So who are the people chasing your vote this election? Here’s our ultimate (but not entirely exhaustive) guide to political parties, big and small. cell phone spyingThe Australian Labor Party (ALP)The long: The ALP is one of the oldest political parties in the world and one of the last to have strong links to trade unions. The party was formed in the wake of mass strikes by shearers and maritime workers in the 1890s, which were defeated by employers with the assistance of the government. The union movement increasingly turned to the political arena to further its goals, and the ALP was formed to improve both the working and living conditions of workers. The parliamentary wing of the party was intended to be subordinate to the rank and file members and the unions. Policy is formulated at the national conference, and party discipline is strongly enforced. The party had remarkable early success, and in 1910 Andrew Fisher became the first labour leader in the world to a hold a majority in a national parliament. However, three major splits in the party’s ranks damaged the ALP’s electoral prospects. In 1916 the ALP split on the issue of conscription, in 1931 over the economic response to the Depression, and in 1955 the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) was formed after a split over the influence of communism within the party. While the party was accused of cultivating communism, Vladimir Lenin himself regarded the ALP as a “liberal labour party” that operated within, rather than radically challenged, the capitalist system. While John Curtin and Ben Chifley held government from 1941 to 1949 and are Labor figureheads for their wartime guidance and expansion of social services, the ALP would find itself out of office for the next 23 years. The ALP finally took office again in 1972 with erudite former barrister Gough Whitlam leading
the party towards a more modern and progressive future. Whitlam made university free, introduced a universal health system in Medibank (now Medicare), ended conscription and abolished the death penalty. Then Governor-General John Kerr famously dismissed Whitlam in 1975 when the opposition-controlled Senate denied passage of supply bills. The ALP would come back to government in 1983 with Bob Hawke at the helm, and go on to win the next four elections. When Hawke’s successor Paul Keating lost the 1996 election, it would conclude the longest ever period of Labor incumbency. Hawke and Keating are known for radically transforming the Australian economy through the liberalisation of overseas trade, deregulation of finance and banking, and the privatisation of state controlled industries and services. Many in the labour movement felt the policies betrayed the basic principles of the party, while others accepted them as a necessary response to changed global conditions and in line with the party’s more general commitment to change. At the same time Hawke and Keating reintroduced Medicare, recognised native title, introduced compulsory superannuation contributions, and provided extensive but targeted welfare benefits. After John Howard’s extended reign, Kevin Rudd brought hope to the Labor faithful when he won the 2007 election. Notably, he apologised to the stolen generation, began work
on the National Broadband Network, abandoned some of Howard’s unpopular WorkChoices reforms, and introduced a Keynesian-style stimulus package to avert the effects of the global financial crisis. Julia Gillard led the party after replacing him in 2010, focusing primarily on education and care for the disabled, but was challenged to the leadership by Rudd in June. There is constant debate within the Labor Party between various factions about whether it should focus purely on the plight of workers, or be an agent of progressive social reform. The short: The ALP is a social-democratic party, in that they promote an active role for government in rectifying economic and social inequality. They believe that to a practical extent the amenities of life should be available to all, regardless of wealth or income. Share of vote at last election: 38 per cent. Consider voting for the Labor Party if: You want to see government schools receive more funding; you want the fastest broadband available; you want the carbon price to stay; you think unions have the right to fight for workers’ best interests. The Liberal and National Parties (LNP, The Coalition)The long: Liberal political parties have existed in Australia since the very early twentieth century. The Commonwealth Liberal Party (CLP), formed by Alfred Deakin in 1909, was an alliance of the Free Trade Party and the Protectionist Party to combat the growing power of the ALP. The CLP would merge with Labor defectors to become the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1917, and would later combine with more defectors to become the United Australia Party in 1931. The modern Liberal Party was formed in 1944 when Robert Menzies called together a conference with the goal of presenting an alternative to the ALP, but it wouldn’t govern at the Federal level until 1949. Menzies is Australia’s longest serving prime minister, governing from 1949 to 1966, and is a much revered figure in Australian politics. He steered the country through the post-war boom, ending the rationing of tea, petrol and butter, and signing the still strong ANZUS Treaty with New Zealand and United States in 1951. He continued the immigration programs of the previous Labor government, furthered the legal rights of Indigenous people, and took steps towards ending the white Australia policy. Menzies’s Liberal Party was not intended to be a conservative one, and he was a pragmatist when it came to economic policy. However, under the stewardship of former Prime Minister John Howard (1996-2007) the party’s polices became steadily more conservative. It must also be noted Howard challenged many conservative voters (and Coalition partner the National Party’s country constituents) by introducing strict gun control regulation following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre. As opposed to the ALP, where policy direction ostensibly comes from rank and file members, in the Liberal Party the leader controls much of the agenda. The party does not impose party discipline as it is against the ethos of liberalism, but in reality members are not always free to vote as they please. As the leader wields considerable power over policy, the party’s fortunes are often attached to their performance and popularity. While the ALP’s leadership issues are well known, the Liberal Party has also experienced periods of turbulence. Between 1983 and 1995, the leadership of the party changed five times: from Andrew Peacock to John Howard; Howard to Peacock; Peacock to John Hewson; Hewson to Alexander Downer; and Downer back to Howard. Since Howard lost the 2007 election to Kevin Rudd, the Liberal Party has had three different leaders. The Liberal Party is not without its own internal divisions: the ‘dries’ embrace the radical economic liberalism known as neoliberalism, while the ‘wets’ favour a somewhat gentler and less market oriented vision of liberalism, sometimes