Carmen Lawrence


The Honourable   Dr. Carmen Lawrence
Lawrence in 1990
25th Premier of Western Australia
In office
12 February 1990 – 16 February 1993
MonarchElizabeth II
GovernorFrancis Burt
DeputyIan Taylor
Preceded byPeter Dowding
Succeeded byRichard Court
Minister for Health and Human Services
In office
25 March 1994 – 11 March 1996
Prime MinisterPaul Keating
Preceded byGraham Richardson
Succeeded byMichael Wooldridge
Minister for Women
In office
25 March 1994 – 11 March 1996
Prime MinisterPaul Keating
Preceded byRos Kelly
Succeeded byJocelyn Newman
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Fremantle
In office
12 March 1994 – 24 November 2007
Preceded byJohn Dawkins
Succeeded byMelissa Parke
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Glendalough
In office
4 February 1989 – 4 February 1994
Preceded byConstituency Created
Succeeded byMichelle Roberts
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Subiaco
In office
8 February 1986 – 4 February 1989
Preceded byTom Dadour
Succeeded byConstituency Abolished
Personal details
BornCarmen Mary Lawrence
2 March 1948 (age 72)
Northam, Western Australia
Political partyLabor

Carmen Mary Lawrence (born 2 March 1948) [GR1] is an Australian academic and former politician who was the Premier of Western Australia[GR2]  from 1990 to 1993, the first woman to become the premier of an Australian state. A member of the Labor Party, she later entered federal politics as a member of the House of Representatives from 1994 to 2007, and served as a minister in the Keating Government.

Lawrence was born in Northam, Western Australia. She studied psychology at the University of Western Australia, obtaining a doctorate in 1983, and before entering politics worked as a lecturer and researcher. Lawrence was elected to state parliament in 1986, and became a government minister in 1988. She replaced Peter Dowding as premier in 1990, as Australia’s second female head of government (after ACT Chief Minister Rosemary Follett) and first female state premier. She and the Labor Party lost power at the 1993 state election.

In 1994, Lawrence entered federal parliament through a by-election for the Division of Fremantle. She was almost immediately appointed to cabinet by Paul Keating, serving as Minister for Human Services and Health and Minister for Women until the government’s defeat in 1996. Lawrence remained in parliament until the 2007 election, on the frontbench until 2002 and then as a backbencher. From 2004 to 2005, she was federal president of the Labor Party, the first person to be directly elected to the position. She returned to academia after leaving politics, as a psychology professor at the University of Western Australia.

Early life

Carmen Lawrence was born in Northam[GR3] , in the agricultural district of Western Australia and spent her early childhood in the towns of Gutha and Dongara.

She was one of seven children, six girls and a boy, born to Ernest Richard Lawrence, a farmer, and his wife Mary Norma (née Watson).

From the age of six she was educated at various Roman Catholic boarding schools: Marian Convent at Morawa; Dominican Ladies College at Dongara and Santa Maria College at Attadale from which she matriculated in 1964 with distinctions in six subjects, a General Exhibition for Academic Achievement and the Special Subject Exhibition in economics.

Further education and employment

In 1965, Lawrence enrolled at the University of Western Australia in Perth. In 1968 she graduated as a Bachelor of Psychology with First Class Honours, having won five prizes including that for the most outstanding graduate throughout the Faculties of Arts, Economics and Commerce, Law, Architecture, and Education. In 1968 she was Senior Student in Saint Catherine’s residential college.

She was politically active from an early stage. While at UWA she lobbied, successfully, to have the Campus Beauty Contest abolished. In Melbourne in the early 1970s she helped to found the Victorian Branch of the Women’s Electoral Lobby.

She tutored at the University of Melbourne in 1971 and 1972, tutored and lectured at the Western Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT) from 1973 to 1978 and was a lecturer with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Western Australia from 1979 until 1983. During this period she continued with post-graduate research, having won two scholarships for PhD studies in psychology, and received the doctoral degree in 1983, for her dissertation Maternal Responses to Infant Crying.

