Overview of Australian Political Parties

Political Parties are central to an understanding of how Australian politics works. The parties dominate state and federal parliaments, provide all governments and oppositions, and frame the nature of political debate.

A sect or a party is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking – Emerson

A political party is generally recognised as an organisation of like-minded people which aims to develop policies and endorse candidates to contest elections with a view to forming government.

Australia’s party system is dominated by two major groups, the Australian Labor Party and the coalition parties, the Liberal Party of Australia and The Nationals.

Since 1922, Australian Federal Governments have been formed either by Labor or the Coalition.

ALP
Liberal
Nationals
Democrats

The ALP and the Liberals have undergone periodic structural changes and debilitating splits. On three occasions (1917, 1931 and 1955) the ALP has split, with some of its members and supporters defecting to the conservative parties.

The Liberal Party has been variously known as the Nationalist Party and the United Australian Party. Its current incarnation dates from its formation by Robert Gordon Menzies in 1944.

The most stable party has been The Nationals. From its formation as the Country Party, through its renaming in the 1970s as the National Country Party, it has remained a solid bulwark of conservative support in rural areas. During the 1990s this support came under threat from ultra-conservative forces such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party.

Minor parties have historically not survived for long. One of the most significant minor groups was the Democratic Labor Party, formed out of the 1955 Labor split. The DLP secured Senate seats and exerted considerable influence throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, until its parliamentary representation was wiped out in the 1974 election.

The Australian Democrats, founded by former Liberal Don Chipp in 1977, became one of the most enduring of all minor parties in Australian political history, holding the balance of the Senate throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It disintegrated during the early 2000s.

The Australian Greens have replaced the Australian Democrats in recent years. They now have one member in the House of Representatives. Following the 2010 election, the party had 9 senators. This increased to 10 at the 2013 election.

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