The Australian Labor Party is an Australian political party.
Founded in 1891 by the emerging labour movement in Australia, Labor is the country's oldest active political party, having contested state seats from 1891, federal seats following the Federation at the 1901 federal election, and gained Australia's first majority in either house at the 1910 federal election. The ALP predates both the British Labour Party and New Zealand Labour Party among others in both party formation and government. The party today competes with the Liberal/National coalition for political office at a federal and sometimes state and local level.
The platform gives a general indication of the policy direction which a future Labor government would follow, but does not commit the party to specific policies. It maintains that "Labor's traditional values will remain a constant on which all Australians can rely." While making it clear that Labor is fully committed to a market economy, it says that: "Labor believes in a strong role for national government — the one institution all Australians truly own and control through our right to vote." Labor "will not allow the benefits of change to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, or located only in privileged communities. The benefits must be shared by all Australians and all our regions." The Platform and Labor "believe that all people are created equal in their entitlement to dignity and respect, and should have an equal chance to achieve their potential." For Labor, "government has a critical role in ensuring fairness by: ensuring equal opportunity; removing unjustifiable discrimination; and achieving a more equitable distribution of wealth, income and status." Further sections of the Platform stress Labor's support for Equality, Human Rights, Labour Rights and Democracy.
In practice, the Platform provides only general policy guidelines to Labor's federal, state and territory parliamentary leaderships. The policy Labor takes into an election campaign is determined by the Cabinet (if the party is in office) or the Shadow Cabinet (if it is in opposition), in consultation with key interest groups within the party, and is contained in the parliamentary Leader's policy speech delivered during the election campaign. When Labor is in office, the policies it implements are determined by the Cabinet, subject to the Platform. Generally, it is accepted that while the Platform binds Labor governments, how and when it is implemented remains the prerogative of the parliamentary caucus. It is now rare for the Platform to conflict with government policy, as the content of the Platform is usually developed in close collaboration with the party's parliamentary leadership as well as the factions. However, where there is a direct contradiction with the Platform, Labor governments have sought to change the Platform as a prerequisite for a change in policy. For example, privatisation legislation under the Hawke government occurred only after holding a special national conference to debate changing the Platform.
In the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution, support for socialism grew in trade union ranks, and at the 1921 All-Australian Trades Union Congress a resolution was passed calling for "the socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange." As a result, Labor's Federal Conference in 1922 adopted a similarly worded "socialist objective," which remained official policy for many years. The resolution was immediately qualified, however, by the "Blackburn amendment," which said that "socialisation" was desirable only when was necessary to "eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features. In practice the socialist objective was a dead letter. Only once has a federal Labor government attempted to nationalise any industry (Ben Chifley's bank nationalisation of 1947), and that was held by the High Court to be unconstitutional.
However, the idea that only the socialist working class formed Labor is untrue. Analysis of the early NSW Labor caucus reveals "a band of unhappy amateurs", made up of blue collar workers, a squatter, an MD, and even a mine owner. In addition, many members from the working class supported the liberal notion of free trade between the colonies - in the first grouping of state MPs, 17 of the 35 were free-traders. Some historically declare the party a mix of socialism, liberalism, pragmatism and 'Laborism'. These commitments are deemed to place Labor closer, intellectually and historically, to the 19th century colonial liberals as the forerunners to the Labor party over the conservatives of the time.
The Bob Hawke and Paul Keating governments from 1983 to 1996 pursued many economic policies associated with economic rationalism and the "Third Way", such as floating the Australian Dollar in 1983, reductions in trade tariffs, taxation reforms, changing from centralised wage-fixing to enterprise bargaining, the privatisation of Qantas and Commonwealth Bank, and deregulating the banking system. Keating also proposed a GST in 1985, however due to its unpopularity amongst Labor as well as the electorate, was scrapped. The party also refrained from other reforms, such as wholesale labour market deregulation (eg WorkChoices), the eventual GST, the privatisation of Telstra and welfare reform including "work for the dole", which John Howard and the Liberal Party of Australia were to initiate after winning office in 1996.
The Whitlam government was first to use the term economic rationalism. The Gough Whitlam Labor government from 1972 to 1975 changed from a democratic socialist platform to a social democratic one, a precursor to the party's current third way policies. Under the Whitlam government, tariffs across the board were cut by 25 percent after 23 years of Labor being in opposition.