From 1983 until her election to parliament in 1986, Lawrence was employed in the Research and Evaluation Unit of the Psychiatric Services Branch of the Department of Health of Western Australia. [GR4] 

State political career

Entry to State Parliament

During this period, Lawrence joined the Labor Party. She unsuccessfully contested the seat of East Melville at the 1983 election against sitting Liberal Party member Anthony Trethowan, but was more successful in 1986 when she won the seat of Subiaco following the retirement of long-serving Liberal-turned-independent Dr Tom Dadour. In 1988, following the sudden departure of Brian Burke as Premier, she was appointed Minister for Education. At the 1989 election, her seat of Subiaco was abolished in a redistribution, and she won the new seat of Glendalough.

The Western Australian Labor government was in a state of crisis as a result of corruption allegations against the cabinets of two successive premiers, Brian Burke and Peter Dowding, the so-called “WA Inc” period.

Premier of Western Australia

In February 1990, Dowding was forced by his colleagues to resign. Lawrence, a prominent opponent within the Labor Party of Brian Burke’s Right faction, of which Dowding was a member, replaced him as Premier on 12 February 1990, with Ian Taylor as her deputy.

Carmen Lawrence was the first female Premier of an Australian State. However, she was not the first female head of government of a province of the Commonwealth of Australia; being preceded by Rosemary Follett, who became Chief Minister of the ACT on 11 May 1989.

On 19 November 1990, Lawrence called a Royal Commission into matters related to the WA Inc deals, after considerable public and media pressure. The commission hearings began on 12 March 1991, and within months, the Labor party became a minority government as three left-wing MPs left the party to sit as independents. Coverage of the commission hearings dominated media headlines for most of the period from then until the 1993 election.

Two significant matters which characterised Lawrence’s premiership were a public demand for a strong legislative response to juvenile crime and problematic investments in public transport infrastructure.

Juvenile crime

Between mid-1990 and early 1992, several high-speed chases involving cars stolen by repeat juvenile offenders resulted in the deaths of 10 people, including a businessman and several young parents. All received considerable media attention, most notably from 6PR‘s Howard Sattler. On 25 December 1991, 22-year-old Margaret Blurton and her infant son Shane were killed in a crash involving Billy-Jean Abrahams, a 14-year-old Aboriginal offender in a stolen motor vehicle. Margaret’s husband Peter survived, and gained public sympathy through bedside interviews to print and electronic media. A candlelight vigil was organized outside Parliament House on 4 January 1992, and exactly a month later, responding directly to the public call for action, Lawrence and deputy leader Ian Taylor tabled the Crime (Serious and Repeat Offenders) Sentencing Bill 1992, which was rushed through parliament despite the advice of a committee that it was “unworkable and unsustainable”. Peter Blurton established the Margaret and Shane Foundation to channel both his own grief and the immense public sympathy into a workforce to fight for the rights of crime victims. The law, however, turned out to be defective and Lawrence later declared it to have been a mistake. The Act was repealed in June 1994.

Transport infrastructure

The other matter which preoccupied the Government was the ongoing construction of the Northern Suburbs Transit System, later to be known as the Joondalup railway line,[GR5]  which proceeded throughout Lawrence’s term as Premier. She officially opened the line on 20 December 1992 and travelled on it with community leaders and selected members of the public, but the line was not opened for regular services until 21 March 1993. The Perth City Busport (now known as the Esplanade Busport), was opened on 30 November 1991 to centralise services travelling through the central business district—however, due to its distance from St Georges Terrace, it was branded a “white elephant” by the media and failed to significantly impact on CBD traffic. However, the station is still in use and has since been integrated into the rail network following the opening of the Mandurah railway line in December 2007.

