Infosheet 22 - Political parties

POLITICAL PARTIES

Australia’s system of government is based on existence of political parties. While the Members of the House of Representatives are individually elected to represent constituents within each electoral division, in most cases Members belong to and support a political party.

Parties and the formation of government

The party (or coalition of parties) which has the support of the majority of Members of the House forms the Government. The party (or coalition of parties) with the greatest number of non-government Members in the House forms the official Opposition. Each parliamentary party (that is, all Members and Senators of the party) elects its own leader—the leaders of the government and opposition parties become the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, respectively.

A hung Parliament is said to exist when no single party or coalition of parties has a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. A minority Government can be formed when a party or coalition, which does not have a majority of seats in its own right, is able to achieve a majority on the floor of the House with support from independent Members or minor parties.

Between 1901 and 1910 allegiances to party were more fluid than they would later become; governments were minority governments and were made and unmade on the floor of the House. Since 1910 Australia has generally had majority governments under which either the Australian Labor Party or a coalition of non-Labor parties has held office.

The main political parties in the House of Representatives

There are three main parties represented in the House of Representatives—the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, and the Nationals. The Labor Party is Australia’s oldest political party, established federally in 1901.[1] The present Liberal Party was formed in 1944. The Country Party was formed in 1920, renamed the National Country Party in 1975, the National Party of Australia in 1982, and since 2003 has been known as the Nationals.

In 2008 the Queensland branches of the Liberal Party and the Nationals merged to form the Liberal National Party of Queensland. However, LNP candidates elected to the Federal Parliament have continued to sit as Liberals or Nationals.

Since the general election of 1949 the Liberal Party and the Nationals (under various names) when forming government have done so as a coalition.

Minor parties and independents

Since the general election in 1949 the other parties represented in the House have been:

  • Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist)[2] in 1955, comprising seven former members of the Australian Labor Party;
  • One Nation in 1997 (a single former independent);
  • Australian Greens (one Member elected at a by-election in 2002, one Member elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2013);
  • Nationals–WA (one Member elected in 2010);
  • Katter’s Australia Party and Palmer United Party (one Member each elected in 2013).

Most Parliaments since 1996 have also had a Member from the Northern Territory based Country Liberal Party; however this party has been part of the Liberal–Nationals coalition.

In recent Parliaments there have been up to five independent Members elected.

Significant parties historically 

Other parties which have formed government:

Protectionist Party, 1889–1909. Formed first federal government with Labor Party support.

  • Free Trade Party, 1889–1909. Renamed Anti-Socialist Party in 1906.
  • Commonwealth Liberal Party, 1909–1916. Formed from Anti-Socialist Party and elements of the Protectionist Party (also called ‘the Fusion’).
  • National Labor Party, Nov. 1916–Feb. 1917. Formed from elements of the Labor Party.
  • Nationalist Party, 1917–1931. Formed from merger of the National Labor Party and Commonwealth Liberal Party.
  • United Australia Party, 1931–1945. Formed from Nationalist Party, Australian Party (former Nationalists) and elements of the Labor Party. Predecessor to the modern Liberal Party.

Parties and the operation of the House of Representatives

Parliamentary activity involves the parliamentary wings of the political parties—that is, the elected representatives. The extra-parliamentary or organisational wings of the political parties have no role in the formal parliamentary structure and workings of the Parliament.

Political parties are not formally recognised in the standing orders of the House. However, in many respects the functioning of the House is based on the relationship between Government and Opposition—that is, the opposing political parties. The working arrangements and conduct of business reflect this division. This can be seen in the physical layout of the Chamber, with government Members sitting to the right of the Speaker’s Chair and opposition Members to the left. Another example is the practice that opportunities for Members to speak in the House are alternated between government and non-government Members.

Party meetings

The major parties have designated party rooms in Parliament House. Parties have meetings in sitting weeks, usually at times when the House is not sitting, where all members of the party in the Parliament (that is, Senators and Members) meet together. These meetings are a forum for communication between backbenchers and party leaders, internal party discussion of party policy, parliamentary activity and tactics, the resolution of internal party disputes and the election of officers. The proceedings of party meetings are regarded as confidential, and details of discussions are not normally made public.

