Summary information on parliamentary government, elections and periods in office
Summary information on Premiers, Government and Periods in Office in South Australia
Parliamentary government in South Australia is structured around the periods in office of premiers. A new government is formed whenever a new premier takes office (see commission), and the premier is responsible for the choice of ministers and the allocation of departmental responsibilities. For this reason, this website organizes summary information on governments around the periods that premiers and prime ministers have held office.
A parliamentary system of government requires that the premier, as head of government, maintains the support of a majority of members of the lower house of parliament which, in the case of South Australia, is the House of Assembly. The information in the three tables below and the notes which follow, summarizes the information held in the Australian Politics and Elections Database which relates to the duration of periods in office in South Australia from 1890, the party support for premiers, and information on the the number of ministers at the beginning of each premier’s period in office.
Periods in office
The period in office of a premier begins at the date on which he or she first takes office and continues until he or she is replaced by another premier. This period may include major changes to the ministry as well as minor cabinet shuffles and the addition or resignation of ministers. A period in office can span several elections and several changes to ministries.
The period in office of a premier ends when the premier loses or resigns office (or, very rarely, is dismissed by the governor). But the period can also be ended if there is a substantial change in the party composition of the premier's parliamentary support: the premier continues in office but the nature of the parliamentary support changes because of a split in the majority party or the break up of the governing coalition, and the formation of a new party grouping or coalition to support the premier.
Changes in the extent of parliamentary party support for a premier—changes from minority government to majority government (or the reverse)—do not affect the period in office of a premier. But the move from single party support for the premier to coalition support (or the reverse) does represent a new period in office.
Information on the periods in office of each South Australian premier can be found on the 'Periods in office' pages of this website; summary information is set out in the table and subject headings below:
- Name of premier: A premier's name is listed each time the premier held office.
- Party affiliation (at beginning of period): Since the late 1880s and the emergence of disciplined political parties, the party affiliation of a premier has been clear. Before 1890, premiers relied on the support of factions and independent members of the House of Assembly (sometimes referred to as ministerialists). While some of these premiers may have been labelled as 'Liberal' or 'Conservative', this referred to their personal political views, not to any electoral organization.
- Start and end of period in office: Clicking on the start date of the period in office opens the details of that period; this includes sources and references on the premier and the period in office. Note that the dates of the period in office of a premier have sometimes been modified to correspond with the dates of general elections and are not necessarily the same as the precise period during which his or her government held a commission.
- Reasons for start and end of a period in office: Except for the first premier of South Australia, a premier starts a periods in office when the previous premier's period in office is terminated. This website lists six reasons for a premier's loss of office:
- Loss of an election: The premier's party or coalition support in parliament has fallen below half the seats in the House of Assembly after a general election, prompting the resignation of the premier in favour of the leader of another party or coalition.
- Defeat in parliament: The premier is forced to resign because the government has lost a vote of confidence in the House of Assembly, or lost a vote on a budget measure or a piece of legislation which the government has indicated will be treated as a matter of confidence. Before the emergence of disciplined political parties in South Australia in the 1890s, a common way of changing premiers was by the defeat of the government on a matter of confidence on the floor of the House of Assembly. Now, governments are only under threat from defeat in parliament if they are minority governments.
- Change of party leader: The premier resigns as leader of the party which, alone or in coalition, has a majority support in the House of Assembly, making way for a new leader of the party to become premier. This heading covers a wide range of situations since the emergence of political parties in South Australia around 1890. The premier may resign as party leader at a time of the premier's choosing after a successful career as premier, or resign to take up another office, or resign for reasons unrelated to politics. But a change of party leader may be forced on a premier because of ill health or because he or she has been rejected as leader of the parliamentary party.
- Resignation of premier: This is similar to 'Change of party leader' (above) except that all such resignations occurred in situations before parties had acquired the clear rules for membership and party discipline that parties now have. As with 'Change of party leader', premiers resigned for many reasons; some resigned at a time of their own choice, while others had resignations forced on them by ill health, loss of parliamentary support for their policies, or factional rivalries within their supporting coalition in the House of Assembly. For more details, see the notes for each premier's period in office.