Easton petition

On 5 November 1992, a petition was tabled in the Legislative Council by Labor MLC John Halden which contained an allegation that the Opposition Leader Richard Court had leaked confidential information to a party in a divorce case. The petitioner was Brian Mahon Easton, a former Western Australian public servant. The alleged recipient of the leaked information was his former wife, Penny Easton. On 9 November 1992, she committed suicide. In Parliament on the following day, in response to an Opposition question, Lawrence denied prior knowledge of the petition. This episode subsequently became known as the “Easton affair[GR6] “.

Election defeat

In the election held on 6 February 1993, the Lawrence government was defeated by the LiberalNational coalition and Richard Court, who had replaced Barry MacKinnon as opposition leader just a year earlier, became Premier. Lawrence remained as Opposition Leader until early 1994.

In December 1993, Carmen Lawrence, Jim McGinty, and Geoff Gallop joined in a petition to the High Court of Australia to challenge the franchise system for the Western Australian Legislative Council. The system of vote-weighting tended to favor the conservative parties and was a long-term obstacle to the ALP gaining control of the council. On 20 February 1996, the High Court rejected the challenge on the basis that the law was not unconstitutional.

Federal political career

Entry to Federal Parliament and Cabinet Ministry

On 12 March 1994, following the resignation of former Federal treasurer and member for FremantleJohn Dawkins, she won a by-election for the seat and entered federal politics. Fremantle is a safe Labor seat which had once been held by Labor Prime Minister John Curtin, and later, Whitlam-era Education Minister Kim Beazley senior.

On 25 March 1994, she was appointed Minister for Human Services and Health and Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women in the Keating government.

The Royal Commission

In May 1995, Premier Court requested the establishment of a Royal Commission to determine the circumstances of the tabling of the Easton affair petition. On 14 November 1995, the Royal Commission released a report which found that Lawrence had misled the Western Australian Parliament concerning her knowledge of and role in the tabling of the petition. Paul Keating denounced the commission as a political stunt and accused the Commissioner, Kenneth Marks QC, of bias.

At the 1996 federal election[GR7] , the Keating government lost office and, following Paul Keating’s resignation of the leadership, Kim Beazley, a Western Australian, became the new Leader of the Opposition.

Lawrence was appointed to the Opposition frontbench as Shadow Environment Minister. On 21 February 1997, she was charged with three counts of perjury resulting from the findings of the Marks Royal Commission. She stood down from the shadow ministry pending her trial. She was acquitted on 23 July 1999.

Later political life

Lawrence in 2004

In September 2000 Beazley approved her reappointment to the Labor frontbench, and appointed her shadow minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, the Arts and Status of Women.

During the 2001 federal election campaign, Lawrence strongly disapproved of Beazley’s support for the government’s policy of detaining asylum-seekers (see Tampa affair[GR8] ). In December 2002 she resigned from the Shadow Cabinet, describing the party’s policies on asylum and immigration as “brutal and inhumane”.

She announced on 29 March 2007 that she would not recontest her seat in the Parliament at the 2007 Australian federal election.

Presidency of the ALP

During 2002 the Labor Party approved a series of reforms proposed by new Opposition leader Simon Crean, among them the direct election of the party’s National President by the party membership (the post had previously been filled by election at the party’s National Conference) and a reduction of the union’s representation at party conferences from 60% to 50%. Lawrence emerged as the candidate of the party’s Left faction for the post, and the election took place in November 2003. Although she did not win an absolute majority of the votes, Lawrence topped the poll and was elected president, taking office on 1 January 2004, shortly after Mark Latham succeeded Crean as party Leader. She used the position to campaign in favor of a policy of better treatment for asylum-seekers entering Australia. Her term as National President ended on 1 January 2005, when she was succeeded by Barry Jones.

After Parliament

Lawrence in 2013

As foreshadowed in her announcement of March 2007, Lawrence did not contest the federal election held on 24 November 2007, thereby retiring from Parliament. She was succeeded as Member for Fremantle by Melissa Parke, also of the ALP.