Party committees

Both the government and the opposition parties have backbench committees to assist them in the consideration of legislative proposals and other issues of political significance. These committees provide backbenchers with the opportunity to discuss matters and influence party policy or decisions in particular subject areas.

 


[1] Established in colonial Parliaments from1891. ‘Labour’ until 1912.

 

[2] This later became the Democratic Labor Party, 1957–78
(not represented in the House).

 

KEY TO TABLE 1

 

Party strengths indicated are those after general elections and do not allow for by-elections, changes in affiliation between elections or as a result of elections declared void and recontested.

a    The Free Trade Party was renamed the Anti-Socialist Party in 1906.

b    Members of the Liberal and Country League (SA) included from 1946.

c    The Country Party was formed after the 1919 election from Members returned under endorsement of primary producers’ organisations. In 1975 party name changed to National Country Party of Australia. In 1982 party name changed to National Party of Australia and in 2003 to the Nationals.

d    Revenue Tariff Party.

e    Includes 4 Independent Protectionists and 2 Western Australia Party.

f     Derived from elements of former Protectionists and Anti-Socialists. Also referred to during election as ‘Fusion’.

g    Formed by elements of Labor Party and former Liberals.

h    Independent Nationalist.

i     From 1922 total figure includes a Member for the Northern Territory who did not have full voting rights until 1968.

j     Country Progressive.

k    Includes 3 Independent Nationalists and one Country Progressive.

l     Formed by elements of the Labor Party and former Nationalists.

m   NSW Labor.

n    Independent UAP.

o    Non-communist Labor.

p    Includes one Liberal Country.

q    From 1949 includes a Member for the Australian Capital Territory who did not have full voting rights until 1966.

r     Although the Labor Party had the same number of seats as the coalition parties (62), two of its Members (Northern Territory and the ACT) did not have full voting rights.

s    Includes one seat filled at a supplementary election held after the first meeting of the new House.

t     Includes one Australian Greens and one Nationals (WA).

u    Includes one Australian Greens, one Katter’s Australia Party and one Palmer United Party.

 

This table is based on the table at appendix 10 of House of Representatives Practice. Note that early records and subsequent histories do not always agree on party affiliations.

 

TABLE 1: Party affiliations in the House of Representatives

 

 


Year of
election

 

 

 

Free
Trade/
Anti-Soc-ialist a

 

 

 


Protect-ionist

 

 

 


Nation- alist

 

 

 


United
Australia

 

 

 



Liberal
b

 

 

 


Country/
National c

 

 

 


Country Liberals (NT)

 

 

 



Labor

 

 

 


Other
Labor

 

 

 


Minor party

 

 

 


Indep-endent

 

 

 



Total

 

 

 

1901

 

 

 

28

 

 

 

31

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1903

 

 

 

25

 

 

 

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 d

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1906

 

 

 

27

 

 

 

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 e

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1910

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

31 f

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1913

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1914

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

42

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1917

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

53 g

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1919

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 h

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1922

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

76 i

 

 

 

1925

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

76

 

 

 

1928

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

29

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 j

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

76

 

 

 

1929

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 k

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

76

 

 

 

1931

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40 l

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15

 

 

 

4 m

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

76

 

 

 

1934

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

33

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18

 

 

 

9 m

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1937

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

29

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 n

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1940

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

32

 

 

 

4 o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1943

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 p

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

49

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

1946

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

17

 

 

 

12 p

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

43

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1949

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

55

 

 

 

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

48

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

123 q

 

 

 

1951

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52

 

 

 

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

54

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

123

 

 

 

1954

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47

 

 

 

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

59

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

123

 

 

 

1955

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

57

 

 

 

18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

49

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

124

 

 

 

1958

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

58

 

 

 

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

47

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

124

 

 

 

1961

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

45

 

 

 

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

62 r

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

124

 

 

 

1963

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52

 

 

 

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

124

 

 

 

1966

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

61

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

41

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

124

 

 

 

1969

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

46

 

 

 

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

59

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

125

 

 

 

1972

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

38

 

 

 

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

67

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

125

 

 

 

1974

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

66

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

127

 

 

 

1975

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

68

 

 

 