- Death of premier:
- Premier dismissed by governor: This is a very unusual event. The most recent occasion took place when Premier Lang of New South Wales was dismissed by Governor Game in May 1932; for details, see the notes for the entry for Premier Lang’s second period in office which ended in 1932, and the notes for the 1932 New South Wales House of Assembly election .
Party support in this section refers to the parliamentary support a premier and government have in the House of Assembly to remain in office. For the period before 1890 in South Australia, this support was made up of factions and independent members of the House of Assembly sometimes called ministerialists. After the 1890s, the support was from political parties, although party discipline in parliament did not always operate with its current strictness until well into the 1900s.
Summary information on party support for premiers in the South Australian House of Assembly is set out in the table below. Table 2 replicates information on the start and end of periods in office listed in Table 1 but adds information on party support in the South Australian House of Assembly and at elections during each period in office.
- Party support in House of Assembly: As set out above, party in this context includes the factions and independent members of the House of Assembly whose support was required for the premier to stay in office in the period before the emergence of disciplined political parties:
- At beginning of period: If the premier is supported by a majority of members in the House of Assembly who all belong to the same party at the beginning of a period in office, the premier leads a majority government. If the majority support is achieved only by a coalition arrangement with another party, the premier leads a coalition government. If the premier does not have a party or coalition majority in the House of Assembly, the premier must rely on the support of minor party and independent members to support a minority government. In the pre-party period before 1890, all periods in office are shown as minority governments because, even if the premier had clear majority support at the beginning of the ministry, this was made up of support from factions and independent members of the House of Assembly whose support was not guaranteed.
- Coalition party: This column shows the name of the party (or parties) which has joined with the premier's party to share government and to support the premier in office.
- Change during period: In the sections above dealing with 'Period in office', it was noted that a premier's period in office does not end if the level of support for the premier in the House of Assembly varies, as long as the premier is supported by the same party or coalition of parties as supported the government at the beginning of the period in office.
- Elections contested: This column lists all the general elections for the South Australian House of Assembly contested by the person who was premier during a period in office, or elections as a result of which he or she became premier (see premier after election). Each election date is linked to the results of the South Australian general election held on that date and shows the level of party support for the premier's party and, for all elections, provides notes and references for the election. For the periods in office of premiers of South Australia since Premier Dunstan in 1970, the general elections listed all took place at the beginning, during, or at the end of the same period in office. Before 1970, several premiers of South Australia had more than one period in office. The general elections listed for these premiers during each period in office includes relevant elections for all their periods in office.
Summary information on ministries
This database has limited information on the composition of ministries and can display only summary details of the first ministry in a period in office (see the 'Periods in office' section above). The first five columns of Table 3 repeat the information in the previous tables, and the following four give information about the number of ministers under various categories.
Table 3 Summary information on ministries at the start of periods in office of South Australian premiers
- Ministry at beginning of period: It must be stressed that figures in the columns under this heading only refer to the first ministry in a period in office. The emergence of political parties after 1900 meant that parliamentary majorities in the House of Assembly were more stable than before, and periods in office correspondingly longer. Since the 1960s, periods in office have covered periods with several changes of ministry so that the first ministry in a period in office may be very different from the last.
- Ministers: This figure includes the premier among the number of ministers. It will be noted that the size of ministries in South Australia has increased at a much faster rate than the membership of the House of Assembly.
- Ministers from coalition parties: This figure gives an idea of the relative bargaining strength of the parties in a coalition.
- Ministers from Legislative Council: South Australian governments have had at least one minister in the Legislative Council to introduce government legislation and be a link between the government and the upper house.
- Women ministers: It was not until the Hall ministry in 1968 that a woman was appointed as a minister in a South Australian government at the beginning of a period in office.
Sources and references
The summary information on this page has been compiled from records in the Australian Politics and Elections Database at the University of Western Australia. The individual records for each general election and period in office in South Australia -- available through this website -- include sources and references.