Following her departure from the federal Parliament, Lawrence was engaged for a term, in 2008, as a Professorial Fellow at the University of Western Australia. Her brief was to conduct collaborative research with a focus on the origins of fanaticism and extreme behaviour, including terrorism, under the auspices of the University’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

Notable public appearances and other engagements

  • Lawrence delivered the John Curtin Memorial Lecture in 1994, speaking on the theme Women and Labor – A Future Perspective.
  • On 24 November 1994, Lawrence delivered a lecture at Curtin University titled, “My Invalid Carrot is the Prettiest of Them All” as part of the Elizabeth Jolley Lecture Series.
  • In 1995/96 Lawrence was named “Number One Ticket-Holder[GR9] ” for the Fremantle Football Club.
  • In 2002, in her capacity as Shadow Minister for the Status of Women, Lawrence took part in the Canberra launch of the National Maternity Action Plan.
  • From 2000 to 2004, she was a contributor to the Internet journal Online Opinion.
  • From 2002 to 2005, she was an intermittent contributor to Margo Kingston‘s Webdiary.
  • In 2005 she spoke in the Eminent Lecturer Series for the Herbert and Valmae Freilich Foundation which is hosted by the Australian National University. Her lectures on the theme of Fear and Public Policy have since been published as a book titled Fear and Politics (listed in the Publications section, below).
  • On 19 February 2007, Lawrence was the principal guest at the launch of the web publication The federal electorate of Fremantle: A history since 1901, an initiative of the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.
  • 2012 Reid Oration – Maintaining a civil society: The importance of equality and education The Reid Oration[GR10]  is a collaboration between the WA Institute of Public Administration Australia and The University of Western Australia.
  • Dr Lawrence was awarded the 2015 Australian Humanist of the Year for her consistent humanist approach to a wide range of issues, both as politician and researcher, and for speaking out on matters of concern to humanists including the welfare of Indigenous people, equality for women, inequality in education and Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.


  • Lawrence, Carmen (2006). Fear and Politics (Pbk). Melbourne: Scribe Publications. ISBN 978-1-920769-87-1.
  • Lawrence, Carmen (2005). “Fear of the ‘Other’ and Public Policy”. In Jo Coghlan (ed.). Seeking Refuge (Pbk). John Minns and Andrew Wells. Wollongong: University of Wollddddongong Press. ISBN 1-920831-50-9.
  • Lawrence, Carmen (2006). “Political Corporations”. In Barry Jones (ed.). Coming to the Party: where to next for Labor? (Pbk). Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 978-0-522-85283-7.
  • Lawrence, Carmen (2000). “The gender gap in political behaviour”. In Kate Deverall (ed.). Party Girls – Labor Women Now (Pbk). Rebecca Huntley, Penny Sharpe, Jo Tilly. Sydney: Pluto Press Australia. ISBN 1-86403-117-4.

Contributed chapter

  • “We are destroying the joint”, pp. 70–86, in: Destroying the joint, edited by Jane Caro, Read How You Want 

 [GR1]Called a Royal Commission into WA IncNorthern Suburbs Transit System begun. Perth City Busport opened. Later charged with perjury over the Easton affair, but acquitted in 1999. First female premier of any Australian state. Defeated at the 1993 election.

 [GR2]The office of premier of Western Australia was first formed in 1890, after Western Australia was officially granted responsible government by Britain in 1889. The Constitution of Western Australia does not explicitly provide for a premier, and the office was not formally listed as one of the executive offices until the appointment of Ross McLarty in 1947. Nonetheless, John Forrest immediately adopted the title on taking office as first premier of Western Australia in 1890, and it has been used ever since.

John Forrest was the only premier of Western Australia as a self-governing colony. Following the Federation of Australia in 1901, Western Australia became an Australian state and the responsibilities of the office of premier were diminished.

