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.
Australian political parties are required to be registered with the Australian Electoral Commission if they wish to have their party affiliation printed on ballot papers against the names of endorsed candidates. Registration is also required for parties to be eligible for election funding.
A wide range of minor political parties exist in Australia, ranging from conservative religious groups to fringe anarchist organisations.
The ALP is Australia’s oldest political party, formed in 1890. The only party to have been continuously represented in the House of Representatives since 1901, it experienced three debilitating splits in the twentieth century and has governed federally for about one-third of the years since federation, most recently between 1983-96, under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, and between 2007-13 under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Originally formed from a merger of the Protectionist and Free Trade parties in 1910, the Liberal Party has undergone several reformations, culminating in the present-day party that was formed by its iconic founder, Robert Menzies. Menzies governed for 16 years from 1949 and is Australia’s longest-serving prime minister. The Liberal Party has governed in coalition with the National Party for 41 of the last 61 years, most recently for nearly 12 years under John Howard (1996-2007) and since 2013 under Tony Abbott.
Originally known as the Country Party, it has held seats in the federal parliament since 1919. Changing its name to the National Country Party in the 1970s, then to National Party in the 1980s, and finally to The Nationals in 2003, the rural-based party has seen a steady decline in its voter support base.
The Greens are a phenomenon of the 1980s, arising out of a number of environmental battles of that time, such as the fight to save the Franklin Dam in Tasmania. Its leader, Bob Brown, was elected to the Senate in 1996. In 2008, the Greens held the balance of power in the Senate. In 2010, the party won its first House of Representatives seat in a general election, the Victorian electorate of Melbourne.
Formed in 1977 by a disaffected Liberal, Don Chipp, the Australian Democrats was once the most successful minor political party in Australian history. Whilst it never won a House of Representatives seat, since 1981 it held or shared the balance of power in the Senate for around twenty years. It is the only party to have elected not one, but five different women as leader. More recently, the party suffered a debilitating internal split, leadership instability and plummeting opinion poll ratings. Following the 2007 election, it lost all its representation in the Senate.
Formed by a disendorsed Liberal Party candidate, Pauline Hanson, in 1996, One Nation rose to prominence in Queensland in the 1998 state election when it won 11 seats in parliament. It followed this by winning a Queensland Senate seat in 1998 and polling 8.43% of the primary vote in the House of Representatives, making it the third largest party in terms of voter support at that time. The party quickly went into decline amid internal bickering, lost its parliamentary representation in Queensland, and faced ongoing court battles over electoral funding. The party was routed in 2001, polling 4.35% of the primary vote, many of its supporters returning to the coalition parties.