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Liberal Party of Australia
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Liberal Party of Australia

This article concerns the modern Australian political party. For the Australian Liberal party active from 1909 to 1916, see Commonwealth Liberal Party.
Liberal Party of Australia
Current Leader:John Howard
Founded: 1945'''
Headquarters:Cnr Blackall and Macquarie St
Barton ACT 2600
Political ideology:neo-liberal or conservative
Holds government:Federal (in Coalition)
Website:Liberal Party of Australia

The 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.

Neither the present Liberal party, nor a previous Liberal party, the Commonwealth Liberal Party, has been "liberal" in the sense in which the word is generally used in most other countries; in international terms, Australian "Liberals" have usually been conservatives. Since the 1980s, however, there has been a strong neo-liberal element in their platforms and policies.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Liberal leaders since 1945
3 See also
4 External links
5 Further reading


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.

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

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 {not to be confused with the old Nationalist Party). The Liberals were in power in Victoria from 1955 (the election in which they defeated John Cain Sr) to 1982 (in which they were defeated by the last Labour Premier's son, John Cain jr) 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. In the 1970s a left-wing middle-class emerged, which no longer voted Liberal. One effect of this was the success of a breakaway party, the Australian Democrats, founded in 1977 by former Liberal minister Don Chipp and members of minor liberal parties. On the other hand, the Liberals have done increasingly well among working-class voters in recent years. In country areas they compete strongly 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 went so far as to unsuccessfully attempt to ban the Communist Party in 1951. Menzies was an ardent royalist, devoted towards maintaing Australia as a constitutional monarchy. Nowdays, the party is divided, with some Liberals, such as Peter Costello, being minimalist republicans while others, such as John Howard and Tony Abbott remain devout monarchists. 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 or neo-liberal 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 most 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. In general terms, however, the Australian Democrats are closer to the usual, international meaning of the word "liberal".

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 1945

See also

External links

Further reading

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