Summary information on parliamentary government, elections and periods in office

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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:

Party support

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.

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.

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).