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Premiers of the Australian states
The Premiers of the Australian states are the heads of the executive governments in the six states of the Commonwealth of Australia. They perform the same functions at the state level as the Prime Minister of Australia performs at the national level.
Each of the Australian states is governed under the Westminster system of parliamentary government. Each state has an elected legislature, and the party or coalition of parties which hold a majority of seats in the lower house of the state legislature forms the government, with the head of the government holding the title of Premier. The Premier must resign if his or her party is defeated at a general election, or if he or she loses a vote of confidence in the lower house. (Premiers may also of course resign for other reasons, such as losing the confidence of their own party).
The Australian states were originally founded as British colonies, and executive power was held by a Governor (or sometimes a Lieutenant-Governor) appointed by the British Government (see Governors of the Australian states). From the 1820s the power of the Governors was gradually transferred to legislative bodies, at first appointed, later partly elected, and finally fully elected. Victoria gained full responsible parliamentary government in 1855, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania in 1856, Queensland in 1859 and Western Australia (owing to its much smaller population) in 1890.
In the 19th century the heads of the colonial ministries were commonly called Prime Ministers, since this was the term used in Britain (see Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), although the term Premier was also used. When the six colonies federated in 1901, it was realised that it would be confusing to have seven Prime Ministers in one country, and the term Premier became standardised. This practice may have been influenced by the example of Canada, which became a federation in 1867 and used the title of Premier for the heads of its provincial governments.
Until the rise of the Australian Labor Party in the 1890s, the Australian colonies did not have formal party systems, although many colonial politicians called themselves Liberals or Conservatives. Ministries were usually formed on the basis of personal or factional loyalties, and rose and fell with great frequency as loyalties changed. Colonial politics were commonly regarded as parochial, corrupt and cynical, and in many cases they were. Victorian Premier James Munro , for example, fled the colony to escape his creditors in 1890, and Queensland Premier Sir Thomas McIlwraith was notoriously corrupt.
The rise of Labor forced the colonies to move towards a two-party system of Labor versus non-Labor, although state politics remained more personalised and less ideological than national politics for many years. The first minority Labor government was formed by Anderson Dawson in Queensland in 1899, and the first majority Labor government was led by James McGowen in New South Wales in 1910. Since about 1910 state politics have followed much the same party pattern as Australian national politics (see Politics of Australia).
Although the legislative powers of the states are defined in the Constitution, the real power of the Australian Premiers has been declining steadily ever since Federation in 1901, as the power and responsibility of the national government has expanded at the expense of the states. The most important transfer of power came in 1943, when in the interests of national unity during World War II the states gave up their power to levy their own income taxes to the Commonwealth. Since then the states' finances have essentially been controlled by the Commonwealth.
The first women premiers of an Australian state were Dr Carmen Lawrence, who became Labor Premier of Western Australia on 12 February 1990, and Joan Kirner, who became Labor Premier of Victoria on 10 August 1990. Both succeeded male Premiers of their own party who had resigned in the face of scandals and/or party divisions, and both were defeated at subsequent elections: no woman has yet been elected as the Premier of an Australian state, though women have been elected to the almost-equivalent post of Chief Minister in both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory
Since February 2002 there have been Labor Premiers in each of the six Australian states, a feat Labor had not achieved previously. A similar feat was achieved by the Coalition for a short period in 1969-70.
Lists of Premiers of the Australian states
- Premiers of New South Wales
- Premiers of Victoria
- Premiers of Queensland
- Premiers of Western Australia
- Premiers of South Australia
- Premiers of Tasmania
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