Current Labor leader Kevin Rudd's first speech to parliament in 1998 stated:
Competitive markets are massive and generally efficient generators of economic wealth. They must therefore have a central place in the management of the economy. But markets sometimes fail, requiring direct government intervention through instruments such as industry policy. There are also areas where the public good dictates that there should be no market at all.Rudd is critical of free market economists such as Friedrich Hayek, although Rudd describes himself as "basically a conservative when it comes to questions of public financial management", pointing to his slashing of public service jobs as a Queensland governmental advisor.
We are not afraid of a vision in the Labor Party, but nor are we afraid of doing the hard policy yards necessary to turn that vision into reality. Parties of the Centre Left around the world are wrestling with a similar challenge—the creation of a competitive economy while advancing the overriding imperative of a just society. Some call this the `third way'. The nomenclature is unimportant. What is important is that it is a repudiation of Thatcherism and its Australian derivatives represented opposite. It is in fact a new formulation of the nation's economic and social imperatives.
Sections of state Labour and the Australian labour movement were mixed in their support for the Federation of Australia. Some labour representatives argued against the proposed constitution, claiming the Senate as proposed was much too powerful, similar to the anti-reformist Colonial upper houses and the British House of Lords. They feared federation would distract attention from the need of social and industrial reform, and further entrench the power of the conservative forces. The first Labour leader and Prime Minister, Chris Watson, was a supporter of federation but not its implementation.
After Federation, the Federal Parliamentary Labour Party (informally known as the Caucus) first met on 8 May 1901 at Parliament House, Melbourne, the meeting place of the first Federal Parliament. This is now taken as the founding date of the federal Labor Party, but it was some years before there was any significant structure or organisation at a national level.
The ALP during its early years was distinguished by its rapid growth and success at a national level, first forming a minority government under Chris Watson, the first Labour Prime Minister in the world, for four months in 1904. Andrew Fisher then formed another minority government 1908-09. At the 1910 federal election, Fisher and Labour became Australia's first federal majority government, held Australia's first Senate majority, was the world's first Labour Party majority government, the first time the Labour Party had controlled any house of a legislature, and the first time it controlled both houses of a bicameral legislature. The state branches were also successful, except in Victoria, where the strength of Deakinite liberalism inhibited the party's growth. The first majority Labor state governments were formed in New South Wales and South Australia in 1910, in Western Australia in 1911 and in Queensland in 1915. Such success eluded equivalent social democratic and labour parties in other countries for many years. One of the party's early innovations was the establishment of a federal arbitration system for the resolution of industrial disputes, which formed the basis of the industrial relations system for many decades.
Through its membership of the Socialist International, the ALP is affiliated with democratic socialist, social democratic and labour parties in many countries. The party was historically committed to socialist economic policies, but this term was never clearly defined, and no Labor government ever attempted to implement "socialism" in any serious sense. Labor supported national wage fixing and a strong welfare system, it did not nationalise private enterprise. The single exception to this was Ben Chifley's attempt to nationalise the private banks in the 1940s, but this was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court of Australia. The commitment to nationalisation was dropped by Gough Whitlam.
From its formation until the 1950s Labor and its affiliated unions were the strongest defenders of the White Australia Policy, which banned all non-European migration to Australia. This policy was partly motivated by 19th century theories about "racial purity" (shared by most Australians at this time), and partly by fears of economic competition from low-wage labour. In practice the party opposed all migration, on the grounds that immigrants competed with Australian workers and drove down wages, until after World War II, when the Chifley government launched a major immigration program. The party's opposition to non-European immigration did not change until after the retirement of Arthur Calwell as leader in 1967. Subsequently Labor has become an advocate of multiculturalism, although some of its trade union base and some of its members continue to oppose high immigration levels.
Between the 2007 federal election and the 2008 Western Australian state election, the party was in government nationally, as well as in all eight state and territory legislatures. This was the first time any single party or any coalition had achieved this since the ACT and the NT gained self-government.
