Parliament before political parties

Although Parliament began in 1857, no political parties emerged until the 1890s. For 36 years, governments were formed by influential individuals who could gather a group of colleagues around them.


This system was very unstable - South Australia had 47 governments in 36 years Although this was a feature of parliaments in all the Australian colonies, South Australia’s was thought to be one of the worst.

Faction Controlled

Until the 1880s, differences between the factions that formed government were not about policies, mainly because most politicians throughout those years were in agreement about what needed to be done for the State. Instead, groupings formed mainly on the basis of the influence of individual politicians.

Liberals Vs Conservatives

In the 1880s, longer lasting factions began to emerge as real differences in political opinions developed.

The two major groups began to be called “liberals” and “conservatives”. Their members did not belong to any formal political party, but shared similar political views.

At this time, “liberals” were the group seeking some major areas of political and social change, while the “conservatives” were the group opposing what they saw as dangerous and unnecessary ideas.

See: The emergence of political parties

Party Politics: Unified and Coherent?

Major political parties are often depicted as unified and coherent bodies of thought, in practice this is most unusual. Electorally successful political parties are broad churches of conflicting, sometimes contradictory, interests and ideologies.

They are divided internally with contending factions of competing interests, political theories, and worldviews. Behind their facades of unity, there are significant differences of opinion within all of the major political parties in Australia.

Minor Differences in Party Policy

Major parties often exagerate their differences to appeal to voters, because they are both broad churches, they tend to have more in common with each other than areas of disagreement. Furthermore, the policies and priorities of both parties are constantly evolving.

The Labor Party of today is markedly different to the past Labor Parties of Whitlam, Chifley, Scullin and Fisher. Similarly, the Liberal Party of today differs to the non-Labor parties of Fraser, Menzies, Lyons, Hughes, and Deakin.

See: The Australian party system

Political Parties Unmasked?

“A political party, in fact, and in experience, is a device or mechanism designed to enable manipulators, either elected or non-elected, to obtain and exercise the maximum direct control over the destiny of the people, clichés notwithstanding, in accordance with the will of the manipulators and controllers.”

Source: Arthur A. Chresby © 1979 (Research Analyst in Constitutional Law)

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