Party politics began in Western Australia with the rise of the Labor party in 1901. By 1904, the party system was entrenched in Western Australian politics. Since then the premiers have been associated with political parties.

Western Australia’s constitution contains nothing to preclude the premier being a member of the upper house, the Western Australian Legislative Council. Historically and by convention, however, the premier is a member of the Assembly. The only exception has been Hal Colebatch, a member of the Legislative Council who accepted the premiership in April 1919 on the understanding that an Assembly seat would be found for him, only to resign a month later when no seat could be found.

During the economic boom of the 1980s, the Western Australian government became closely involved with a number of large businesses. A succession of deals were made between the government and businesses, and these ultimately caused great losses for the state. A subsequent royal commission found evidence of widespread corruption. Three former premiers were found to have acted improperly and two of them, Ray O’Connor and Brian Burke, were jailed. This scandal became popularly known as WA Inc.

 [GR3]Northam (/ˈnɔːrðəm/) is a town in the Australian state of Western Australia, situated at the confluence of the Avon and Mortlock Rivers, about 97 kilometres (60 mi) east-northeast of Perth in the Avon Valley. At the 2016 census, Northam had a population of 6,548. Northam is the largest town in the Avon region. It is also the largest inland town in the state not founded on mining

 [GR4]The Department of Health is a Western Australian government department responsible for regulating and advancing health within the state. It manages a system of multiple Health Service Providers (HSPs) which make up Western Australia’s public health system, and is collectively referred to as WA Health. WA Health covers a state which spans over 2.5 million square kilometres, making it the world’s largest single health authority by area.

 [GR5]On 14 November 1989, construction commenced on the line with Premier Peter Dowding driving the first spike. The line to Joondalup was opened by Premier Carmen Lawrence on 20 December 1992. Initially only LeedervilleEdgewater and Joondalup stations were opened with the remaining stations opened as completed for a full service to commence on 21 March 1993. A realignment of the entire Transperth bus system was undertaken whereby the new railway stations became bus interchanges. On 8 August 1993, the line was extended to Currambine.

Initially, service frequencies were similar to those for the Fremantle line as lower passenger numbers were anticipated; however, overcrowding saw the doubling of services between Perth and Whitfords on weekdays. Services were reverted to Fremantle line frequencies between 09:00 and 14:00 on 28 June 2009 due to low passenger numbers on those services.

On 4 October 2004, the line was extended to Clarkson as part of the New MetroRail project. Nowergup depot opened at the same time. On 29 January 2005, Greenwood was opened to alleviate pressure at the adjacent Warwick and Whitfords stations.

On 8 August 2005, the service, which previously continued south from Perth station onto the Armadale line, was curtailed at Perth and no longer provided a through service. On 15 October 2007, Joondalup line trains began running to Perth Underground and Elizabeth Quay stations via new tunnels under central Perth.

On 23 December 2007, the opening of the Mandurah line resulted in Joondalup services operating through to Mandurah. On 21 September 2014, the line was extended to Butler

 [GR6]The Easton affair was the name which came to be used to describe a Western Australian political scandal. A member of the Labor Party, then in government, tabled a document on 5 November 1992 in the Western Australian Legislative Council claiming that confidential information was improperly released by the Liberal Opposition LeaderRichard Court, to one side of a divorce case before the Family Court of Western Australia. The information was released to a woman named Penny Easton and related to the financial arrangements of her former husband. The claim, which attracted significant public interest, was followed four days later by Ms Easton’s suicide. The government, and in particular the PremierCarmen Lawrence, denied any prior knowledge of the petition. Following the defeat of Labor at the 1993 election, Court, who had succeeded Lawrence as Premier, requested a Royal Commission to be held. In November 1995, the Commission found that Lawrence had misled the Western Australian parliament. She was charged with three counts of perjury but acquitted on 23 May 1999 following a trial by a jury.

