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Factions and Parties

 

POLITICAL PARTIES were not formed in Victoria until the 1890s. Before that time Members grouped into temporary coalitions or factions.

A Chart showing the evolution of political parties is available.

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.

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. This is now called 'localism'. 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 this 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 MPs 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 localism 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) 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 voting patterns in the legislative chambers 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. Since 1956 there have been just three changes.

The longest serving administration so far in Victorian history was the 61st Ministry led by Sir Henry Edward Bolte, GCMG, of the Liberal Party. He held office for 6,288 days.

There are currently five political parties represented in the Parliament of Victoria. These are the Australian Labor Party, which holds the majority of Lower House seats and hence also holds Government. There is the Liberal Party of Australia, which forms the second largest group in the Legislative Assembly, and thereby forms the official Opposition. There is also the National Party of Australia (previously the Country Party) and the newly represented Greens Party, which secured their first three seats in the upper house along with the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) which secured a single seat in the same house at the 2006 election.

There is currently only one Independent Member, Craig Ingram in the lower house.

Further Reading

Hay, P. R., Halligan, J., Warhurst, J., and Costar, B. (eds), Essays on Victorian Politics, Warrnambool Institute Press, Warrnambool, 1985.

Loveday, P., Martin, A. W., and Parker, R. S., (eds), The Emergence of the Australian Party System, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1977.

 

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