After training as a research psychologist at the University of Western Australia and lecturing in a number of Australian universities, Dr Lawrence entered politics in 1986, serving at both state and federal levels for 21 years. She was at various times WA Minister for Education and Aboriginal Affairs and was the first woman Premier and Treasurer of a state government.
She shifted to federal politics in 1994 when she was elected as the Member for Fremantle and was appointed Minister for Health and Human Services and Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women. She has held various portfolios in Opposition, including Indigenous Affairs, Environment, Industry and Innovation and was elected National President of the Labor Party in 2004.
She retired from politics in 2007. She is now a Professorial Fellow at the University of Western Australia where she is working to establish a centre to research the forces driving significant social change in key areas of contemporary challenge as well as exploring our reactions to that change. The centre will also seek to expose for public discussion the processes most likely to achieve social change where that is a desired objective.