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The Premiers and Chief Ministers of the Australian states and territories are the heads of the executive governments in the six states and two self-governing territories of Australia. They perform the same function at the state and territory level as the Prime Minister of Australia performs at the national level. The Queen of Australia and the state governors are the formal repositories of executive power; however, in practice they act only on the advice of state premiers and ministers except in extreme circumstances (e.g. a constitutional crisis).
Each of the Australian states is governed under the Westminster system of parliamentary government. Each state has an elected legislature. Following a General Election, the State Governor appoints as Premier the Member of the lower house of the State legislature who can command a simple majority of votes on the floor of the house. The Governor is the head of Government, but in practice acts only on the advice of the Premier. The Premier must resign his or her commission to the Governor if he or she loses the confidence of the Legislative Assembly, either because his or her party is defeated at a General Election or because he or she loses a vote of confidence in the house. (Premiers may also resign for other reasons, such as losing the confidence of their own party).
The Australian states were 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.
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).
Since 1952, every premier of every state has been a member of the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, or the National Party of Australia (until 1973, the Liberal Party was known as the Liberal and Country League in South Australia; the Country Liberal Party is the Northern Territory branch of the Liberal and National Parties; and the Liberal National Party has been the Queensland branch of the same two parties since 2008).
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.
Relations between the premiers and other levels of government
For many decades, the Premiers met with each other and the Prime Minister at Premiers' Conferences. Since 1992, such meetings occur as the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which also includes the Chief Ministers of the territories and a representative of local government.
Female heads of government
- Western Australia: Carmen Lawrence 1990–1993 (first state)
- Victoria: Joan Kirner 1990–1992
- Queensland: Anna Bligh 2007–2012, Annastacia Palaszczuk 2015–present
- New South Wales: Kristina Keneally 2009–2011, Gladys Berejiklian 2017–present
- Tasmania: Lara Giddings 2011–2014
- Australian Capital Territory: Rosemary Follett 1989, 1991–1995 (first territory and first jurisdiction), Kate Carnell 1995–2000, Katy Gallagher 2011–2014
- Northern Territory: Clare Martin 2001–2007
Of the state leaders, all but Palaszczuk succeeded male Premiers of their own party who had resigned mid-term; in three cases (Lawrence, Kirner and Keneally), their predecessors' resignations occurred after losing the support of their parliamentary colleagues. The governments led by Lawrence, Kirner, Keneally and Giddings were defeated at the subsequent elections.
Anna Bligh, Annastacia Palaszczuk and Gladys Berejiklian are the only women who have received a popular mandate as Premier of an Australian state (21 March 2009, 31 January 2015 and 23 March 2019). Palaszczuk is also the first woman to have led a party from Opposition to Government.
Women have also been elected to the almost-equivalent posts of Chief Ministers of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and the Northern Territory (NT). Rosemary Follett (Labor) was elected as the inaugural Chief Minister of the ACT in 1989, nine months before any woman became premier of a state. Kate Carnell (Liberal), and Clare Martin (Labor) also received popular mandates as Chief Ministers of the ACT and the NT respectively. Clare Martin was the only one of these three women to lead a majority government.
Of all female Premiers and Chief Ministers, only Clare Martin and Annastacia Palaszczuk have gained re-election after successfully completing a term from election to election. Rosemary Follett did win two consecutive elections, but had an interrupted term of service from 5 December 1989 (when a successful motion of no confidence passed by establishing a new government led by Trevor Kaine) to 6 June 1991 (when another motion of no confidence was passed, this time against Trevor Kaine, re-establishing Follett as Chief Minister).
Between 6 March 2002 (when Mike Rann (Labor) succeeded Rob Kerin (Liberal) as Premier of South Australia) and 23 September 2008, when Colin Barnett succeeded Alan Carpenter as Premier of Western Australia, there were Labor Premiers in all six of the Australian states (and Chief Ministers in both territories); this was only the second time a party or coalition has ever achieved this. A comparable feat was achieved by the Coalition between 26 May 1969 (when the Liberals' Angus Bethune succeeded Labor's Eric Reece as Premier of Tasmania) and 2 June 1970 (when the Liberals' Steele Hall was succeeded by Labor's Don Dunstan as Premier of South Australia).
Current state premiers
|Name||Image||State||Term Commencement||Current Duration||Party||Title|
|Daniel Andrews||Victoria||4 December 2014||5 years, 198 days||Labor Party||Premier of Victoria|
|Annastacia Palaszczuk||Queensland||14 February 2015||5 years, 126 days||Labor Party||Premier of Queensland|
|Gladys Berejiklian||New South Wales||23 January 2017||3 years, 148 days||Liberal Party||Premier of New South Wales|
|Mark McGowan||Western Australia||17 March 2017||3 years, 94 days||Labor Party||Premier of Western Australia|
|Steven Marshall||South Australia||19 March 2018||2 years, 92 days||Liberal Party||Premier of South Australia|
|Peter Gutwein||Tasmania||20 January 2020||151 days||Liberal Party||Premier of Tasmania|
Current chief ministers of the territories
|Andrew Barr||Australian Capital Territory||11 December 2014
5 years, 191 days
|Labor Party||Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory|
|Michael Gunner||Northern Territory||31 August 2016
3 years, 293 days
|Labor Party||Chief Minister of the Northern Territory|
- "About Us". Council for the Australian Federation. Retrieved 14 June 2013.