The Liberal Party of Australia is an Australian political party.
Founded a year after the 1943 federal election to replace the United Australia Party, the centre-right Liberal Party competes with the centre-left Australian Labor Party for political office. When in government it traditionally governs in a coalition with the National Party.
In federal politics, the Liberal Party is in opposition since losing the 2007 federal election, having held power since the 1996 election. At the state and territory level, the Liberals hold government in Western Australia.
Following the 2007 federal election defeat, leader and deputy leaders John Howard and Peter Costello resigned from their positions, with Howard also losing his seat of Bennelong. In the resulting Liberal leadership election, Brendan Nelson and Julie Bishop emerged as the new leader and deputy leader. Following continued poor polling and leadership speculation, Nelson called for a spill of the Liberal Party leadership in September 2008, in which Malcolm Turnbull won the leadership 45 votes to 41.
Modern Liberalism in Australia is represented in the vast majority by the Liberal Party of Australia, who are generally an advocate of economic liberalism (see New Right). However, during Liberal governments prior to the Howard Government, the party was quite interventionist in its economic policy and maintained Australia's high tariff levels. At that time, the Liberals' coalition partner, the Country Party, the older of the two in the coalition (now known as the "National Party"), had considerable influence over the Government's economic policies.
Socially, the Liberal Party is a conservative party, although it has a minority socially liberal wing. In recent years, during the Prime Ministership of John Howard, the party moved to a more socially conservative policy agenda, including tough stances on Mandatory detention in Australia and support for the Iraq War.
The Liberals' immediate predecessor was the United Australia Party, formed in 1931. The UAP, led by Robert Menzies, disintegrated after suffering a heavy defeat in the 1943 election. More broadly, the party's ideological ancestry stretched back to the anti-Labor groupings in the first Commonwealth Parliaments. The Commonwealth Liberal Party was a fusion of the Free Trade Party and the Protectionist Party in 1909 by second Prime Minister Alfred Deakin in response to Labor's growing electoral prominence. The Commonwealth Liberal Party was replaced by the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1917, which was replaced by the UAP in 1931.
Menzies called a conference of Conservative parties and other groups opposed to the ruling Australian Labor Party which met in Canberra on 13 October 1944, and again in Albury in December 1944. The formation of the party was formally announced in February 1945. The Liberal Party absorbed several former conservative parties, principally the United Australia Party. The Australian Women's National League, a powerful conservative women's organisation, also merged with the new party. A conservative youth group Menzies had set up, the Young Nationalists, was also merged into the new party. It became the Liberal Party's youth division, the Young Liberals. By September 1945 there were more than 90,000 members, many of whom had not previously been members of any political party.
After an initial failure to defeat Labor at the 1946 election, Menzies led the Liberals to victory at the 1949 election, and they stayed in office for a record 23 years. After the retirement of Menzies in 1966 and the death of his successor, Harold Holt, in 1967, the Liberals went into decline, and were defeated in 1972. After the dismissal of 1975 they returned to office under the Government of Malcolm Fraser, and stayed in power for eight years. Losing government in 1983, the Liberals returned to power in 1996 under John Howard, and governed until their electoral defeat in 2007.
At the state level, the Liberals have been dominant for long periods in all states except Queensland, where they have always held fewer seats than the National Party (not to be confused with the old Nationalist Party). The Liberals were in power in Victoria from 1955 to 1982. Initially a Liberal and Country Party affiliated party, the Liberal and Country League reigned in South Australia from 1932 to 1965. The similarly dual aligned Country Liberal Party ruled the Northern Territory from 1972 to 2001.
Throughout their history, the Liberals have been in electoral terms largely the party of the middle class (whom Menzies, in the era of the party's formation called "the forgotten people"), though such class-based voting patterns are no longer as clear as they once were. In the 1970s a left-wing middle class emerged that no longer voted Liberal. One effect of this was the success of a breakaway party, the Australian Democrats, founded in 1977 by former Liberal minister Don Chipp and members of minor liberal parties; other members of the left-leaning section of the middle-class became Labor supporters. On the other hand, the Liberals have done increasingly well among socially conservative working-class voters in recent years. In country areas they either compete or have a truce with the Nationals, depending on various factors.
The Liberal Party is a member of the International Democrat Union, the only party name of Liberal to do so, rather than Liberal International. Strong opposition to socialism and communism in Australia and internationally was one of the foundation principles of the Liberal Party, named by Menzies after the early Commonwealth Liberal Party. Anti-communism was successfully exploited through the 1950s and 1960s by Menzies and his political successors. Menzies went so far as to attempt to ban the Communist Party in 1951. Menzies was an ardent royalist, devoted to maintaining Australia as a constitutional monarchy. Today the party is divided on the monarchy, with some, such as Peter Costello and Malcolm Turnbull, being minimalist republicans while others, such as Tony Abbott remain monarchists. The Liberals have also sought to portray themselves as the party most committed to the alliance with the United States.
Domestically, Menzies presided over a fairly regulated economy in which utilities were publicly owned, and commercial activity was highly regulated through centralised wage-fixing and high tariff protection. It was not until the late 1970s and through their period out of power federally in the 1980s that the party came to be influenced by what was known as the "New Right" - neo-liberal group who advocated market deregulation, privatisation of public utilities, reductions in the size of government programs and tax cuts. This program was largely implemented by the Howard government of 1996-2007.
Socially, while liberty and freedom of enterprise form the basis of its beliefs, elements of the party have wavered between what is termed "small-l liberalism" and social conservatism.
The Liberal Party's organisation is dominated by the six state divisions, reflecting the party's original commitment to a federalised system of government (a commitment which was strongly maintained by all Liberal governments until 1983, but has been to a large extent abandoned by the Howard government, which has shown strong centralising tendencies). Menzies deliberately created a weak national party machine and strong state divisions. Party policy is made almost entirely by the parliamentary parties, not by the party's rank-and-file members, although Liberal party members do have a degree of influence over party policy.
In the 2004 Federal elections the party strengthened its majority in the Lower House and, with its coalition partners, became the first federal government in twenty years to gain an absolute majority in the Senate. This control of both houses permitted their passing of legislation without the need to negotiate with independents or minor parties, exemplified by industrial relations legislation known as WorkChoices.
The 2007 federal election saw the defeat of the Howard federal government, and the Liberal Party was in opposition throughout Australia at the state and federal level. This ended after the Western Australian state election, 2008.
The Liberal Party does not officially contest most local government elections, although many members do run for office in local government as independents. An exception is the Brisbane City Council, where both Sallyanne Atkinson and Campbell Newman (the current incumbent) have been elected Lord Mayor of Brisbane.
Liberal/National MergerMerger plans came to a head in May 2008, when the Queensland state Liberal Party gave an announcement not to wait for a federal blueprint but instead to merge now. The new party, the Liberal National Party, has a self-imposed deadline of late July for party registration.
Liberal Federal Leaders
New South Wales