Federal Opposition Leaders Since 1901 – Terms Of Office

The table on this page lists all of Australia’s Federal Opposition Leaders since 1901 by the total length of their time in that office.

The Opposition Leader is the leader of the second largest grouping of members in the House of Representatives. He or she is chosen by the parliamentary members of the Opposition.

There have been thirty-three men who have served as Opposition Leader since 1901. They have served forty-five separate terms in the position. Seventeen (52%) of them served as prime minister at some time.

Nine opposition leaders served non-consecutive terms. Deakin and Fisher served for three terms. Reid, Cook, Scullin, Whitlam, Peacock, Howard and Beazley each served two terms.

There have been ten Opposition Leaders who led their parties to 18 federal elections but never became prime minister: Tudor (1917, 1919), Charlton (1922, 1925), Evatt (1954, 1955, 1958), Calwell (1961, 1963, 1966), Snedden (1974), Hayden (1980), Peacock (1984, 1990), Hewson (1993), Beazley (1998, 2001), Latham (2004).

There have been four Opposition Leaders who never led their parties to federal elections and never became prime minister: Latham (1929-31), Downer (1994-95), Crean (2001-03), and Nelson (2007-08).

John (Chris) Watson, Alfred Deakin and Arthur Fadden became prime minister before they became Opposition Leader.

Whilst Watson led the ALP at two federal elections (1903 and 1906), he is the only person to have been prime minister and opposition leader but who never fought an election in either capacity. He was Prime Minister for four months in 1904 and became Opposition Leader the day after he was defeated in the House of Representatives. He ceased to be Opposition Leader before the 1906 election.

Deakin became prime minister in 1903, replacing Barton. He went on to win the 1903 and 1906 elections before becoming Opposition Leader in 1909.

Fadden became Opposition Leader after briefly serving as prime minister in 1941, and led the opposition at the 1943 election.

Bill Shorten is now the 14th longest-serving opposition leader. He passed Tony Abbott’s term of 3 years, 9 months and 17 days on July 30, 2017. Shorten has served longer in the position than seven previous Labor leaders (Watson, Fisher, Chifley, Hawke, Crean, Latham and Rudd). On November 25, 2018, he will surpass Bill Hayden’s term of 5 years, 1 month and 12 days.

Federal Opposition Leaders – Terms of Office
No. Name Party Period in Office Length
1.
Evatt, Herbert Vere, QC
ALP
20.06.1951 – 09.02.1960
8 years, 7 months, 21 days
2.
Whitlam, Edward Gough, QC
ALP
08.02.1967 – 05.12.1972
27.01.1976 – 22.12.1977
5 years, 9 months, 28 days
1 year, 10 months, 26 days
Total: 7 years, 8 months, 23 days
3.
Beazley, Kim Christian
ALP
19.03.1996 – 22.11.2001
28.01.2005 – 04.12.2006
5 years, 8 months, 3 days
1 year, 10 months, 6 days
Total: 7 years, 6 months, 9 days
4.
Calwell, Arthur Augustus
ALP
07.03.1960 – 08.02.1967
6 years, 11 months, 2 days
5.
Reid, George Houston
FT
09.05.1901 – 18.08.1904
07.07.1905 – 16.11.1908
3 years, 3 months, 10 days
3 years, 4 months, 10 days
Total: 6 years, 7 months, 20 days
6.
Menzies, Robert Gordon
UAP/LP
23.09.1943 – 19.12.1949
6 years, 2 months, 27 days
7.
Curtin, John
ALP
01.10.1935 – 07.10.1941
6 years, 7 days
8.
Charlton, Matthew
ALP
16.05.1922 – 29.03.1928
5 years, 10 months, 14 days
9.
Scullin, James Henry
ALP
26.04.1928 – 22.10.1929
07.01.1932 – 01.10.1935
1 year, 5 months, 27 days
3 years, 8 months, 25 days
Total: 5 years, 2 months, 21 days
10.
Hayden, William George
ALP
22.12.1977 – 03.02.1983
5 years, 1 month, 12 days
11.
Tudor, Frank Gwynne
ALP
17.02.1917 – 10.01.1922
4 years, 10 months, 25 days
12.
Howard, John Winston
LP
05.09.1985 – 09.05.1989
30.01.1995 – 11.03.1996
3 years, 8 months, 5 days
1 year, 1 month, 12 days
Total: 4 years, 9 months, 17 days
13.
Hewson, John Robert
LP
03.04.1990 – 23.05.1994
4 years, 1 month, 21 days
14.
Shorten, Bill
ALP
13.10.2013 –
3 years, 11 months, 8 days
15.
Abbott, Tony
LP
01.12.2009 – 18.09.2013
3 years, 9 months, 17 days
16.
Peacock, Andrew Sharp
LP
11.03.1983 – 05.09.1985
09.05.1989 – 03.04.1990
2 years, 5 months, 26 days
10 months, 26 days
Total: 3 years, 4 months, 21 days
17.
Cook, Joseph
FT
17.11.1908 – 26.05.1909
20.01.1913 – 24.06.1913
08.10.1914 – 17.02.1917
6 months, 10 days
5 months, 5 days
2 years, 4 months, 10 days
Total: 3 years, 3 months, 25 days
18.
Deakin, Alfred
LP
26.05.1909 – 02.06.1909
01.07.1910 – 20.01.1913
8 days
2 years, 6 months, 20 days
Total: 2 years, 6 months, 28 days
19.
Snedden, Billy Mackie, QC
LP
20.12.1972 – 21.03.1975
2 years, 3 months, 2 days
20.
Fisher, Andrew
ALP
02.06.1909 – 29.04.1910
08.07.1913 – 17.09.1914
10 months, 28 days
1 year, 2 months, 10 days
Total: 2 years, 1 month, 7 days
21.
Crean, Simon
ALP
22.11.2001 – 02.12.2003
2 years, 10 days
22.
Fadden, Arthur William
CP
08.10.1941 – 23.09.1943
1 year, 11 months, 16 days
23.
Latham, John Greig
Nat
20.11.1929 – 07.05.1931
1 year, 5 months, 18 days
24.
Chifley, Joseph Benedict
ALP
21.02.1950 – 13.06.1951
1 year, 3 months, 24 days
25.
Turnbull, Malcolm
LP
16.09.2008 – 01.12.2009
1 year, 2 months, 15 days
26.
Latham, Mark
ALP
02.12.2003 – 18.01.2005
1 year, 1 month, 16 days
27.
Rudd, Kevin
ALP
04.12.2006 – 03.12.2007
1 year
28.
Watson, John Christian
ALP
18.08.1904 – 05.07.1905
10 months, 18 days
29.
Nelson, Brendan
LP
03.12.2007 – 16.09.2008
9 months, 13 days
30.
Lyons, Joseph Aloysius
UAP
07.05.1931 – 06.01.1932
9 months
31.
Downer, Alexander John Gosse
LP
23.05.1994 – 30.01.1995
8 months, 8 days
32.
Fraser, John Malcolm
LP
21.03.1975 – 11.11.1975
7 months, 22 days
33.
Hawke, Robert James Lee
ALP
03.02.1983 – 11.03.1983
1 month, 9 days
Bowen, Chris (Interim Leader)
ALP
13.09.2013 – 13.10.2013
1 month

 

Key
  • ALP = Australian Labor Party
  • CP = Country Party
  • FT = Free Traders
  • LP = Liberal Party
  • NAT = Nationalists
  • PROT = Protectionists
  • UAP = United Australia Party
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