The Australian Labor Party is a democratic and federal party, which consists of both individual members and affiliated trade unions, who between them decide the party's policies, elect its governing bodies and choose its candidates for public office. The majority of trade unions in Australia are affiliated to the party, and their affiliation fees, based on the size of their memberships, makes up a large part of the party's income. The party consists of six state and two territory branches, each of which consists of local branches which any Australian resident can join, plus affiliated trade unions. Individual members pay a membership fee, which is graduated according to income. Members are generally expected to attend at least one meeting of their local branch each year, although there are differences in the rules from state to state. In practice only a dedicated minority regularly attend meetings. Many members only become active during election campaigns. The party has about 50,000 individual members, although this figure tends to fluctuate along with the party's electoral fortunes.
The members and unions elect delegates to state and territory conferences (usually held annually, although more frequent conferences are often held). These conferences decide policy, and elect state or territory executives, a state or territory president (an honorary position usually held for a one-year term), and a state or territory secretary (a full-time professional position). The larger branches also have full-time assistant secretaries and organisers. In the past the ratio of conference delegates coming from the branches and affiliated unions has varied from state to state, however under recent national reforms at least 50% of delegates at all state and territory conferences must be elected by branches.
The party holds a National Conference every three years, which consists of delegates representing the state and territory branches (many coming from affiliated trade unions, although there is no formal requirement for unions to be represented at the National Conference). The National Conference approves the party's Platform and policies, elects the National Executive, and appoints office-bearers such as the National Secretary, who also serves as national campaign director during elections. The current National Secretary is Tim Gartrell. The most recent National Conference was held in April 2007.
The national Leader of the Labor Party is elected by the Labor members of the national Parliament (the Caucus), not by the conference. Until recently the national conference elected the party's National President, a largely honorary position, but since 2003 the position has rotated among people directly elected by the party's individual members. The current National President is Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann, who assumed the post in February 2008.
The Labor Party contests national, state and territory elections. In some states it also contests local government elections: in others it does not, preferring to allow its members to run as non-endorsed candidates. The process of choosing candidates is called pre-selection. Candidates are pre-selected by different methods in the various states and territories. In some they are chosen by ballots of all party members, in others by panels or committees elected by the state conference, in still others by a combination of these two. Labor candidates are required to sign a pledge that if elected they will always vote in Parliament in accordance with the Platform and decisions made by a vote of the Caucus. They are also sometimes required to donate a portion of their salary to the party, although this practice has declined with the introduction of public funding for political parties.
The Labor Party has always had a left wing and a right wing, but since the 1970s it has been organised into formal factions, to which many party members belong and often pay an additional membership fee. The two largest factions are Labor Unity (on the right) and the Socialist Left. Labor Unity generally supports free-market policies and the US Alliance and tends to be conservative on some social issues. The National Left, although it seldom openly espouses socialism, favours more state intervention in the economy, is generally less enthusiastic about the U.S. Alliance and is often more progressive on social issues. The factions are themselves divided into sub-factions, and there is a constantly changing pattern of factional and sub-factional alliances around particular policy issues or around particular pre-selection disputes. Frequently these alliances and disputes reflect power struggles between or within trade unions.
The trade unions are also factionally aligned. The largest unions supporting the right are the Australian Workers Union (AWU), the National Union of Workers (NUW) and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA). Important unions supporting the left include the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU), the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Australian Services Union (ASU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). But these affiliations are seldom unconditional or permanent. The AWU and the NUW, for example, are bitter rivals and the NUW sometimes aligns itself with the left to further its conflict with the AWU. Moreover, in some cases different branches may have different factional alignment. On some issues, such as opposition to the Howard government's industrial relations policy, all the unions are in agreement and work as a bloc within the party.
Pre-selections are usually conducted along factional lines, although sometimes a non-factional candidate will be given preferential treatment (this happened with Cheryl Kernot in 1998 and again with Peter Garrett in 2004). Deals between the factions to divide up the safe seats between them are also common. Pre-selections, particularly for safe Labor seats, are often bitterly contested, and have often involved practices such as branch stacking (signing up large numbers of nominal party members to vote in pre-selection ballots), personation, multiple voting and, on occasions, fraudulent electoral enrolment. Trade unions were in the past accused of giving inflated membership figures to increase their influence over pre-selections, but party rules changes have stamped out this practice. Pre-selection results are frequently challenged, and the National Executive is sometimes called on to arbitrate these disputes.
Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
For current ALP federal politicians, see: