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Politics Explainer: Australia's political parties

A while back, we discussed the differences between the ‘political left’ and the ‘political right’. Here’s how they apply in Australia.




So, what is a political party?


Essentially, a political party is an organisation that represents a particular group of people or a set of ideas. The main aim of political parties is to get their members elected to Parliament so that they can influence the way Australia is governed.


The beliefs of a party are expressed in a document called a party constitution.


It is important to note that even within political parties, there are different sub-groups, or factions (yes, like in Divergent) which differ slightly in what they believe. In the past, this has led to significant in-party conflict.



Australia’s two main political parties – Labor (note the spelling is Labor, not Labour!) and Liberal – are generally regarded as centrist. In other words, they’re neither on the far right nor the far left of the political spectrum.


Australian Labor Party


The Australian Labor Party is the oldest political party in Australia, formed in the 1890s. It originated from the trade union movement (trade unions are organisations formed to protect the rights and improve the labour conditions of the working class). It’s the more left-leaning of the two major parties.


Socially, the ALP is progressive, meaning it supports policies of change. Recently, the ALP has strongly supported same sex marriage, the Safe Schools Program, abortion and environmental policies to counteract climate change.


The ALP prioritises the creation of an equal society. It tends to support greater social spending than the Liberal Party (think: healthcare, education and unemployment benefits). The ALP also supports higher taxes for high-income earners to fund all this.  


As you could probably guess, the main support base of the ALP comes from working-class and middle-class Australians living in urban areas.


Bill Shorten is the current leader of the Labor Party, and the federal opposition minister, since the ALP does not have a majority in the House of Representatives. 


Liberal Party of Australia


The Liberal Party of Australia was formed in 1944 by Robert Menzies (who, by the way, was the longest serving Australian Prime Minister).


If the ALP is considered politically ‘centre-left’, then you can think of the Liberal Party as ‘centre-right’.


Economically, this means that the Liberal Party supports small government. They encourage free market operations, with as little government intervention as possible in business activity. The Liberal Party believes that the effects of economic growth from businesses will “trickle down” to lower income earners too, and boost overall living standards in Australia.


Socially, the Liberal Party is regarded as conservative (i.e. more resistant to change). In saying that, their recent social policy stances have been remarkably similar to that of the ALP, supporting same sex marriage, abortion, offshore processing of asylum seekers, and the legalisation of medicinal marijuana.


However, the Liberal Party does maintain some key differences from the ALP. For one thing, the Liberal Party places a strong emphasis on national defence. Moreover, it has a tougher immigration policy than Labor (e.g. they’ve allowed fewer migrants into Australia).


Considering all these factors, it makes sense that the Liberal Party has traditionally been supported by middle and high-income earners living in urban areas.


Scott Morrison is the current leader of the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister of Australia, replacing Malcolm Turnbull following the leadership spill in August of this year.


 Every Australian leadership spill, ever 



National Party of Australia


The National Party of Australia represents rural Australians, and was formed in the 1920s (back then, it was called the Australian Country Party).



It’s not hard to guess that The Nats, as they’re commonly known, support stronger regional communities, rural jobs and opportunities for Indigenous Australians. Given that a lot of Australia’s trade is in agricultural goods and commodities (like iron ore, coal and natural gas), it makes sense that the Nationals have an important voice in Australian government.


Michael McCormack is the current leader of the National Party, following the resignation of Barnaby Joyce in February of this year, which is a whole new can of worms (read: scandal).


So, what do people mean when they say we have a ‘Coalition government’? Essentially, a Coalition is formed when multiple parties agree to cooperate, because alone they can’t secure enough seats to form government. In Australia, the Liberal Party and the Nationals have formed a long-term Coalition. Since they are currently in power, we have a Coalition government.



Australian Greens


In the 1970s, ‘green’ politics emerged across the Western world. Essentially, it resulted in parties that strongly emphasised protecting the environment in light of growing evidence of climate change and resource depletion. The Australian Greens were formed against this backdrop in 1992.


The Greens are a left-wing party that supports big government and socially progressive policy. Like the Labor Party, the Greens support increasing the taxes of the wealthy and increasing social welfare payments.

In recent times, the Greens have supported greater asylum seeker intake, opposed offshore detention, supported the legalisation of recreational marijuana and advocated for pill testing at festivals.


The Greens, currently led by Richard di Natale, are mostly supported by the urban middle class.  



So there you have it – Australia’s main political parties in a (rather large) nutshell. Stay tuned to find out more about the main political parties in the US!






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