Premier, Cabinet and Parliament

The State Records Office holds key sets of records relating to the governance of Western Australia.

The most notable of these collections include the records of State Parliament, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, the Governor, the Executive Council and the Colonial Secretary's Office.

Significant documents relating to the establishment and development of the Government of Western Australia have also been placed online as part of the Documenting A Democracy Project undertaken for the Centenary of Federation.

Premier & Cabinet Records

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Following the introduction of Responsible Government in 1890, the office of Premier was established. The Premier's Department was formed in May 1898 as a subdepartment of the Colonial Treasury, at the instigation of Frederic D. North, clerk of the Colony's first Premier the Hon. John Forrest. The primary function of the Department was to provide a secretariat for the Premier.

In 1917, the Premier's Department assumed responsibility for the office of the Agent-General in London. The Department subsequently administered other agencies including the Government Motor Car Service, Government Printer, Public Service Commission, Railway Advisory Board, and the State Gardens Board. During the World War II, the Department was responsible for matters such as blackouts, hotel hours, race meetings and basic wages.

Today, the Department (now known as the Department of the Premier and Cabinet) provides secretarial and administrative assistance to the Premier and the Cabinet, and acts as a liaison between the Government and the Governor and between the Legislature and the Judiciary. The Department is also responsible for Royal Commissions and other Commissions of Enquiry, for protocol, and for the appointment of Justices of the Peace.

Records held by the State Records Office relating to the Premier's Department and its successor agencies can be located through our online catalogue.

NOTE: Records created by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet are covered by a 30 year restricted access.

The following are selected examples of the types of records created by the Premier's Department and its successor agencies that are held by the State Records Office.

Cabinet Minutes and Decisions, 1903-1914 & 1948-1998, Series 1228

Decisions for the period 1903-1914 consist of schedules of matters submitted for Cabinet's consideration with a brief note of Cabinet's decision and are grouped together by calendar year. Files for the period 1948-1998 are more substantial and contain Cabinet decisions recorded in full along with reports and papers tabled at each cabinet meeting. The files do not contain minutes of discussions that took place in the Cabinet Room. 

General Files, 1894-1994, Series 36

These subject files comprise the core of the Department's records. Topics covered within the files include: appointments, applications for employment, matters of State, general administrative matters, proposed legislation, financial agreements with the Commonwealth, centenary celebrations files, special reports on a wide range of subjects, State revenue and expenditure, labour relations and all other matters brought forward for the Premier's attention.

Parliamentary Records

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With the introduction of Responsible Government in 1890, a bicameral legislature was established, consisting of an elected lower house (the Legislative Assembly) and a nominated upper house (the Legislative Council). Members of the new Parliament were sworn in on 30 December 1890 and the first Parliament of Western Australia was officially opened on 20 January 1891. Records concerned with the individual houses of Parliament are described below.

Legislative Council

Established by an Order-in-Council issued in England in 1830, the function of the Legislative Council was to make "all necessary laws and to constitute all necessary courts for the peace, order and good government of the settlement". The Council consisted of Crown nominees, presided over by the Governor. All legislation enacted by the Council was subject to disallowance by the Secretary of State.

The Legislative Council was reconstituted in 1870 to comprise 18 members: 12 elected, 3 officials and 3 nominee non-officials. A property franchise had to be satisfied both by those voting and by those seeking election, and the Governor, who was no longer a member of the Council, had the power to prorogue or dissolve the Council at any time and veto any legislation.

Following the attainment of Responsible Government in 1890, the Legislative Council became the upper house of the newly created Parliament. The Council became fully elective under the Constitution Act Amendment Act of 1893, although eligibility to vote required a property qualification until 1964.

Records relating to the Legislative Council held by the State Records Office are listed online and in the hardcopy AN 347 finding aid available on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives. The following are selected examples of the types of records held by the State Records Office:

Legislative Assembly

Following the passing of the Constitution Act in 1889, the Legislative Assembly was established as the elected chamber, or lower house, of the Western Australian Parliament. The following are selected examples of the types of records created by the Legislative Assembly:

  • Tabled Papers, 1893-1953, Series 4075: This collection contains papers tabled in the Legislative Assembly for its consideration. The subjects covered by the papers include: estimates of revenue and expenditure, annual reports from Government agencies, by-laws passed by municipal authorities, legislative matters, regulations for approval, and special reports and investigations conducted by government agencies into all manner of topics. In some cases the tabled papers consist only of the front cover as the contents have been either returned to the relevant department or transferred to the Legislative Council after tabling.
  • Establishing Documents, 1891-1900, Series 1510: Photographic copies of two framed documents: one relating to the first sitting of the Legislative Assembly; the other an agreement by Legislative Assembly members to join the proposed Commonwealth of Australia.

