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1.2 The Right to Vote

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The history of voting rights in Western Australia is that of gradual removal of restrictions on those eligible to vote --- restrictions that were based on ownership of land (property), gender and ethnicity.

While the first formal elections were held in 1870, voters needed to own property of a certain value before they could vote. Although the value of the property required changed several times, it was not until 1964 that property ceased to be a qualification for Legislative Council elections.  Property of a certain value was also necessary in order to vote in the first Legislative Assembly elections following the establishment of responsible government in 1890.  In 1893 the property qualification was abolished for Legislative Assembly electors.

 Women in Western Australia gained the vote for both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council in 1899, well ahead of those in Britain and other parts of the world.  They were, however, subject to the property qualification in Legislative Council elections.  In 1921 Mrs Edith Cowan became the first woman to be elected to the Legislative Assembly.  This was one year after legislation was passed to permit women to be members of the Western Australian Parliament.  In February 1990 the Dr Carmen Lawrence became the first woman Premier of Western Australia.

 Aboriginal people were granted the right to vote in 1962.  However, it was not until 1983 that it became compulsory for them to enrol and vote.  The first Aboriginal member of the Western Australian Parliament was Ernest Bridge, who was elected in 1980. The first Aboriginal woman to be elected to an Australian Parliament was Carol Martin who was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 2001 when she won the seat of Kimberley in the north-west of Western Australia.

The most recent significant change to voting rights in Western Australia was the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 years of age in 1970. (1)

Apart from a few disqualifications, such as prisoners serving sentences of more than one year, the right to elect members of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council is held by any person who:

  • is an Australian citizen; or was a British subject who was on the State or Commonwealth Electoral Roll in the three months preceding 26 January 1984;
  • has reached 18 years of age; and
  • has lived for at least one month in the district for which enrolment is claimed.(2)

Both enrolment for and voting at State and Commonwealth elections are compulsory.(3)