 [GR7]The 1996 Australian federal election was held to determine the members of the 38th Parliament of Australia. It was held on 2 March 1996. All 148 seats of the House of Representatives and 40 seats of the 76-seat Senate were up for election. The centre-right Liberal/National Coalition led by Opposition Leader John Howard of the Liberal Party and coalition partner Tim Fischer of the National Party defeated in a landslide the incumbent centre-left Australian Labor Party government led by Prime Minister Paul Keating.

The election marked the end of the 5-term, 13-year Hawke-Keating Government that began in 1983. John Howard was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Australia on 11 March 1996, along with the First Howard Ministry. This election was the start of the 11-year Howard Government. The Labor party would spend the next 11 years in opposition and would not return to government until the 2007 election.

This was the first federal election that future Prime Minister Tony Abbott contested as a member of parliament, having entered parliament at the 1994 Warringah by-election. Future opposition leaders Brendan Nelson and Anthony Albanese entered parliament at this election.

Howard became the first Liberal leader to win an election from opposition since Robert Menzies in 1949. (Malcolm Fraser was caretaker prime minister in the 1975 election.)

 [GR8]In late August 2001, the Howard Government of Australia refused permission for the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa, carrying 433 rescued refugees (predominantly Hazaras of Afghanistan from a distressed fishing vessel in international waters) and 5 crew, to enter Australian waters. This triggered an Australian political controversy in the lead up to the 2001 federal election, and a diplomatic dispute between Australia and Norway.

When the Tampa entered Australian waters, the Prime Minister ordered the ship be boarded by Australian special forces. This brought censure from the government of Norway, which said the Australian government failed to meet its obligations to distressed mariners under international law at the United Nations. Within a few days, the government introduced the Border Protection Bill into the House of Representatives, saying it would confirm Australian sovereignty to “determine who will enter and reside in Australia”. The government introduced the “Pacific Solution“, whereby the asylum seekers were taken to Nauru where their refugee status was considered, rather than in Australia.

 [GR9]The Fremantle Football Club, nicknamed the Dockers, is a professional Australian rules football team based in the southern Perth suburb of Cockburn CentralWestern Australia. The club competes in the Australian Football League (AFL), the pre-eminent competition of the sport, and was founded in 1994 to represent and honour the rich footballing history associated with the port city of Fremantle. The Dockers were the second team from Western Australia to be admitted to the competition, following the West Coast Eagles in 1987.

Despite having participated in and won several finals matches, Fremantle is one of only three active AFL clubs not to have won a premiership (the others being Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney), though it did claim a minor premiership in 2015 and it participated in a Grand Final in 2013 which it lost to Hawthorn. High-profile players since the club’s inception include six time All-Australian Matthew Pavlich and dual Brownlow Medal winner Nat Fyfe, who captains the club underneath head coach Justin Longmuir. Originally based at Fremantle Oval, the club’s training and administrative facilities are now located nearby at Cockburn ARC in Cockburn Central, whilst its home ground is the 60,000-capacity Perth Stadium in Burswood.

Fremantle has also fielded a women’s team in the AFL Women’s league since the competition’s inception in 2017. They are coached by Trent Cooper and captained by Kara Antonio, and their best result thus far in the league is a semi-final finish in the 2020 season, which was ultimately cancelled without a premiership awarded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 [GR10]Gordon Stanley ReidAC (22 September 1923 – 26 October 1989) was an Australian academic who served as the 26th Governor of Western Australia. Born in Hurstville, a suburb of SydneyNew South Wales, he was educated at Hurstville Boys High School before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force, where he served as a flying officer during the Second World War. After the conclusion of the war, Reid studied at the London School of Economics in England, later winning a scholarship to Nuffield College at the University of Oxford. Having obtained his Doctorate of Philosophy, Reid lectured at the University of Adelaide before serving as the vice-chancellor of the University of Western Australia from 1978 to 1982. Appointed governor in 1984, he served in the position until 1989, resigning a month before his death from cancer.

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