Summary information on parliamentary government, elections and periods in office
Summary information on Premiers, Government and Periods in Office in New South Wales
Parliamentary government in New South Wales 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 New South Wales, is the Legislative Assembly. The information in the three tables below and notes which follow summarizes the information held in the Australian Politics and Elections Database which relates to the duration of periods in office, 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; New South Wales premiers Askin (1965-1975), Carr (1995-2005) and Wran (1976-1986), for example, each contested three elections as premier and made many changes to their ministries.
The period in office of a premier ends when the premier loses or resigns office (or, very rarely, is dismissed by the governor; see the notes for the entry for Premier Lang’s period in office which ended in 1932). 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. The two periods in office of Premier Holman are an example of this; Holman was premier of New South Wales as leader of the Australian Labor Party from 1913 to 1916 but, as a result of a split in the ALP over military conscription during the first world war, continued as premier from 1916 to 1920 as leader of a new Nationalist party grouping (see notes for the entries for Premier Holman’s periods in office: 1913-1916 and 1916-1920).
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 New South Wales 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. Since 1932, no premier in New South Wales has held more than one term of office; Premier Lang was the last premier to return to office after electoral or parliamentary defeat, and Premier Holman has been the only New South Wales premier to hold consecutive periods in office supported by different parties. In the period before the emergence of disciplined parties, it was common for premiers to hold more than one period in 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; the words in the table 'at the beginning of period' refer to the unusual case of Premier Holman whose first term of office began in 1913 as leader of the Australian Labor Party but, when faced with a split in the Party, started a second period in office in 1916 as leader of the newly formed Nationalist Party. Before 1890, premiers relied on the support of factions and independent members of the Legislative 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. Note the unusual case of Premier Fuller who, for his first term in office, occupied the position of premier for only seven hours on 20 December 1921, sandwiched between the two periods in office of Premier Dooley; for details of this event, see the notes for the entry for Premier Fuller's period of office in 1921.
- Reasons for start and end of a period in office: Except for the first premier of New South Wales, Premier Donaldson in 1856, a premier starts a periods in office when the previous premier's period in office is terminated (note the exception of Premier Holman who started a new period in office because he became leader of a new party; see 'Party affiliation (at beginning of period)' above). This website lists six reasons for a premier's loss of office (number of cases to 2007):
- Loss of an election (20 cases since 1856): The premier's party or coalition support in parliament has fallen below half the seats in the Legislative Assembly after a general election, prompting the resignation of the premier in favour of the leader of another party or coalition.
- Defeat in parliament (16 cases since 1856): The premier is forced to resign because the government has lost a vote of confidence in the Legislative 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 New South Wales 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 Legislative Assembly. Now, governments are only under threat from defeat in parliament if they are minority governments. The last case of premier being forced to resign because of defeat in parliament in New South Wales was Premier Stevens in 1939.
- Change of party leader (11 cases, all since 1904): The premier resigns as leader of the party which, alone or in coalition, has a majority support in the Legislative 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 New South Wales 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 (8 cases, all before 1905): 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 Legislative Assembly. For more details, see the notes for each premier's period in office.
- Death of premier (2 cases since 1856): Two New South Wales premiers have died in office; Premier Storey died in October 1921, and Premier Cahill died in April 1952.
- Premier dismissed by governor (1 case since 1856): This very unusual event took place when Premier Lang 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 Legislative Assembly election .
Party support in this section refers to the parliamentary support a premier and government have in the Legislative Assembly to remain in office. For the period before 1890 in New South Wales, this support was made up of factions and independent members of the Legislative Assembly sometimes called ministerialists. After 1890, 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 New South Wales Legislative 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 New South Wales Legislative Assembly and at elections during each period in office.
- Party support in Legislative Assembly: As set out above, party in this context includes the factions and independent members of the Legislative 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 Legislative 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 Legislative 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 Legislative Assembly whose support was not guaranteed.
- Coalition party: This column shows the name of the party which has joined with the premier's party to share government and to support the premier in office. There have been eight periods in office in New South Wales during which a premier has been supported by a party coalition. Four of these were coalition governments, although the parliamentary support for two these governments changed during the premier's period in office. All coalition governments in New South Wales have combined members of Liberal Party (or its predecessors) with members of the National Party (or its predecessors).
