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The National Party of Australia is an Australian political party.

Traditionally representing rural voters, it was originally called the Country Party, but adopted the name National Country Party in 1975 and changed to its present name in 1982. Federally, in New South Wales, and to an extent Victoria, it has generally been the minor party in the traditional coalition with the Liberal Party of Australia in government and in opposition since the 1940s, and the UAP/NPA since the 1920s, against the Australian Labor Party. However, it was the major coalition party in Queensland between 1957 and 2008, when it merged with the junior partner, the Queensland Division of the Liberal Party of Australia to form the Liberal National Party - an organisation dominated by ex-Nationals. Since 2008 under the Senate leadership of Barnaby Joyce, the party has moved to the crossbenches and has indicated it will be voting independently of their Liberal counterparts.

In 2003 the party adopted the name The Nationals for campaigning purposes, reflecting common usage, but its legal name has not changed.

The party's federal parliamentary leader since 3 December 2007, following the coalition's defeat at the 2007 federal election, is Warren Truss.


The Country Party was formally founded in 1913 in Western Australia, and nationally in 1920 from a number of state-based parties such as the Victorian Farmers Union (VFU) and the Farmers and Settlers Party of New South Walesmarker. It was formed by small farmers, particularly wheat-growers, dissatisfied with the economic policies of the Nationalist Party government of Billy Hughes. Many returned servicemen from World War I had been allocated land grants after the war, and some of these were former trade unionists who adapted union tactics to the cause of small farmers.

The VFU won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1918, and at the 1919 federal election the state-based country parties won seats in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. They also began to win seats in the state parliaments. In 1920 the Country Party was established as a national party led by William McWilliams from Tasmania. In his first speech as leader, McWilliams laid out the principles of the new party, stating "we crave no alliance, we spurn no support but we intend drastic action to secure closer attention to the needs of primary producers" McWilliams was deposed as party leader in favour of Dr Earle Page in April 1921 following instances where McWilliams voted against the party line. McWilliams would later leave the Country Party to sit as an Independent.

At the 1922 election, it won enough seats to deny the Nationalists an overall majority, and became the only realistic coalition partner for the Nationalists. However, Page let it be known that his party would not serve under Hughes, and forced his resignation. Page then entered negotiations with the Nationalists' new leader, Stanley Bruce, for a coalition government. However, Page's terms were stiff—five seats in a Cabinet of 11, including the Treasurer portfolio and the second rank in the ministry for himself. Nonetheless, Bruce readily agreed, and the "Bruce-Page Ministry" was formed—thus beginning the tradition of the party's leader ranking second in Coalition cabinets.

Bruce and Page worked effectively together until they were soundly defeated in October 1929. However, when the conservative forces were re-organised in 1931 Page refused to merge the Country Party into the new United Australia Party (UAP). As a consequence the Country Party was excluded from government when the UAP was returned to office with a parliamentary majority in its own right in early 1932. Page's relationship with the UAP was much less harmonious than it had been with the Nationalists in the 1920s. Nonetheless when the UAP lost its parliamentary majority in 1934 a coalition was patched up.

In 1932, the South Australian state branch, which had fallen victim to internal divisions, merged with the Liberal Federation, forming the Liberal and Country League, a coalition that lasted until a new division of the Country Party was established in that state in 1964.

Page remained dominant in the party until 1939 and briefly served as an interim Prime Minister between the death of Joseph Lyons and the election of Robert Menzies as his successor, but Page's refusal to serve under Menzies led to his resignation as leader. The coalition was re-formed under Archie Cameron in 1940, and continued until October 1941 despite the election of Arthur Fadden as leader after the 1940 Election. Fadden was well regarded within conservative circles and proved to be a loyal deputy to Menzies in the difficult circumstances of 1941. When Menzies was forced to resign as Prime Minister, Fadden briefly replaced him as Prime Minister (despite the Country Party being the junior partner in the governing coalition). However, the two independents who had been propping up the government rejected Fadden's budget and brought the government down.

Fadden stood down in favour of Labor leader John Curtin and continued as leader of the Opposition until the formation of the Liberal Party of Australia in 1945. After the 1946 election, Fadden resumed his political partnership with Robert Menzies, though still keen to assert the independence of his party. Indeed, in the lead up to the 1949 federal election, Fadden played a key role in the defeat of the Chifley Labor government, frequently making inflammatory claims about the "socialist" nature of the Labor Party which Menzies could then "clarify" or repudiate as he saw fit, thus appearing more "moderate". In 1949 Arthur Fadden became Treasurer in the second Menzies government, and remained so until his retirement in 1958. His successful partnership with Menzies was one of the elements that sustained the coalition, which remained in office until 1972 (Menzies himself retired in 1966).