Royal Commissions of Inquiry

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The State Records Office holds records relating to Royal Commissions issued by the Governors, Lieutenant-Governors and Administrators of the State of Western Australia. These Royal Commissions cover a range of topics including Aboriginal issues, coal, bribery and corruption, fisheries, immigration, railways, forestry and hospitals. The Royal Commission records held by the State Records Office date back to 1904.

Records of Royal Commissions vary although generally they consist of transcripts of evidence submitted to the Commission, the final reports and draft reports, exhibits gathered, correspondence, minutes, press cuttings and other original records used to compile the Commissions' final reports.

References to Royal Commission records can be located either through the alphabetical listing in the hardcopy AN 537 finding aid available on the 3rd floor of the State Library / State Archives or by searching our online catalogue using the title of the Royal Commission or keywords.

Printed reports of the Royal Commissions can be consulted in the State Library using the printed appendices to the Votes and Proceedings of Parliament, with reports from many Royal Commissions also digitised by the WA Parliament. A summary of printed reports in A Bibliography of Western Australian Royal Commissions, Select Committees of Parliament and Boards of Inquiry, 1870-1979 is also available at the State Library.

Other Records of the Executive

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Colonial Secretary's Office

The Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO), later Chief Secretary's Office, was the chief office of government during the formative years of the Colony. The CSO was the conduit through which the Governor's instructions were disseminated to the various government departments of the day, as well as being the first point of contact between the Governor and the Colonists, both collectively and individually.

See also further information on CSO records.

Executive Council

The Executive Council was established under Governor Stirling's Commission and Royal Instructions, which were received by him from the Colonial Office in December 1831. The Executive Council initially consisted of the same persons as the Legislative Council and was presided over by the Governor. The Council met for the first time on 6 February 1832.

Governor's Establishment

The first Governor of Western Australia, James Stirling, took office as Lieutenant-Governor, his only authority being a letter of appointment from the Colonial Office dated 30 December 1828. Stirling's Commission as Governor and Commander-in-Chief, with the accompanying Royal Instructions, was not issued until 4 March 1831 and only reached him in Australia at the end of that year. Executive and Legislative Councils were formed at the beginning of 1832 to assist the Governor in the administration of the Colony. The Governor was subject to the instructions of the Colonial Office and reported to the Secretary of State in the United Kingdom.

The following are selected examples of the available records for the Governor's Establishment. For more comprehensive listings of available series of correspondence, despatches and confidential despatches, along with associated registers and indexes, see the records of the Governor's Establishment, including:

  • Inward Correspondence, 1839-1881, Series 1187 & Series 1233: Consists mainly of letters from settlers and officials within the Colony dealing with a variety of subjects including appeals against decisions with regard to the assignment of land, appeals against court decisions, petitions from groups of settlers in a particular district for financial assistance, and appeals by officials in connection with appointments. There are also letters from other Colonial Governors, from the naval officer commanding the Australian Squadron, and from persons in other Australian colonies or overseas. 
  • Governor's Despatches to the Secretary of State, 1834-1899, Series 1166: This collection contains despatches from the Governor to the Colonial Office. The despatches discuss official matters concerning the running of the colony only. Private missives from the Governor to the Secretary of State are contained in a separate series known as the Governor's Confidential Despatches. Other series of Governors despatches include those sent to and received from: the Home Office, the Governor General and other Governors, as well as those relating to the Convict Establishment.
  • Confidential Despatches Received From The Secretary of State, 1844-1941, Series 1223: Despatches and circulars marked 'confidential' received by the Governor from the Secretary of State for the Colonies. These deal mainly with such matters as defence (e.g. fortifications at Fremantle and King George's Sound, plans to combat a possible Fenian uprising in 1880 and 1881, suggested defence measures against attack on Australian ports by Russia in 1884, etc), differences of opinion between senior public servants or between the Governor and high officials in the Colony, Aboriginal affairs, and other issues which at the time were more considered secret or controversial. From 1901, the series includes confidential despatches from the Governor General.
  • Colonial Office Despatches, 1834-1870, Series 1178: Duplicates of despatches sent from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Governor. Although mainly letters and circulars some have attachments such as Assignment Lists of convicts aboard the convict ships, lists of warders, pensioner guards etc.
  • Applications for Employment, 1877-1882, Series 1357: Incomplete series of letters of application for employment in the public service.
  • Ministerial Resignations, 1901-1906, Series 1355: Papers concerning resignation of ministers or ministries, dissolution of Parliament, reorganisation of ministries. Includes letters of resignation.
Page reviewed 5 February 2021