Carmen Lawrence

Last updated

Dr. Carmen Lawrence
Carmen Lawrence 1990 (cropped).png
Lawrence in 1990
25th Premier of Western Australia
In office
12 February 1990 16 February 1993
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Francis Burt
Deputy Ian Taylor
Preceded by Peter Dowding
Succeeded by Richard Court
Minister for Health and Human Services
In office
25 March 1994 11 March 1996
Prime Minister Paul Keating
Preceded by Graham Richardson
Succeeded by Michael Wooldridge
Minister for Women
In office
25 March 1994 11 March 1996
Prime Minister Paul Keating
Preceded by Ros Kelly
Succeeded by Jocelyn Newman
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Fremantle
In office
12 March 1994 24 November 2007
Preceded by John Dawkins
Succeeded by Melissa Parke
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Glendalough
In office
4 February 1989 4 February 1994
Preceded byConstituency Created
Succeeded by Michelle Roberts
Member of the Legislative Assembly
for Subiaco
In office
8 February 1986 4 February 1989
Preceded by Tom Dadour
Succeeded byConstituency Abolished
Personal details
Carmen Mary Lawrence

(1948-03-02) 2 March 1948 (age 73)
Northam, Western Australia
Political party Labor

Carmen Mary Lawrence (born 2 March 1948) is an Australian academic and former politician who was the Premier of Western Australia 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, 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 [1] 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. [2]

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. [3]

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. [2] [4]

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. [5] Margaret's husband Peter survived, and gained public sympathy through bedside interviews to print and electronic media. A candlelight vigil was organised 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, [6] 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. [7] 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, 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".

Election defeat

In the election held on 6 February 1993, the Lawrence government was defeated by the Liberal-National 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 favour 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. [8]

Federal political career

Entry to Federal Parliament and Cabinet Ministry

On 12 March 1994, following the resignation of former Federal treasurer and member for Fremantle, John 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, 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 Carmen Lawrence crop.jpg
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). In December 2002 she resigned from the Shadow Cabinet, describing the party's policies on asylum and immigration as "brutal and inhumane". [9]

She announced on 29 March 2007 that she would not recontest her seat in the Parliament at the 2007 Australian federal election. [10]

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 favour of a policy of better treatment for asylum-seekers entering Australia. [11] Her term as National President ended on 1 January 2005, when she was succeeded by Barry Jones.

After Parliament

Lawrence in 2013 Carmen Lawrence, June 2013.png
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. [12]

Notable public appearances and other engagements


Contributed chapter

See also

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  1. "Carmen Mary Lawrence". Members' biographical register. Parliament of Western Australia. 2010. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
  2. 1 2 Australian Women Fact File site Archived 29 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Lawrence, Carmen M. (September 1982). Infant Crying and Maternal Responsiveness: Continuity, Change and the Direction of Effects (PDF). Parliament of Western Australia (PhD). Nedlands: University of Western Australia. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  4. "Carmen Lawrence: Member for Fremantle 1994 – 2004". John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Bentley: Curtin University. 18 December 2006. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  5. King, Madonna (2005). "Is mandatory jail the answer?". Catalyst: The Power of the Media and the Public to make Change. Brisbane: Univ. of Queensland Press. p. 187. ISBN   0-7022-3507-5 . Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  6. Stockwell, Charlotte (22 September 1992). "The role of the media in the juvenile justice debate in Western Australia". In Lynn Atkinson and Sally-Anne Gerull (ed.). National Conference on Juvenile Justice (PDF). ISBN   0-642-19620-6 . Retrieved 27 March 2008.
  7. The West Australian. 9 March 1994. p. 7.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. McGinty & Ors v The State of Western Australia (1996) HCA 48; (1996) 186 CLR 140
  9. "Carmen Lawrence breaks ranks with party over immigration policy". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 February 2002. Retrieved 14 August 2007.
  10. "Carmen Lawrence quits politics". AAP. 29 March 2007. Archived from the original on 28 July 2007. Retrieved 14 August 2007.
  11. "The real test: Latham faces his party". Melbourne: Fairfax Digital. 24 January 2004. Retrieved 14 August 2007.
  12. "Former WA Premier Carmen Lawrence joins UWA". University of Western Australia. Nedlands. 5 February 2008. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  13. Lawrence, Carmen (1994). Women and Labor—A Future Perspective (Speech). 1994 John Curtin Memorial Lecture. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Bentley: Curtin University of Technology. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  14. From Curtin University's Elizabeth Jolley Research Collection/Awards and Recognition section.
  15. Lawrence's page at On-line Opinion.
  16. Margo Kingston's post of Lawrence's valedictory speech to federal Parliament and links to archives of Lawrence's contributions to Webdiary.
  17. Freilich Foundation CV page for Lawrence and links to transcripts of the lectures.
  18. "Launches and events". Curtin University. 2021. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  19. "Australian Humanists of the Year (AHOYs)". Humanist Australia. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
John Dawkins
Member of Parliament for Fremantle
Succeeded by
Melissa Parke
Political offices
Preceded by
Peter Dowding
Premier of Western Australia
Succeeded by
Richard Court
Preceded by
Graham Richardson
Minister for Health and Human Services
Succeeded by
Michael Wooldridge
Preceded by
Ros Kelly
Minister for Women
Succeeded by
Jocelyn Newman