Political movements

Political movements and alliances have played an important part in shaping Australian democracy in the 20th century. In the 19th century, individuals elected to colonial parliaments tended to act according to their personal principles or more directly in the interests of their local constituents. This changed after Federation, when loyalty to a political party emerged as more important than personal principles.

Political parties aligned according to shared political ideologies, and a two-party system soon emerged that was to dominate Australian politics throughout the twentieth century. Some argue that the two-party system has resulted in a stable democracy characterised by peaceful elections and changes of government. Others see it as a threat to freedom of political belief and representation.

John Longstaff, Miss Rose Scott, (1922).
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Political movements and alliances have played an important part in shaping Australian democracy in the 20th century. In the 19th century, individuals elected to colonial parliaments tended to act according to their personal principles or more directly in the interests of their local constituents. This changed after Federation, when loyalty to a political party emerged as more important than personal principles.

Political parties aligned according to shared political ideologies, and a two-party system soon emerged that was to dominate Australian politics throughout the twentieth century. Some argue that the two-party system has resulted in a stable democracy characterised by peaceful elections and changes of government. Others see it as a threat to freedom of political belief and representation.

John Longstaff, Miss Rose Scott, (1922).
1794

Scottish Martyrs transported

Scottish Martyrs transported

Thomas Muir, Thomas Palmer, William Skirving and Maurice Margarot are sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for their part in advocating parliamentary and constitutional reform in Britain. Their radical ideas are influenced by the French Revolution and, together with Joseph Gerrald who was transported later, they become known as the Scottish Martyrs.


1840

British Chartists transported for political activities

British Chartists transported for political activities

John Frost, a Chartist who was involved with a rebellion in Newport in Monmouthshire, England, arrives in Hobart after being sentenced to transportation for his part in the uprising. Chartism flourishes in Britain between 1837 and 1848, advocating universal suffrage, secret ballots, and other democratic reforms outlined in the People’s Charter written in 1838. Frost and his fellow Chartists’ revolutionary ideas take root in the Victorian goldfields, and subsequently influence the drafting of the first constitutions in the colonies.


1856

Eight Hour Day

Eight Hour Day

In a world first, Melbourne building tradesmen and contractors successfully negotiate an eight-hour working day. The movement is led by stonemasons who lead a protest march from The University of Melbourne to Parliament House. They argue that eight hours a day is appropriate in the Australian heat, and will give workers time to improve their ‘social and moral condition’.


1871

Australian Natives Association

Australian Natives Association

The Australian Natives Association is established as a benefit society giving native-born (white) Australians access to the same forms of sickness and burial benefits available to immigrants. The Association increasingly becomes an advocate for native-born interests such as Federation and, by the early 20th century, the White Australia Policy.


1891

Labour Party forms

Labour Party forms

Members of the Labour Party are elected for the first time to the South Australian and NSW colonial parliaments. The formation of the Labour Party precedes Britain and Europe. The Party changes its name to the Australian Labor Party in 1912.


1899

World’s first Labour government

World’s first Labour government

The first Labour government in the world takes office in the colony of Queensland. It is a minority government led by Anderson Dawson, and lasts for just seven days before being defeated by the conservative opposition party led by Robert Philp.


1901

Labor Party federates

Labor Party federates

A meeting of Labor members elected to the first Commonwealth Parliament agrees to form a federal party, which will in time become the Australian Labor Party.


1904

Australian Women’s National League

Australian Women’s National League

The Australian Women’s National League — a women’s conservative political organisation — is established in Victoria to support the monarchy and empire, combat socialism, educate women in politics, and safeguard the interests of the home, women and children. It aims to garner the votes of newly enfranchised women for non-Labor political groups espousing free trade and anti-socialist sentiments, with considerable organisational success. At its peak, it is the largest and arguably the most influential women’s organisation in the country. Closely associated with the United Australia Party, the League’s financial and organisational support is a key factor in the formation of the Liberal Party in 1944. The League merges with the Victorian division of the Liberal Party in 1945 and secures equal representation for women within the Party’s organisational structure — a first in Australian political parties.


1908

Suffragists oppose military service

Suffragists oppose military service

Rose Scott, a leading suffragist, writes to Prime Minister Alfred Deakin opposing compulsory military training and service. In 1914, Vida Goldstein forms the Women’s Political Alliance to oppose military conscription, then joins Cecilia Annie John forming the Women’s Peace Army.


1909

Fusion — the two-party system

Fusion — the two-party system

Alfred Deakin forms a coalition of his Protectionist Liberal Party with the Free Trade Party led by Joseph Cook, known as the Fusion. It brings stability to the federal parliament and ends the fragile political coalitions that saw six changes of government in the first eight years after Federation.


1916

Conscription debate

Conscription debate

As the Australian public learns of the enormity of Australian casualties on the Western Front, the number of men volunteering for service falls and Prime Minister W M Hughes puts the question of military conscription to the public. Australians are divided over the issue of compulsory conscription for overseas service, with conservative political parties, the media and most church leaders supporting conscription, while trade unions and many women’s groups oppose it. The referendum of 28 October asks ‘Are you in favour of the Government having, in this grave emergency, the same compulsory powers over citizens in regard to requiring their military service, for the term of this War, outside the Commonwealth, as it now has in regard to military service within the Commonwealth?’. The referendum is defeated with 1,087,557 in favour and 1,160,033 against. A second referendum in 1917 also fails and the issue divides the nation politically, socially and along religious lines.