called social-liberalism. This divide was clearly articulated in the budget battles between prime minister Malcolm Fraser (1975-1983) and his then deputy and treasurer Howard. The Country Party was formed in 1920, and was largely an alliance of organisations representing primary producers. As part of a plan to expand into urban areas the party changed its name to the National Party in 1975. The Nationals’ main political role is to further the interests of rural people, and while they favour private enterprise the Nationals are strong advocates of government subsidies for rural interests and the further provision of government services to country dwellers. They are often very socially conservative, with a strong grounding in Christianity and a belief in family values. Its most famous member is undoubtedly Joh Bjelke-Peterson; the long serving, controversial Queensland premier who created what many considered a police state while also being accused of corruption. The National Party and the Liberal Party have formed strong coalitions at both state and federal levels, but their level of commitment has varied considerably. The short: The Liberal Party is a liberal party, in that they emphasise the practical and moral value of individual freedom, individual responsibilities, and property rights. They believe the government should not interfere in the exchange and redistribution of wealth unless absolutely necessary. Along with the National Party, they have a tendency towards conservatism, in that they place importance on the protection of the family unit, social order and traditional institutions. Share of vote at last election: 44 per cent. Consider voting for the Liberal National Party if: You want the carbon taxed scrapped; you think workers have too much power; you think business is over-regulated and over-taxed; you have a traditional idea of the family unit; you think paid parental leave should be more generous. The Australian GreensThe long: The first green party in the world was formed in Australia in 1972. Named the United Tasmania Group, its primary aim was to block the flooding of Lake Pedder in south-west Tasmania. The campaign failed, but further efforts to save the Franklin River drew on these early experiences. In 1992 the Australian Greens were formed when various atomised green groups agreed to a political alliance. The Greens took their name from the green bans and blockades imposed on a number of developments by the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in the 1970s. The Greens retain links to a number of activist groups, and many of these are the source of party membership. There are currently 24 elected members in State and Territory parliaments, plus over 100 local councilors. The Greens generally have more success in the upper house as voting is proportional rather than preferential, meaning a candidate does not need an absolute majority to win. Internally, the Greens are strongly democratic in nature with members having a large say in policy. Politically, the Greens are at times hard to situate. Political thought generally views nature as an economic resource, and something to exploit. However, environmentalism and parties like the Greens have worked to change this thinking. For some, mistreating nature is a threat to the survival of the species, while for others it is simply about having respect for the intrinsic value of nature itself. The Greens are sometimes criticised for being a single-issue party, but paradoxically are criticised by some hardliners for broadening their agenda too much. In order to expand their base, the Greens now have fleshed-out policies in a number of areas. The Greens’ most well known figure is former leader Bob Brown, a committed activist who campaigned against the flooding of Lake Pedder in the 1970s. After the hung election of 2010, the Greens (with a handful of Independents) agreed to support the Labor Party in forming a minority government. The short: The Greens are a green party, in that they aim to create an ecologically sustainable society based on environmentalism, social justice, and grassroots democracy. They have a firm belief in peace, non-violence and social progress. Their policies are strongly social-democratic in nature. Share of vote at last election: 12 per cent. Consider voting for the Greens if: You think other parties neglect the environment; you think the Newstart allowance should be increased; you think the wealth created by mining should be shared more equally. WikiLeaks Party Julian Assange, the famous publisher of classified documents and creator of the WikiLeaks website, founded the WikiLeaks Party in 2013. The party’s constitution describes their goal as protecting human rights and freedoms, promoting and providing factual information, encouraging government transparency and accountability, equality, and supporting the rights of Indigenous Australians to determine their future. Assange has signaled his intention to run for an Australian Senate position in the 2013 election. Consider voting for if: You think governments should be more accountable and transparent; you feel strongly about internet privacy and freedom. Katter’s Australian Party Formerly a charismatic and popular Queensland independent, Bob Katter founded his own political party in 2011. The party contested 76 seats in the 2012 Queensland state election, winning two of them. The Katter Party’s policies are generally protectionist, in that they attempt to shield local industries (and especially agrarian interests) from foreign competition and investment. They want to break up corporate monopolies, increase customs duties on imports, ensure government spends their money on local goods and services, and halt the privatisation of public assets. The party’s social policies are conservative in nature, and they strongly oppose same-sex marriage. Consider voting for if: You think too many Australian jobs are going overseas; you think local business suffers because of cheap imports. The Australian Sex Party Another newbie on the political scene, the Sex Party are a libertarian group who are largely concerned with individual rights and freedoms, especially those related to pornography, recreational drugs, same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, and reproduction. Libertarian parties believe citizens have the right to live their life as they choose, and government intervention in personal affairs should be minimal. Consider voting for if: You think responsible adults should be completely free to choose how they live, and sometimes end, their lives. Also check out the conservative Family First Party, the rather whacky Rise Up Australia!, the left-wing Socialist Party, and of course the famous Palmer United Party.Independents There are independents from the entire spectrum of political ideologies, so research your local ones if you’re unhappy with other options. Many people who are disillusioned with major parties choose to back these candidates. As we saw following the 2010 election, independents can wield huge influence in a tightly contested parliament. Andrei Ghoukassian
Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!