Fadden's successor, Trade Minister John McEwen, took the then unusual step of declining to serve as Treasurer, believing he could better ensure that the interests of Australian primary producers were safeguarded. Accordingly McEwen personally supervised the signing of the first post-war trade treaty with Japan, new trade agreements with New Zealand and Britain, and Australia's first trade agreement with the USSR (1965). In addition to this he insisted on developing an all encompassing system of tariff protection that would encourage the development of those secondary industries that would "value add" Australia's primary produce. His success in this endeavour is sometimes dubbed "McEwenism". This was the period of the Country Party's greatest power, as was demonstrated in 1962 when McEwen was able to insist that Menzies sack a Liberal Minister who claimed that Britain's entry into the European Economic Community was unlikely to severely impact on the Australian economy as a whole.

Menzies retired in 1966 and was succeeded by Harold Holtmarker. After Holt disappeared in December 1967, McEwen blocked the succession of William McMahon by saying that he and his party would not serve under him. As a result, John Gorton became the new Liberal Prime Minister in January 1968. McEwen was sworn in as an interim Prime Minister pending the election of the new Liberal leader. It would be only after McEwen announced his retirement that MacMahon would be able to successfully challenge Gorton for the Liberal leadership. McEwen's reputation for political toughness led to him being nicknamed "Black Jack" by his allies and enemies alike.

At the state level from 1957 to 1989 the Country Party under Frank Nicklin and Joh Bjelke-Petersen dominated governments in Queenslandmarker. It also took part in governments in New South Wales, Victoria, and Western Australia.

However, successive electoral redistributions after 1964 indicated that the Country Party was losing ground electorally to the Liberals as the rural population declined, and the nature of some parliamentary seats on the urban/rural fringe changed. A proposed merger with the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) under the banner of "National Alliance" was rejected when it failed to find favour with voters at the 1974 state election.

Also in 1974, the Northern Territorymarker members of the party joined with its Liberal party members to form the independent Country Liberal Party. This party continues to represent both parent parties in that territory. A separate party, the Joh-inspired NT Nationals, competed in the 1987 election with former Chief Minister Ian Tuxworth winning his seat of Barkly by a small margin. However, this splinter group were not endorsed by the national executive, and soon disappeared from the political scene.

In 1975 the Country Party changed its name to the National Country Party as part of a strategy to expand into urban areas. This had some success in Queensland under Bjelke-Petersen, but nowhere else. In Western Australia, the party publicly walked out of the coalition agreement in Western Australia in May 1975, to return in 1976. However, the party split in two over the decision in late 1978, with a new National Party forming and becoming independent, holding three seats in the Western Australian lower house, while the National Country Party remained in coalition and also held three seats. They reconciled after the Burke Labor government came to power in 1983.

The 1980s were dominated by the feud between Bjelke-Petersen and the federal party leadership, which led to defeat at the 1987 federal election and the fall of the Nationals in Queensland in 1989. The Nationals experienced difficulties in the late 1990s from two fronts - firstly from the Liberal Party, who were winning seats on the basis that the Nationals were not seen to be a sufficiently separate party, and from the One Nation Party riding a swell of rural discontent with many of the policies such as multiculturalism and gun control embraced by all of the major parties. The rise of Labor in formerly safe National-held areas in rural Queensland, particularly on the coast, has been the biggest threat to the Queensland Nationals.

State parties

The continued success of the Australian Labor Party at a state level has put pressure on the Nationals' links with the Liberal Party, their traditional coalition partner. In most states, the Coalition agreement is not in force when the parties are in opposition, allowing the two parties greater freedom of action.

Prior to the 2006 Queensland election, Coalition leaders Lawrence Springborg and Bob Quinn flirted with the idea of merging the two parties. Quinn was dumped as Liberal Leader shortly before the election in favour of embattled Bruce Flegg, who had made his opposition to any merger quite clear. Instead the parties renewed their coalition and agreed to end three-cornered contests.

Other state branches took a different approach. In South Australia, for the first time in the Nationals' history, the party formed a coalition with the Labor Party in 2002. Lone state assembly MP Karlene Maywald took a ministerial position in the Labor cabinet alongside rural independent Rory McEwen.

