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Liberal Party of Australia

There have been two Liberal Parties in Australia since federation in 1901.

Four recent Liberal leaders. From left: John Howard, Andrew Peacock, Malcolm Fraser, John Hewson

Table of contents
1 The Deakinite Liberal Party
2 The modern Liberal Party
3 Liberal leaders since 1901
4 See also
5 External links
6 Further reading

The Deakinite Liberal Party

In 1909 Alfred Deakin, the leader of the Protectionist Party, agreed to merge with the Free Trade Party of George Reid to form what was officially called the Commonwealth Liberal Party, but was usually called "The Fusion." The party was defeated by Labor in 1910. Under its new leader, Joseph Cook, it won the 1913 elections, but in 1914 Cook called early elections and was defeated. In 1916 the Liberals merged with the ex-Labor followers of Billy Hughes to form the Nationalist Party of Australia.

The modern Liberal Party

The current Liberal Party of Australia was founded on 31 August, 1945, after Robert Menzies called a conference in 1944 of conservative parties and other groups opposed to the ruling Australian Labor Party. 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.

In 1949 Menzies led the Liberals to victory, 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 they were defeated by Labor under Gough Whitlam in 1972. They returned to power after only three years under Malcolm Fraser, and stayed in office for eight years. Defeated again in 1983 by Bob Hawke, the Liberals lost five elections in a row under four different leaders before returning to power in 1996 under John Howard.

At the state level, the Liberals have been dominant for long periods in all states except Queensland, where they have been subordinate to the National Party. The Liberals were in power in Victoria from 1955 to 1982 and in South Australia (under several names) from 1932 to 1965. Since the 1980s, however, the Liberals have become increasingly unsuccessful at state level. The most radically conservative Liberal premier, Jeff Kennett of Victoria, was defeated in 1999.

Throughout their history, the Liberals have been the party of the urban middle-class, though such class-based voting patterns are no longer as clear as they once were. Since the 1970s a left-wing middle-class has emerged, which no longer votes Liberal. On the other hand, the Liberals have done increasingly well among working-class voters in recent years. In country areas they compete with increasingly success with the National Party.

Strong opposition to socialism and communism has always been a Liberal preoccupation. Anti-communism was successfully exploited through the 1950s and 1960s by Robert Menzies and his successors. Menzies was also devoted to the British Crown, but monarchism has become less prominent in Liberal rhetoric since the 1970s. The Liberals have also positioned themselves as the party most committed to the alliance with the United States, though this has not always been to their advantage.

Domestically, Menzies presided over a paternalistic state 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 dominated by what was known as the "New Right" - a Thatcher-inspired group who advocated sweeping deregulation, privatisation of public utilities, and reductions in the size of government programs and thus tax cuts.

Socially, the party has wavered between what is termed "small-l liberalism", and social conservatism. The current leader, Howard, is in many respects extremely socially conservative. His most likely successor, Peter Costello, is more liberal on some issues. Other Liberal state and federal governments have also been more liberal, particularly in Victoria and South Australia.

The Liberal Party's organisation is dominated by the six state divisions, reflecting the party's commitment to a federalised system of government (perhaps their most strongly held policy and certainly one of the few that has remained since the party's creation). 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.

As of late 2003, the Liberal party holds government federally, but does not hold power in any of the states or territories. It does not officially contest local government elections, though many members do run for office in local government as independents.

Liberal leaders since 1901

Deakinite Liberal

Liberal Party of Australia

See also

External links

Further reading

There is also a minor libertarian party in Australia called the Liberal Democratic Party.