Carmen Lawrence

Quick Facts

  • Name: Carmen Mary Lawrence
  • Born: 2 March 1948, Morawa, Western Australia
  • Australia’s first female Premier (Western Australia)
  • President of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) 2004
  • ALP Member of the House of Representatives


Carmen Lawrence was one of seven children and grew up in a small town, 365 km north of Perth. Lawrence was a gifted student – in Year 12 she won a prize for academic achievement and when she completed her Bachelor of Psychology was nominated most outstanding graduate. Lawrence gained a PhD in 1983 and became a university lecturer and research psychologist.

Keenly interested in politics, Lawrence joined the ALP. She was elected to the Parliament of Western Australia in 1986 as the member for Subiaco, a seat that had been held by the Liberal Party for 27 years. Two years later, she became Western Australia's Minister for Education. At the time the Western Australian Government faced a crisis because of corruption allegations. In February 1990, Premier Peter Dowding resigned and Carmen Lawrence became Premier, making history as Australia’s first female Premier. The ALP was defeated in the 1993 state election, but Lawrence continued in politics, and led the party in Opposition.

In 1994 Lawrence moved to federal politics winning the seat of Fremantle. She was immediately made Minister for Human Services and Health, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women in the Keating government. After the 1996 defeat of the Keating government, Lawrence was included in the Opposition Shadow Cabinet. In 1996, a Royal Commission into the ‘Penny Easton Affair’ found Lawrence had lied to the Western Australian Parliament. As a result, Lawrence was charged with perjury and resigned as a shadow minister. The resulting court case took two years and, in 1999, she was found not guilty.

In 2000 Lawrence returned to the ALP Shadow Ministry but during the 2001 federal election disagreed with the ALP’s policy on asylum seekers. She resigned from the Shadow Ministry in protest.

Despite disagreements with her party Lawrence was elected President of the Australian Labor Party in 2004. She continues to speak out on refugee issues and her ideas for reforming Australia’s political system, and is an active member of EMILY’s List, an organisation dedicated to increasing the number of female Labor parliamentarians in Australia through mentoring prospective female candidates.