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

127

 

 

 

1977

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

67

 

 

 

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

38

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

124

 

 

 

1980

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

54

 

 

 

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

125

 

 

 

1983

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

33

 

 

 

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

125

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

45

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

82

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

148

 

 

 

1987

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

43

 

 

 

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

86

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

148

 

 

 

1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

55

 

 

 

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

78

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

148

 

 

 

1993

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

49

 

 

 

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

80

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

147

 

 

 

1996

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

75

 

 

 

18

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

49

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5

 

 

 

148

 

 

 

1998

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

64

 

 

 

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

67 s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

148

 

 

 

2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

68

 

 

 

13

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

65

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

 

 

150

 

 

 

2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

74

 

 

 

12

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

60

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

 

 

150

 

 

 

2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

55

 

 

 

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

83

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

150

 

 

 

2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

60

 

 

 

11

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

72

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 t

 

 

 

4

 

 

 

150

 

 

 

2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

74

 

 

 

15

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

55

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 u

 

 

 

2

 

 

 

150

 

 

 

Party whips

All parties have whips whose main function is to act as administrative officers to their parliamentary parties. Although whips, and especially the Chief Government Whip, have duties in relation to the proceedings of the House, they occupy essentially party positions. Outside the Chamber the whips may be required to provide support for such matters as party meetings and consultations, party committees, arranging party nominations to parliamentary committees and organising any party balloting which may be required.

Parties in the Senate

The system of proportional representation used to elect Senators results in more opportunity for the election of minority parties and independents. This has meant that minor parties with a significant and often influential Senate presence may have no or little representation in the House (for example, previously the Democratic Labor Party and the Australian Democrats, and more recently the Australian Greens).

 

TABLE 2: GOVERNMENT PARTIES—periods in office

Governing party
 (or coalition)

 

 

 

Duration in years

 

 

 

From

 

 

 

To

 

 

 

Protectionist

 

 

 

3.3

 

 

 

1/01/1901

 

 

 

27/04/1904

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

0.3

 

 

 

27/04/1904

 

 

 

18/08/1904

 

 

 

Free Trade/Protectionist

 

 

 

0.9

 

 

 

18/08/1904

 

 

 

5/07/1905

 

 

 

Protectionist

 

 

 

3.4

 

 

 

5/07/1905

 

 

 

13/11/1908

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

0.6

 

 

 

13/11/1908

 

 

 

2/06/1909

 

 

 

Liberal

 

 

 

0.9

 

 

 

2/06/1909

 

 

 

29/04/1910

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

3.2

 

 

 

29/04/1910

 

 

 

24/06/1913

 

 

 

Liberal

 

 

 

1.2

 

 

 

24/06/1913

 

 

 

17/09/1914

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

2.2

 

 

 

17/09/1914

 

 

 

14/11/1916

 

 

 

National Labor

 

 

 

0.3

 

 

 

14/11/1916

 

 

 

17/02/1917

 

 

 

Nationalist

 

 

 

6.0

 

 

 

17/02/1917

 

 

 

9/02/1923

 

 

 

Nationalist/Country

 

 

 

6.7

 

 

 

9/02/1923

 

 

 

22/10/1929

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

2.2

 

 

 

22/10/1929

 

 

 

6/01/1932

 

 

 

UAP/Country

 

 

 

9.8

 

 

 

6/01/1932

 

 

 

7/10/1941

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

8.2

 

 

 

7/10/1941

 

 

 

19/12/1949

 

 

 

Liberal/Country

 

 

 

23.0

 

 

 

19/12/1949

 

 

 

5/12/1972

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

2.9

 

 

 

5/12/1972

 

 

 

11/11/1975

 

 

 

Liberal/National

 

 

 

7.3

 

 

 

11/11/1975

 

 

 

11/03/1983

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

13.0

 

 

 

11/03/1983

 

 

 

11/03/1996

 

 

 

Liberal/National

 

 

 

11.7

 

 

 

11/03/1996

 

 

 

3/12/2007

 

 

 

Labor

 

 

 

5.8

 

 

 

3/12/2007

 

 

 

18/09/2013

 

 

 

Liberal/National

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18/09/2013

 

 

 

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