Nationalist Party forms

Nationalist Party forms

Billy Hughes and fellow members of the Labor Party who supported conscription are expelled from the Labor Party caucus. Hughes forms a new party, the National Labor Party, which a short time later, merges with the opposition Liberals to form the new Nationalist Party. This new party subsequently wins a majority of seats in its own right at the 1917 election and Hughes continues as Prime Minister.


1920

Communist Party of Australia forms

Communist Party of Australia forms

A group of socialists inspired by the 1917 Russian Revolution establishes the Communist Party of Australia. The Party exerts some influence over the trade union movement in New South Wales in the mid-1920s, and achieves its greatest political strength in the 1940s, even facing an attempted ban on its activities by the Menzies government in 1951. The Party is influential in some areas of Australian political and cultural life, but never poses a serious challenge to the main political parties. Former members of the Communist Party of Australia establish the Socialist Party of Australia in 1971, and the name is changed to the Communist Party of Australia at its 8th National Congress in October 1996. Its stated aim is the socialist reconstruction of Australian society.


1921

Socialisation objective

Socialisation objective

The socialisation objective — the principle of increased government ownership of industry, production, distribution and exchange — is accepted by the Australian Labor Party federal conference in Brisbane. The Party’s first pledge established in 1905 had emphasised that it would maintain the racial purity of the nation and the commitment to the White Australia Policy. The new objective, introduced by James Scullin in 1921, focuses on the socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, and becomes the Labor Party’s central policy platform. All members are required to pledge to actively support it to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features.


1922

Country Party forms federally

Country Party forms federally

The Country Party is first formed in Western Australia in 1913, having emerged from various farmer and settler leagues. It becomes a national political party in 1920, largely sponsored by state farm organisations fighting for a better deal for the ‘man on the land’. The Party is represented in federal parliament from 1922. Its leader, Earle Page, becomes Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister in the first federal coalition government in 1923, establishing a tradition when the coalition is in government. The Country Party changes its name to the National Country Party of Australia in 1975, then to the National Party of Australia in 1982 as part of a strategy to extend its national representation to urban electorates. Three of the Party’s leaders — Earle Page, Arthur Fadden and John McEwen — briefly serve as Prime Minister on occasions when the leadership of the major coalition party is in transition.


1936

Australia First Movement

Australia First Movement

The formation of the Australia First Movement is fuelled by strong anti-British sentiment and the severity of the Great Depression. Its key figures, including William John Miles, Adela Pankhurst and Percey Reginald Stephensen, advocate Australian patriotic sentiment. Their views are promoted in The Publicist, a monthly newsletter published from 1936. The Movement is considered to have sympathies with Germany, Italy and Japan. Its activities are perceived as increasingly threatening to Australia’s national security and, in March 1942, its leaders are secretly interned amid fears of a Japanese invasion of Australia.


1944

Liberal Party of Australia forms

Liberal Party of Australia forms

Opposition leader Robert Menzies announces in Parliament that the United Australia Party and non-Labor organisations, including the Australian Women’s National League, have merged to create the Liberal Party of Australia, with himself as its first leader.


1951

Australian Communist Party ban fails

Australian Communist Party ban fails

The Australian people reject, by a narrow margin, a proposal to give the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws regarding communism. The referendum resulted from a High Court ruling that a Bill introduced by the Menzies government in 1950 to dissolve the Communist Party was constitutionally invalid.


1974

Country Liberal Party forms

Country Liberal Party forms

The Country Liberal Party is formed as a non-Labor party specifically committed to serving the interests of the Northern Territory. It claims to be the smallest political party to have formed a government in Australia and has parliamentary representation at both the federal and territory government levels.


1977

Australian Democrats forms

Australian Democrats forms

Former Liberal minister Don Chipp resigns from the Liberal Party and the House of Representatives, expressing disillusionment at both major parties. The resignation is the first step towards the foundation of a new political party — the Australian Democrats, a political party espousing a centrist or social liberal ideology alternative for Australians, without vested interests in any particular economic sectors. It forms following a merger of the Australia Party and the New Liberal Movement, after principals of these minor parties secure the commitment of Chipp as a high-profile leader. The party’s 30-year representation in Australia parliament ends on 30 June 2008 after the loss of its four remaining Senate seats, two of the Senators having retired from politics and the other two having been defeated at the 2007 election.


1981

First female president of a political party

First female president of a political party

Shirley McKerrow of the National Party of Australia is the first female president of an Australian political party.


1992

Australian Greens party goes national

Australian Greens party goes national

State-based Greens parties unite into a national Greens party. It supports wide ecological and social justice goals, with both a national and global focus. The Greens have significant success in Tasmania, where they occasionally hold the balance of power.


1997

One Nation Party forms

One Nation Party forms

Pauline Hanson forms the One Nation Party in Queensland, promoting ‘traditional’ Australian values and government support for small business and the rural sector. It favours restricted immigration and limitations on ‘discriminatory and divisive policies’ on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and multicultural affairs.