Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Australia
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 211-212
AUSTRALIA: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Once a destination for British convicts settled by more than 150,000 prisoners until the practice was abolished Australia was incorporated into the British Commonwealth in 1901 as a federation of six states. It remains within the Commonwealth, and its politics have largely followed the British pattern. Labor and nonlabor forces contested for political power during most of the twentieth century, with the nonlabor groups usually dominant. The longest period of labor government was from 1941 to 1949. Beginning with 1949, and lasting throughout our time period, the nonlabor groups controlled the government.

The Australian Labor Party, organized before the Federation of the Australian Colonies in 1901, was the major labor group throughout the century. In 1957, however, some conservative elements in the Labor Party broke away to form the Democratic Labor Party. Although the DLP won nearly 10 percent of the votes in the 1958 and 1961 elections to the House, it won no seats. On the nonlabor side, the most prominent organizations have been the Liberal and Country parties and their forerunners. At no time during our time period were either of these parties strong enough to govern alone, and the government was always a Liberal Country coalition, with the Liberals by far the stronger of the partners and always holding the prime minister's office. Indeed, from 1949 through 1966 this position was held continuously by Robert Gordon Menzies, leader of the Liberal Party. The Liberal Country coalition was so firm during our time period that the parties usually engaged in electoral alliances, refraining from running opposing candidates in the same constituency. In fact, some scholars simply regarded the Liberal Country Party as a single party

Continuity and Change since 1962

The picture of party representation over time in Australia is mainly one of stability with moderate change. Our three original parties have accounted for nearly all the seats in the House of Representatives since 1950, and one of these parties has fluctuated very little in seats held. National elections have had more effect on the legislative strength of the other two parties. No new parties qualified for study.

Original Parties, Continuing

021 Labor Party. The Labor Party served as the opposition in parliament until 1972, when it secured a majority of house seats and formed a government headed by E. G. Whitlam. Enacting a number of major changes in Australian policy and plagued by rising unemployment and growing inflation, Labor lost support in the 1974 elections but managed to retain government. When the Liberal-controlled Senate declined to pass the Labor government's money bills, Governor-General John Kerr took the unprecedented action in 1975 of dismissing Whitlam and calling for new elections. Labor lost decisively and returned to its role as the opposition party.

022 Liberal Party. Except for the Whitlam government, the Liberal Party held the prime minister's office continuously since 1950. Following Robert Menzie's retirement in 1966 and Harold Holt's death in 1967, the office was held by John Gorton until 1971 and William McMahon until Labor's victory in 1972. John Malcolm Fraser assumed the office in 1975, following Labor electoral defeat and the resumption of the tradition Liberal-Country coalition government.

023 Country Party. Allied to the Liberal Party through electoral agreements in rural areas, the Count Party participated regularly in governments headed by Liberal prime ministers. Although the Liberals we enough seats in the 1977 elections to form a government on their own, the familiar Liberal-Country governing coalition was reestablished after the election.


The plot of House seats held over time shows e' evidence of increasing volatility in Australian election While representation of the Country Party has remain quite stable, the swings in representation between Lab and Liberal parties have increased. Although the pattern of a Liberal-Country government facing a Lab opposition is repeated entering 1979, the evidence suggests that the party system since 1962 is not nearly stable as it was before.

1. Our study of party politics in Australia is based on a file of 3,039 pages from 154 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Carolyn Billingsley Smith, Jean Jacobsohn, and Joan Amerling. Several people used the file to code the parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Carol Bihun and James Gleason coded the first two variable clusters for the Labor Party, Stuart Shiffman coded the first two for the Liberal Party, and Janice Patterson and Patricia Press coded the first two for the Country Party. Nancy Attz completed the coding for all three parties on the remaining variables. Our consultant was Don Aitkin.