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Broadening Democracy

Changes to the Parliament after 1857


The Parliament of South Australia has changed significantly since its inception in 1857
The Parliament of South Australia has changed significantly since its inception in 1857.

Since 1857, Parliament has grown and developed, to reflect the changing needs of South Australia over the years.


Increase in size

The Parliament has grown bigger, as South Australia's population has grown. From 36 House of Assembly members in 1857 it has increased to 47 now. The number of Legislative Council members has increased from 18 to 22.

In 1863 the Northern Territory was added to South Australia. For 25 years it was represented in the House of Assembly as part of the electorate of Flinders. In 1888 it gained its own representation as a separate 2-member seat. After Federation, in 1901, the Territory passed to the new Commonwealth government and the South Australian House of Assembly became smaller by two seats.


Changing electoral boundaries

The first House of Assembly had multi-member electorates. In 1857 there were 17 electorates for the 36 members - one electorate had five members; one had three; 12 had two, and 3 had only one. This system continued in various forms until it was abolished in 1936 and replaced with the single member electorates that we are familiar with today.

Under the multi-member electorates system, there was a greater chance of smaller parties getting seats in Parliament.

Although the number of electorates was influenced strongly by the size of the population, it was also influenced for many years by the deliberate policy of giving greater electoral weight to people living in the country. This policy was finally changed in the 1960s. Now electoral redistributions are carried out by the Electoral Commission which is independent of Parliament, and is authorised to change electoral boundaries in order to ensure that electorates remain at approximately equal sizes.

See State Electoral Office web site:


Votes for all adults

In 1857, all males over the age of 21 were eligible to vote for the House of Assembly - including Aboriginal males. In 1894, adult women gained the vote.

The franchise for the Legislative Council was much more restricted. Only owners or occupiers of property worth a minimum amount could vote. This was partly reformed in the early 20th century, but voting for the Legislative Council was not finally opened to all adults until 1973.

In 1972, the age of voting was lowered to 18 years.