WA parliament elects first female speaker

·3-min read

Western Australia's first female speaker of the Legislative Assembly expects respect for women to be assured in the state parliament.

Veteran Labor MP Michelle Roberts was sworn in as speaker on Thursday as the 41st parliament opened under coronavirus restrictions.

MPs wore face masks and members of the public were barred from the proceedings which came just days after a snap lockdown in Perth and the Peel region.

Ms Roberts, the longest-serving member of the parliament after being elected in 1994, was applauded by MPs across the aisles.

The 61-year-old said the elevation of a female speaker was fitting in a parliament with a record 28 female lower house MPs, but also long overdue.

"It should come as no surprise when we remember that up until relatively recently, this place felt more like a select gentleman's club than the people's house," she told the chamber.

"It's 100 years since Edith Cowan was elected to this house - the first woman to serve in any parliament in the nation.

"She sat alone, she was so isolated that she was even heckled during her inaugural speech.

"As I stand here today, barely just over half of the members are men - nearly half are women, including many in leadership positions.

"This is a clear signal to the community and to women of just how far we've come, but it has taken over a century to do it."

Ms Roberts highlighted the national conversation about respect for women and workplace safety in the federal parliament.

"It's my expectation that this parliament, with its large cohort of strong women and men of principle, will be a place where respect and equity are assured," she said.

She promised to "preside without fear or favour".

Labor holds 53 out of 59 lower house seats after a landslide victory at last month's election.

Thirteen new Labor members were among the MPs sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of WA, Peter Quinlan.

Labor also holds a majority in the Legislative Council for the first time.

The decimated Liberals have been reduced to just two lower house MPs, with Nationals leader Mia Davies becoming leader of the opposition.

Formally opening the 41st parliament, Governor Kim Beazley outlined the McGowan government's jam-packed legislative agenda.

He said management of the COVID-19 pandemic "continues to occupy much of the time and resources of the government".

Extending the state of emergency laws is expected to be the government's first priority.

Others include reappointing John McKechnie as the state's corruption watchdog, clamping down on bikies and strengthening laws to tackle dangerous sex offenders.

Electoral reforms to ensure "the results reflect the intent of the public" will also be pursued after micro party candidates claimed three upper house seats.

Mr Beazley confirmed the government would also pursue changes to bail laws for sex offenders following the suicide of 11-year-old abuse victim Annaliesse Ugle last year.

Annaliesse's alleged abuser had been granted police bail weeks before her death.

The government is also promising to expand mandatory reporting laws to force religious leaders to reveal knowledge of child sex abuse.

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