The Establishment of the Federal Labor Caucus

The Australian Labor Party Federal Caucus is 100 years old today.

At the first federal elections held on March 28 and 29, 1901, fourteen members of the Labor Party were elected to the House of Representatives and eight to the Senate. Another two members of the House joined the Labor Party before the parliament met for the first time on May 9, 1901.

According to the official minutes, “a preliminary meeting of member of the Federal Parliament favourable to the formation of a Commonwealth Labour Party was held at Parliament House on Tuesday the 7th May 1901.”

This meeting fixed the following day as the first official meeting of the Labour Caucus.

The first Caucus meeting was attended by:

House of Representatives

  • Fowler (WA)
  • Batchelor (SA)
  • Thomas (NSW)
  • Brown (NSW)
  • Spence (NSW)
  • Watson (NSW)
  • Watkins (NSW)
  • Tudor (Vic)
  • Ronald (Vic)
  • McDonald (Qld)
  • Fisher (Qld)
  • Page (Qld)
  • Bamford (Qld)
  • O’Malley (Tas)
Senate

  • De Largie (WA)
  • Pearce (WA)
  • McGregor (SA)
  • Barrett (Vic)
  • Higgs (Qld)
  • Dawson (Qld)
  • Stewart (Qld)
  • O’Keefe (Tas)

A motion by Mr. McDonald, “That we form ourselves into a Federal Labour Party”, was seconded by Mr. Ronald and carried.

The minutes then record:

“Mr. Thomas moved that the members of each House select one man to speak for the party temporarily. Seconded by Mr. Fisher and carried.

Mr. McGregor was chosen to represent the party in the Senate, and Mr. Watson in the House of Representatives.”

The meeting then moved to support various candidates for parliamentary positions such as Speaker. A committee was also established to draft a Party constitution and rules of debate.

Thus was the Australian Labor Party born. It is the only party to have existed continuously in the Federal Parliament since 1901.

The Caucus and the Party has split on three famous occasions:

  • 1917 – Conscription
  • 1931 – Economic Policy
  • 1955 – Communism

Since 1901 the Labor Caucus has achieved government for a total period of 32 years, 6 months, 12 days.

Federal Labor Governments 1901-2001
Prime Minister Dates Length
John Watson 27 April 1904 – 17 August 1904 3 months, 21 days
Andrew Fisher 13 Nov 1908 – 2 June 1909
29 April 1910 – 24 June 1913
17 Sept 1914 – 27 Oct 1915
4 years, 9 months, 28 days
William Morris Hughes 27 Oct 1915 – 14 Nov 1916 1 year, 18 days
James Scullin 22 Oct 1929 – 6 Jan 1932 2 years, 2 months, 16 days
John Curtin 7 Oct 1941 – 5 July 1945 3 years, 8 months, 29 days
Frank Forde 6 July 1945 – 13 July 1945 8 days
Ben Chifley 13 July 1945 – 19 Dec 1949 4 years, 5 months, 7 days
Gough Whitlam 5 Dec 1972 – 11 Nov 1975 2 years, 11 months, 7 days
Bob Hawke 11 Mar 1983 – 20 Dec 1991 8 years, 9 months, 9 days
Paul Keating 20 Dec 1991 – 11 Mar 1996 4 years, 2 months, 20 days

Sources: Caucus Minutes 1901-1949, Volume 1, ed. Patrick Weller, (MUP 1975)

Print Friendly