On 31 August 1945, the Liberal Party of Australia was founded by Robert Menzies.
The Liberal Party of Australia is a major centre-right political party in Australia, one of the two major parties in Australian politics, along with the centre-left Australian Labor Party. It was founded in 1944 as the successor to the United Australia Party.
The Liberal Party is the largest and dominant party in the Coalition with the National Party of Australia. Except for a few short periods, the Liberal Party and its predecessors have operated in similar coalitions at federal level since the 1920s.
The party’s leader is Scott Morrison, the incumbent prime minister, and its deputy leader is Josh Frydenberg. The pair were elected to their positions at the August 2018 Liberal leadership ballot, with Morrison and Frydenberg replacing Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop respectively.
The Coalition has been in power since the 2013 federal election, forming the Abbott (2013–2015), Turnbull (2015–2018) and Morrison Governments.
The Liberal Party has a federal structure, with autonomous divisions in all six states and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The Country Liberal Party (CLP) of the Northern Territory is an affiliate. Both the CLP and the Liberal National Party (LNP), the Queensland state division, were formed through mergers of the local Liberal and National parties.
At state and territory level, the Liberal Party is in office in three states: New South Wales since 2011, Tasmania since 2014 and South Australia since 2018. The party is in opposition in the states of Victoria, Queensland, and in both the ACT and Northern Territory, and sit on the crossbench in Western Australia.
The party’s ideology has been referred to as conservative, liberal-conservative, conservative-liberal, and classical liberal. The Liberal Party tends to promote economic liberalism (which in the Australian usage refers to free markets and small government), and social conservatism.
Two past leaders of the party, Sir Robert Menzies and John Howard, are Australia’s two longest-serving Prime Ministers.
The Liberals’ immediate predecessor was the United Australia Party (UAP). More broadly, the Liberal Party’s ideological ancestry stretched back to the anti-Labor groupings in the first Commonwealth parliaments.
The Commonwealth Liberal Party was a fusion of the Free Trade (Anti-socialist) Party and the Protectionist Party in 1909 by the second prime minister, Alfred Deakin, in response to Labor’s growing electoral prominence.
The Commonwealth Liberal Party merged with several Labor dissidents (including Billy Hughes) to form the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1917. That party, in turn, merged with Labor dissidents to form the UAP in 1931.
The UAP had been formed as a new conservative alliance in 1931, with Labor defector Joseph Lyons as its leader. The stance of Lyons and other Labor rebels against the more radical proposals of the Labor movement to deal the Great Depression had attracted the support of prominent Australian conservatives.
With Australia still suffering the effects of the Great Depression, the newly formed party won a landslide victory at the 1931 Election, and the Lyons Government went on to win three consecutive elections. It largely avoided Keynesian pump-priming and pursued a more conservative fiscal policy of debt reduction and balanced budgets as a means of stewarding Australia out of the Depression.
Lyons’ death in 1939 saw Robert Menzies assume the Prime Ministership on the eve of war. Menzies served as Prime Minister from 1939 to 1941 but resigned as leader of the minority World War II government amidst an unworkable parliamentary majority.
The UAP, led by Billy Hughes, disintegrated after suffering a heavy defeat in the 1943 election. In New South Wales, the party merged with the Commonwealth Party to form the Democratic Party, In Queensland the state party was absorbed into the Queensland People’s Party.
From 1942 onward Menzies had maintained his public profile with his series of “The Forgotten People” radio talks—similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” of the 1930s—in which he spoke of the middle class as the “backbone of Australia” but as nevertheless having been “taken for granted” by political parties.
Menzies called a conference of conservative parties and other groups opposed to the ruling Australian Labor Party, which met in Canberra on 13 October 1944 and again in Albury, New South Wales in December 1944. Outlining his vision for a new political movement, Menzies said:
… [W]hat we must look for, and it is a matter of desperate importance to our society, is a true revival of liberal thought which will work for social justice and security, for national power and national progress, and for the full development of the individual citizen, though not through the dull and deadening process of socialism.— Robert Menzies
The formation of the party was formally announced at Sydney Town Hall on 31 August 1945. It took the name “Liberal” in honour of the old Commonwealth Liberal Party. The new party was dominated by the remains of the old UAP; with few exceptions, the UAP party room became the Liberal party room.
The Australian Women’s National League, a powerful conservative women’s organisation, also merged with the new party. A conservative youth group Menzies had set up, the Young Nationalists, was also merged into the new party. It became the nucleus of the Liberal Party’s youth division, the Young Liberals.
By September 1945 there were more than 90,000 members, many of whom had not previously been members of any political party.
In New South Wales, the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party replaced the Liberal Democratic Party and Democratic Party between January and April 1945. In Queensland, the Queensland People’s Party did not become part of the Liberal Party until July 1949, when it became the Queensland division of the Liberal Party.
The Liberal Party’s organisation is dominated by the six state divisions, reflecting the party’s original commitment to a federalised system of government (a commitment which was strongly maintained by all Liberal governments bar the Gorton government until 1983, but was to a large extent abandoned by the Howard Government, which showed strong centralising tendencies).
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, although Liberal party members do have a degree of influence over party policy.
The Liberal Party’s basic organisational unit is the branch, which consists of party members in a particular locality. For each electorate there is a conference—notionally above the branches—which coordinates campaigning in the electorate and regularly communicates with the member (or candidate) for the electorate. As there are three levels of government in Australia, each branch elects delegates to a local, state, and federal conference.
All the branches in an Australian state are grouped into a Division. The ruling body for the Division is a State Council. There is also one Federal Council which represents the entire organisational Liberal Party in Australia. Branch executives are delegates to the Councils ex-officio and additional delegates are elected by branches, depending on their size.
Preselection of electoral candidates is performed by a special electoral college convened for the purpose. Membership of the electoral college consists of head office delegates, branch officers, and elected delegates from branches.
For the 2015–2016 financial year, the top ten disclosed donors to the Liberal Party were: Paul Marks (Nimrod resources) ($1,300,000), Pratt Holdings ($790,000), Hong Kong Kingson Investment Company ($710,000), Aus Gold Mining Group ($410,000), Village Roadshow ($325,000), Waratah Group ($300,000), Walker Corporation ($225,000), Australian Gypsum Industries ($196,000), National Automotive Leasing and Salary Packaging Association ($177,000) and Westfield Corporation ($150,000).
The Liberal Party also receives undisclosed funding through several methods, such as “associated entities”. Cormack Foundation, Eight by Five, Free Enterprise Foundation, Federal Forum and Northern Sydney Conservative forum are entities which have been used to funnel donations to the Liberal Party without disclosing the source.