Political Parties

Political parties and the Parliament

Independent members

Coalitions

Parties today

Historical perspective

Factions

Political parties

 

Political parties and the Parliament

A political party is a group of people united by political opinion whose purpose is to promote the election of a member of the party to Parliament.  In Victoria political parties must:

  • Have a constitution
  • Have the support of at least 500 people who are on the electoral roll
  • Be registered with the Victorian Electoral Commission.

These rules are set out in the Electoral Act 2002.  A parliamentary party is made up of members of Parliament who are members of the same political party.

Independent members

Members of Parliament do not need to be a member of a political party; these members are called independent members.

Coalitions

Government is formed by the party which has the most number of seats in the Legislative Assembly. Sometimes, in order to achieve this, two or more parties might join together to form a coalition.

Parties which form a coalition work together while retaining their individual identity. They usually have some common goals or a similar underlying philosophy. In Victoria 'The Coalition' usually refers to the formal partnership between the Liberal Party and The Nationals.

Parties today

There are currently eight political parties represented in the Parliament of Victoria. These are the:

  • Australian Labor Party (ALP), which holds the largest number of seats in the Legislative Assembly and therefore forms the Government;
  • Liberal Party of Australia, which, in coalition with the Nationals, has the largest number of seats in the Assembly outside of the Government and therefore forms the Opposition;
  • National Party of Australia, which is in coalition with the Liberal Party to form the Opposition;
  • Australian Greens, which secured its first three seats in the Legislative Council in 2006, and gained seats in both the Assembly and the Council in 2014;
  • Shooters and Fishers Party Victoria, which secured its first two seats in the Council in 2014;
  • Australian Sex Party, which first secured a Council seat in 2014;
  • Democratic Labour Party (DLP), which currently has one seat in the Council; and
  • Vote 1 Local Jobs, which first secured a Council seat in 2014.

There is also one independent member in the Assembly.

Historical perspective

Political parties were not formed in Victoria until the 1890s. Before that time members grouped into temporary coalitions or factions. The change from factional to party politics and the subsequent evolution of the various political parties significantly altered the character of the Parliament of Victoria.  The following chart illustrates the development of political parties in Victoria: [return to top]

party-history

Factions

Colonial parliamentarians were usually identified as following one of three political value systems: conservative; liberal; radical/democrat. These beliefs were not strongly held or discussed. Rather they were broad descriptions. Within these broad belief systems, members would group together into factions to achieve specific political goals.

Members were especially eager to gain benefits for their electorates. Accordingly, they would agree to vote for or against particular government or opposition measures in return for being guaranteed support for their own initiatives (a school, a survey, or a railway line). Once a particular objective had been won, then the faction might collapse and new temporary alliances would be formed. This made colonial politics remarkably unstable as is seen, for example, by the fact that the government changed 29 times between 1856 and 1901.

The alternative to joining a faction was to serve as an unaligned member, or independent. Some members saw this as a parliamentary ideal and refused to associate with any factions or groups: they saw political parties as being contrary to the spirit of Parliament.

Political parties

During the McCulloch Governments of the 1860s, and the Berry administrations of the 1870s, the foundations of party politics were laid in Victoria.  Groups of members met privately to decide on political strategies or parliamentary tactics, and received financial and political assistance from bodies and organisations outside the Parliament.

In the 1890s, however, members were elected as representatives of an organised Labor movement. This change was confirmed in 1901 when certain conditions were imposed on Labor Party members by the administrative arm of the party. Members took a pledge to support Labor policy, voted in blocs, always espoused party policies and opposed other factions and groups on party lines. Although regional interests and personality still played important parts, party politics and party discipline had now been introduced to the parliamentary chambers.

Gradually other parties emerged (see chart above) until by the 1920s there were three distinct orientations: labour, liberal, and country. The effect was gradually to stabilise parliamentary behaviour. Parliamentarians learned the political benefits of always voting along strict party lines. As a result, elections and members' voting patterns became less susceptible to temporary alliances and more determined by party discipline.

This trend is evident in the recent history of the Parliament. From 1856 to 1955, Government changed hands 61 times. In the next 50years there were just four changes. [return to top]