The Development of Representative Democracy in Western Australia

State Archives reveal the development of representative democracy in Western Australia in the 19th century. In 1890, WA was the last Colony in Australia to achieve responsible self-government and therefore had much closer dealings with, and greater input from, the British Government throughout the 19th century. From 1829 onwards, Western Australian Governors were appointed directly by the Sovereign (the King or Queen) on advice of the Government of the United Kingdom. These Governors had wide-ranging, almost autocratic, powers, controlling British military and naval forces stationed in the Colony. Governors were assisted by an appointed Executive Council.

As the 19th century progressed, some Western Australians agitated for more say in the running of the Colony. The ceasing of convict transportation in 1868 paved the way for Governor Frederick Aloysius Weld to establish a partly elected Legislative Council in 1870. In 1890, WA was the last Colony in Australia to be granted responsible self-government, and representative democracy was achieved with the establishment of a bicameral parliamentary system with elected members, along with an accompanying reduced role for the Governor.

In 1899, Western Australia was one of the first places in the world to grant women the right to vote. In 1920, women also became eligible to sit in the WA Parliament with Edith Cowan in 1921 becoming the first woman elected to an Australian Parliament. Aboriginal people were not granted voting or parliamentary sitting rights until 1962. In 1980, Ernie Bridge became the first Aboriginal person elected to the WA Parliament.