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The Coalition in Australian politics refers to a group of centre-right parties that has existed in the form of a coalition agreement since 1922. The Coalition partners are the Liberal Party of Australia (or its predecessors before 1945) and the National Party of Australia (known as the Australian Country Party from 1921-1975 and the National Country Party of Australia from 1975-1982); although this includes merged versions of these parties in the Northern Territorymarker and Queenslandmarker. The Coalition's main rival for government is invariably the centre-left Australian Labor Party.

Except for Queensland, the Liberal party has almost always been the stronger Coalition partner, so it is the Liberal leader who usually becomes the Prime Minister or Premier if the parties win government.

Coalition Status

The status of the Coalition varies across the Commonwealth and States. Below is the status of each State on a State by State basis.

At the Federal level, there is a Coalition between the Liberals, Nationals and Country Liberal Party. This was briefly broken in 1987, but was renewed after the 1987 federal election. In September 2008, Barnaby Joyce became leader of the Nationals in the Senate, with the party moving to the crossbenches. Joyce stated that his party in the upper house would no longer necessarily vote with their Liberal counterparts.



  • Victoria: a Coalition has existed in the past. It was broken after the parties lost government at the Victorian state election, 1999 the two parties usually in hung Parliament situations form a Coalition.


  • Queensland: is the only state in which the Nationals have traditionally been the stronger coalition partner. The Nationals under Joh Bjelke-Petersen broke the Coalition in the 1980s and governed in their own right from 1983 to 1989, but governed in Coalition under Rob Borbidge from 1996 to 1998. In 2008, the parties agreed to merge, forming the Liberal National Party.




  • South Australia: The two parties merged to form the Liberal and Country League in 1932. This in turn joined the Liberal party in 1973, and a separate Country Party (later National Party) emerged, which has only ever had two representatives: Peter Blacker from 1973 to 1993, and Karlene Maywald since 1997. Since, 2004, Maywald been a Minister in the Rann Labor Government, informally creating a coalition between the ALP and the National Party at South Australia's State level of Government. The National Party, however, rejects the notion that it's in a coalition with Labor at the State level. State National Party President John Venus told journalists that: "We (The Nationals) are not in coalition with the Labor Party, we aren't in coalition with the Liberals, we are definitely not in coalition with anyone. We stand alone in South Australia as an independent party." Flinders University political scientist Haydon Manning disagrees, saying that it is "churlish to describe the government as anything but a coalition".


  • Tasmania: The National Party is not organised in Tasmaniamarker.




Background

Coalition arrangements are facilitated by Australia's preferential voting systems which enable Liberals and Nationals to compete locally while exchanging preferences in elections, thereby avoiding "three-cornered-contests", usually with the Australian Labor Party (ALP), which would weaken their prospects under first past the post voting. From time to time, friction is caused by the fact that the Liberal and National candidates are campaigning against each other, usually without undue long-term damage to the relationship.

Indeed, the whole point of introducing preferential voting was to allow safe spoiler-free three-cornered contests. It was a government of the forerunner to the modern Liberal party that introduced the necessary legislation, after Labor won the 1918 Swan by-election after the conservative vote was split in two. Two months later, a by-election held under preferential voting caused the initially-leading ALP candidate to lose after some lower-placed candidates' preferences had been distributed.

As a result of variations on the preferential voting system used in every state and territory, the Coalition has been able to thrive, wherever both its member parties have both been active. The preferential voting system has allowed the Liberal and National parties to compete and cooperate at the same time. By contrast, a variation of the preferential system known as Optional Preferential Voting has proven a significant handicap to coalition co-operation in Queenslandmarker and New South Walesmarker, because significant numbers of voters don't bother to express all useful preferences.

Liberal/National Merger

Merger plans came to a head in May 2008, when the Queensland state Liberal Party gave an announcement not to wait for a federal blueprint but instead to merge now. The new party, the "Liberal-National Party", has a self-imposed deadline of late July for party registration.

Terminology

For the sake of convenience, most commentators and the general public use the term "two-party" given the traditional arrangement. Surveys conducted on a two-party-preferred-vote basis refer to a comparison of Labor and the Coalition.

References

  1. The Nationals - An Introduction, National Party Document, p.12
  2. Nationals won't toe Libs' line: Joyce - SMH 18/9/2008
  3. Leader Barnaby Joyce still a maverick: The Australian 18/9/2008
  4. Barnaby elected Nationals Senate leader: ABC AM 18/9/2008
  5. SA Govt recruits National Party MP: ABC PM 23/7/2004
  6. A conservative marriage | The Courier-Mail


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