Western Australia's National Party chose to position itself in a similar way after an acrimonious co-habitation with the Liberals on the 2005 campaign trail. Unlike its New South Wales and Queensland counterparts, the WA party had decided to oppose Liberal candidates in the 2008 election. The party aimed to hold the balance of power in the state "as an independent conservative party" ready to negotiate with the Liberals or Labor to form a minority government. After the election, the Nationals negotiated an agreement to form a government with the Liberals and an independent MP, though not described as a "traditional coalition" due to the reduced cabinet collective responsibility of National cabinet members.

Western Australia's one-vote-one-value reforms will cut the number of rural seats in the state assembly to reflect the rural population level: this, coupled with the Liberals' strength in country areas has put the Nationals under significant pressure.

The Nationals were stung in early 2006 when their only Victorian senator, Julian McGauran, defected to the Liberals and created a serious rift between the Nationals and the Liberals. Several commentators believed that changing demographics and unfavourable preference deals would demolish the Nationals at the state election that year, however they went on to enjoy considerable success by winning two extra lower house seats.

Political role

The Nationals see their main role as giving a voice to Australians who live outside the country's metropolitan areas.

Traditionally, the leader of the National Party serves as Deputy Prime Minister when the Coalition is in government. This tradition dates back to the original formation of the centre-right Coalition.

When the Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holtmarker died in office, his Country Party deputy John McEwen became Prime Minister for a period of weeks while the Liberal Party elected a new leader. In the Queensland state parliament, the National Party has historically been the stronger coalition partner numerically, and under the terms of the coalition agreement, the converse arrangement currently applies.

The National Party's support base and membership are closely associated with the agricultural community. Historically anti-union, the party has vacillated between state support for primary industries ("agrarian socialism") and free agricultural trade and has opposed tariff protection for Australia's manufacturing and service industries. This vacillation prompted those opposed to the policies of the Nationals to joke that its real aim was to "capitalise its gains and socialise its losses!". It is usually pro-mining, pro-development, and anti-environmentalist.

The Nationals hold a larger membership base than either the Liberal or Labor Parties, although in the larger eastern states its vote is in decline and its traditional supporters are turning instead to prominent independents such as Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Peter Andren in Federal Parliament and similar independents in the Parliaments of New South Walesmarker, Queenslandmarker and Victoriamarker, many of whom are former members of the National Party. In fact at the 2004 Federal election, National Party candidates received fewer first preference votes than the Australian Greens. However, the situation in Western Australia and South Australia, where the party is more clearly differentiable from the Liberals, is quite different, with the Nationals narrowly missing out on winning a second seat in South Australia in 2006 and winning a safe Liberal seat in Western Australia in 2005.

Demographic changes are not helping, with fewer people living and employed on the land or in small towns, the continued growth of the larger provincial centres, and, in some cases, the arrival of left-leaning "city refugees" in rural areas. The Liberals have also gained support as the differences between the coalition partners on a federal level have become invisible. This was highlighted in January 2006, when Nationals Senator Julian McGauran defected to the Liberals, saying that there was "no longer any real distinguishing policy or philosophical difference".

In Queensland, Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg advocated merger of the National and Liberal parties at a state level in order to present a more effective opposition to the Labor Party. Previously this plan had been dismissed by the Queensland branch of the Liberal party, but the idea received in-principle support from the Liberals. Federal leader Mark Vaile stated the Nationals will not merge with the Liberal Party at a federal level. The plan was opposed by key Queensland Senators Ron Boswell and Barnaby Joyce, and was scuttled in 2006. After suffering defeat in the 2006 Queensland poll, Lawrence Springborg was replaced by Jeff Seeney, who indicated he was not interested in merging with the Liberal Party until the issue is seriously raised at a Federal level.

Support for the Nationals in the 2006 Victorian state election was considerable with the party picking up two extra seats in the Lower House to maintain its total representation of 11 sitting members (two Upper House seats were lost, mostly due to a change from preferential to proportional representation). This success can be attributed to a more assertive National Party image (a differentation to that of the Liberals) and the growing popularity of state and federal Nationals identities such as Barnaby Joyce.

In September 2008, Barnaby Joyce replaced CLP Senator and Nationals deputy leader Nigel Scullion as leader of the Nationals in the Senate, and stated that his party in the upper house would no longer necessarily vote with their Liberal counterparts in the upper house, which opens up another possible avenue for the Rudd Labor Government to get legislation through.

