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Australian Labor Party

The Australian Labor Party or ALP is Australia's oldest political party. It is so-named because of its origins in and close links to the trade union movement. While Australians normally spell "Labour", in the name of the party it is spelt "Labor".

Table of contents
1 History
2 ALP federal leaders
3 Contemporary ALP State Premiers / Territory Chief Ministers
4 Famous ALP State Premiers


The ALP was the world's first successful Labor party, first forming a minority national government in May, 1904, and forming its first majority government in 1910. Labor became a Federal Party when the former colonies of Australia federated in 1901. Separate Labour parties had been established in the colonies (now states) during the formative decade of the 1890s.

The party has historically been committed to socialist economic policies, but, while supporting national wage fixing and a strong welfare system, it did not nationalise private enterprise - an attempt to nationalise the banking system in the 1940s was ruled unconsititional by the High Court of Australia.

In the 1970s and beyond, the party, through the efforts of Gough Whitlam and his supporters within the party, gave up some of its socialist views and became essentially a social democratic party (though some references to democratic socialism still remain in the party's constitution, they are a contested issue, with some members believing that they are relics and do not reflect the views of the party members or its broader support base). Indeed, during the 1980s the party was responsible for the introduction of many economic policies such as privatization of government enterprises, and deregulation of many previously tightly-controlled industries, which are normally the province of conservative governments.

The Labor Party has suffered three major splits. In 1915 over the issue of conscription (the then-leader Billy Hughes supported conscription, but the majority of the party did not support it), in 1931 over economic issues revolving around how to handle the depression (split between those who believed in radical-left economic policy such as NSW Premier Jack Lang and Federal Treasurer Ted Theodore, the centrists led by Prime Minister James Scullin and Federal MP Ben Chifley and the fiscal conservatives led by Federal MP Joseph Lyons). In both of those instances, the Labor Party was splintered by the warring factions, and kept out of power for decades by infighting, but the most devestating split was the 1954 split on communism.

Ironically, the pre-war Labor Party was often a development ground for conservative leaders. Conservative Prime Ministers Joseph Cook, Billy Hughes and Joseph Lyons were all ex-members of the Labor Party, with both Billy Hughes and Joseph Lyons holding very senior positions in the party (Prime Minister and Premier respectively).

During the 1950s the issue of communism caused great internal conflict in the Labor party; many believed that it was being infiltrated by Communists and Soviet agents. A large catholic, anti-communist faction split from the ALP to form the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). Its intellectual figurehead was Bob Santamaria. The DLP was heavily influenced by Catholic social teachings and had the support of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. (The Catholic Archdiocesse of Sydney, however, was opposed to the DLP, and continued to support the ALP.) The DLP helped the Liberal Party of Australia remain in power for almost two decades but the DLP was successfully undermined by the Whitlam Labor Government during the 1970s and ceased to exist as a parliamentary party after the 1974 election.

The Labor party is well-known for its institutionalised system of factions. These sub-groupings within the party only encompass a small fraction of the membership, but, through strong norms of loyalty, wield almost all of the power. The nature of the factions is constantly changing, and there are separate groupings within each State. Currently, the two largest factions are the Labor Right and the Socialist Left.

ALP federal leaders

Contemporary ALP State Premiers / Territory Chief Ministers

Famous ALP State Premiers

See also: Politics of Australia