Sign In

The WA Constitution

Text Size a a a Print Print this page

The Foundation of Western Australia

Western Australia was founded as a British colony on 18 June 1829. The Governor was the most powerful man in the colony and he and certain officials could make laws on any matter, subject to the British Parliament’s authority. 

Representative government was attained in 1870 when 12 members were elected to the Legislative Council of Western Australia. In 1889, the Council passed the Western Australian Constitution Act, setting up a Parliament with full powers to make laws for the ‘peace, order and good government ‘of the State.

 Although the Act was created here, it was made law in Britain because that Parliament was the source of legal authority for the colony. Governor William Robinson proclaimed it on 21 October 1890.

 Apart from some very limited residual British authority, the State was now legally and constitutionally an independent and autonomous political entity.

What is the Western Australian Constitution?

In a survey of Western Australian electors in 1995, 79 per cent said they knew ‘hardly anything’ or ‘nothing’ about the State Constitution, or ‘did not know’ that it existed. 

 This is not surprising considering that, unlike the Australian Constitution, there is not a single document called ‘The Western Australian Constitution’.

 The Western Australian Constitution is based on two main parliamentary Acts: the Constitution Act 1889 and the Constitution Acts Amendment Act 1899.  The former was re-enacted by the UK government to take effect, the latter by the WA government. Other important sources considered to be part of the Constitution include: 

  • The Commonwealth Constitution

  • The Australia Acts 1986 (Cwlth and UK).

  • Other State legislation including the Electoral Act 1907, the Supreme Court Act 1935 and the Electoral Distribution Act 1947,

  • United Kingdom statutes such as the Bill of Rights 1688;

  • Letters Patent (a source of constitutional authority for the Governor as the representative of the Crown as head of state);

  • The common law (that is, the prerogative powers of the Governor and the case law concerning the effect and interpretation of the above constitutional documents and sources); and

  • Constitutional conventions (unwritten but well-established constitutional practices) 

Western Australia’s constitutional system gives the State its own separate links to the monarchy, whereby the monarch’s functions are distinct from the operations and existence of the monarchy at Commonwealth level. 

This operates in a manner similar to the workings of the monarchy in the Commonwealth arena: the Queen is the formal symbolic head of the State Government, who acts through the Governor.  In practice, the exercise of executive power is carried out by the Governor, Premier and State Ministers.