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 immediately. The new party, the Liberal National Party, was founded in July 2008.

Historical electoral results

in the Lower House since 1919
Year 1919 1922 1925 1928 1929 1931 1934 1937 1940 1943
% 9.26 12.56 10.74 10.47 10.27 12.25 12.61 15.55 13.71 6.96
House Seats 11 of 75 14 of 75 14 of 75 13 of 75 10 of 75 16 of 75 14 of 74 16 of 74 14 of 74 7 of 74
Year 1946 1949 1951 1954 1955 1958 1961 1963 1966 1969
% 10.70 10.87 9.72 8.52 7.90 9.32 8.51 8.94 9.84 8.56
House Seats 11 of 74 19 of 121 17 of 121 17 of 121 18 of 122 19 of 122 17 of 122 20 of 122 21 of 124 20 of 125
Year 1972 1974 1975 1977 1980 1983 1984 1987 1990 1993
% 9.44 9.96 11.25 10.01 8.97 9.21 10.63 11.50 8.42 7.17
House Seats 20 of 125 21 of 127 23 of 127 19 of 124 20 of 125 17 of 125 21 of 148 19 of 147 14 of 148 16 of 148
Year 1996 1998 2001 2004 2007
% 8.21 5.29 5.61 5.89 5.49
House Seats 19 of 148 16 of 148 13 of 150 12 of 150 10 of 150


Leader of the National Party Term in office Notes
William James McWilliams 1920–1921
Sir Earle Page 1921–1939 Caretaker Prime Minister April 1939, Deputy Prime Minister January 1968 - February 1971
Archie Cameron 1939–1940
Sir Arthur Fadden 1940–1958 Prime Minister August - October 1941
Sir John McEwen 1958–1971 Prime Minister December 1967 - January 1968
Doug Anthony 1971–1984 Deputy Prime Minister February 1971 - December 1972, November 1975 - March 1983
Ian Sinclair 1984–1989
Charles Blunt 1989–1990
Tim Fischer 1990–1999 Deputy Prime Minister March 1996 - July 1999
John Anderson 1999–2005 Deputy Prime Minister July 1999 - July 2005
Mark Vaile 2005-2007 Deputy Prime Minister July 2005 - November 2007
Warren Truss 2007–present

Current State Parliamentary Leaders

State Leader Notes
NSWmarker Andrew Stoner Leader since 2003
NT Terry Mills Leader since 2008 1
QLD John-Paul Langbroek Leader since 2009 2
SAmarker Karlene Maywald Leader Since 1997
VICmarker Peter Ryan Leader since 1999
WA Brendon Grylls Leader Since 2005

1 In the State of Queenslandmarker, the National Party merged with the Liberal Party of Australia to form the Liberal National Party in 2008.

2 In the Northern Territorymarker, the National Party does not field candidates although they endorce the Country Liberal Party, as their prefered party in the Territory.

The National Party does not stand candidates in Tasmania or the Australian Capital Territory.

Past Premiers


Premier Term
Sir Frank Nicklin 12 August 1957 - 17 January 1968
Jack Pizzey 17 January 1968 - 31 July 1968
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen 8 August 1968 - 1 December 1987
Mike Ahern 1 December 1987 - 25 September 1989
Russell Cooper 25 September 1989 - 7 December 1989
Rob Borbidge 19 February 1996 - 20 June 1998


Premier Term
Sir John Allan 18 November 1924 - 20 May 1927
Sir Albert Dunstan 2 April 1935 - 14 September 1943,18 September 1943 - 2 October 1945
John McDonald 27 June 1950 - 28 October 1952,31 October 1952 - 17 December 1952

See also


  1. Nationals won't toe Libs' line: Joyce - SMH 18/9/2008
  2. Leader Barnaby Joyce still a maverick: The Australian 18/9/2008
  3. Barnaby elected Nationals Senate leader: ABC AM 18/9/2008
  4. Truss wins Nationals leadership
  5. Neilson, W. (1986) 'McWilliams, William James (1856 - 1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
  6. Neilson, W. (1986) 'McWilliams, William James (1856 - 1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
  7. Libs 'involved' in McGauran defection, The Age, 30 January 2006
  9. Australian elections, Australian election results, governments and parties in the Australian Government and Politics Database

External links

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