Honourable Dr Carmen Lawrence

In 1990, Dr Carmen Lawrence became the first female Premier of an Australian state.

Honour Roll

Carmen Lawrence was born on 2 March 1948, in the small wheatbelt town of Morowa, north of Perth, where her parents were farmers. She was one of seven children and the family were very poor. She was educated at the Dominican Ladies College in Dongara, Marian Convent in Morawa and Santa Maria College in Attadale. At the University of Western Australia, she was awarded a Bachelor of Psychology with first class Honours and a Doctorate of Philosophy.

From 1969, she worked as a research assistant, university tutor, lecturer and research psychologist and worked in the Department of Health in research. One of Carmen's early political activities was as a founding member of the Women's Electoral Lobby in 1972. This was a highly influential and well-organised group which lobbied government on issues such as equal pay, childcare, parental leave and abortion law reform.

Her first foray into politics gave her an unfavourable impression. In 1982, Carmen became Vice-President of the Subiaco Wembley branch of the ALP. She unsuccessfully contested the Liberal seat of East Melville in 1983. In 1986, she was elected to the Legislative Assembly as the first Labor MLA for Subiaco for 30 years. In 1985, she became a member of the influential ALP Administrative Committee and a proxy delegate for the 1986 ALP National Conference. Somehow she managed to stay non-aligned to any factions during her career; she believed the faction system was 'undemocratic'.

After only two years in the Western Australian Parliament she became a member of the Dowding Ministry in February 1988, as Minister for Education and Aboriginal Affairs. In February 1990, Carmen became Australia's first woman premier but, after a series of resignations and ministerial changes, found herself leading a government without a majority in either house of parliament.

As Premier, she established the Royal Commission into the Commercial Activities of Government and Other Matters (dubbed 'WA Inc.') whose findings proved devastating to her party. A year after losing the 1993 election Carmen resigned from State Parliament. In 1994, she won the seat of Fremantle in the Federal Parliament and became the Minister for Human Services and Health and then Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women in the Keating Government.

In 1994, Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner were instrumental in persuading the ALP to adopt a platform that would guarantee women preselection for 35% of winnable seats by the year 2002. Carmen was the subject of a Royal Commission set up by the WA Court Government, over allegations of her role in what became known as the 'Easton Affair'. She was acquitted by the jury of all the charges.

Throughout her career she has been a strong advocate for the rights of woman, children, victims of abuse and the mentally ill. She has been involved in 'EMILY's List' which aims to support women aspiring to politics. She wrote a book on the woman's vote and has been outspoken on the way media portray women in politics.