- 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 Legislative 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. There have been five such changes in parliamentary support in New South Wales:
- Premier Stevens, 1932 The first of these was the most dramatic; when Premier Lang was dismissed by Governor Game in 1932, Premier Stevens was commissioned to form a government even though he did not have the support of a majority of members of the Legislative Assembly, but he gained this support at the general election which was held as a result of the dismissal; see the notes for the entry for the 1932 general election for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
- Premier McGirr, 1950 The McGirr government lost its majority in the Legislative Assembly after the general election in 1950, but continued as a minority government; for details, see the notes for the entries for Premier McGirr and the general election for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1950.
- Premier Cahill, 1953 Premier Cahill's minority government became a majority government after the 1953 general election; for details, see the notes for the entries for Premier Cahill and the 1953 general election for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
- Premier Askin, 1967 Premier Askin's coalition minority government became a coalition with majority support in the Legislative Assembly after gains made at a by-election in 1967; for details, see notes for the entry for Premier Askin.
- Premier Greiner, 1991 Premier Greiner lost majority support for his coalition government after the 1991 general election, but continued as a minority coalition government; for details, see notes for the entries for Premier Greiner and the 1991 general election for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly.
- Elections contested: This column lists all the general elections for the New South Wales Legislative 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 New South Wales general election held on that date and, after 1890, 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 New South Wales since Premier Stevens in 1932, the general elections listed all took place at the beginning, during, or at the end of the same period in office. Before 1932, many premiers of New South Wales 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 New South Wales 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 1890 meant that parliamentary majorities in the Legislative Assembly were more stable than before, and periods in office correspondingly longer. Since the 1960s in New South Wales, 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. As noted in the State section on parliament, the size of the ministry in New South Wales has tripled since 1856, even though the size of the Legislative Assembly has not quite doubled.
- Ministers from coalition parties: This figure gives an idea of the relative strength of the coalition parties; in New South Wales, the premier's party has had between a half and three quarters of the ministers, with two thirds being the pattern of coalitions since the 1960s with the exception of the Premier Fahey's minority coalition government.
- Ministers from Legislative Council: All New South Wales governments have had a minister in the Legislative Council to introduce government legislation and be a link between the government and the upper house (see the State section on parliament for information on the composition and history of the New South Wales Legislative Council). The Legislative Council has been directly elected since 1978 (a process which progressed in stages and was completed after the 1984 election) its political importance has increased and this is reflected in the increase in the number of ministers chosen from the Legislative Council.
- Women ministers: It was not until 1986 in the Unsworth ministry that a woman was appointed as a minister in a New South Wales government at the beginning of a period in office. The previous premier, Premier Wran had added a woman to his ministry in 1984.
Sources and references
The summary information on this page has been compiled from records in the Australian Government and Politics Database at the University of Western Australia. The individual records for each general election and period in office in New South Wales -- available through this website -- include references to sources and further reading. The Government of New South Wales sponsored a wide range of publications on New South Wales politics and government as part of the celebrations in 2006 for 150 years of self-government in New South Wales, (see Sesquicentenary of responsible government in NSW), which provide more detailed information on the history, politics and government of New South Wales than is available from this website.
Much more information on the government of New South Wales can be found in David Clune and Gareth Griffith, Decision and Deliberation: The Parliament of New South Wales 1856-2003, (Sydney: Federation Press, 2006, ISBN 186287591X); and Anne Twomey, The Constitution of New South Wales, (Sydney: Federation Press, 2004, ISBN 1862875162) which are the sources for much of the material on this webpage. For more information on electoral systems, see David M Farrell and Ian McAllister, The Australian Electoral System: Origins, Variations Consequences, (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2006, ISBN 0868408581). For more information on the premiers of New South Wales, see David Clune and Ken Turner (editors), The Premiers of New South Wales, vol. 1, (1856-1901), (Sydney: Federation Press, 2006, ISBN 186287550), and David Clune and Ken Turner (editors), The Premiers of New South Wales, vol. 2, (1901-2005), (Sydney: Federation Press, 2006, ISBN 186287551).