrest (1925-1939) and was the first woman to represent the Labor Party in any Parliament of Australia or the British Commonwealth. After her tragic death in a motor vehicle accident, her brother Ted won the seat in the subsequent by-election. Edith Cowan, as the first female member of Parliament, was the cousin of Sir Edward Wittenoom, MLC (1894-1934) and great-aunt of Hendy Cowan, member for Merredin–Yilgarn (1974-2001). For further information, see members of Parliament – demographics
Neither house can claim to be the more powerful. The houses have different powers. To gain control of government and control of the Treasury, a party or coalition of parties must first gain control of the Legislative Assembly, the lower house. The lower house is modelled on the House of Commons in Westminster, and with its 59 elected members, it is said to be the voice of the people.
The Legislative Council, or upper house (modelled on the House of Lords in Westminster), is the house of review; its role is to scrutinise proposed laws and the government’s budget in detail. The Legislative Council has 36 elected members. Bills cannot become laws until they are passed by both houses.