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Broadening Democracy

The emergence of political parties

The emergence of political parties


Parliament before political partiestext

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.

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.

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.


The formation of the Labor Party

The first formal political party formed in South Australia was the United Labor Party, which was formed by the United Trades and Labor Council in 1891. There have been occasional breakaway labor parties, but apart from these, the United Labor Party has continued in existence to the present day. It is now known as the Australian Labor Party, South Australian Branch.

Source: JB Hirst, Adelaide and the Country 1870-1917, Ch. 1

Conservative political parties

In response to the formation of the United Labour Party, concerned men from the conservative side of politics formed the National Defence League (NDL) - the forerunner of the modern Liberal Party. There have been a number of changes in the names and organisation of political parties on the conservative side of politics. By the time of the 1912 election, South Australia had a well-established two-party system dominated by the United Labor Party and the Liberal Union. But the idea of party politics was still unpopular with some groups, particularly with many politically active women.

Farmers and other country people have also formed their own political organisations, to give people from outside the city a stronger voice in Parliament.- for example, the Farmers and Producers Political Association (FPPU) in 1906, the Farmers and Settlers Association in 1917. One of the most important was the coalition between the Liberal Union and the Country Party Association in 1932 - the Liberal and Country League (LCL). This governed South Australia for 27 years between 1938 to 1965 under Sir Thomas Playford.

See the Liberal Party website:

Also refer to the document: Making History - A history of the Australian Labor Party (South Australia Branch) 1891-1991