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Australian Labor Party
Leader Kevin Rudd
President Michael Williamson
Deputy Julia Gillard
Founded 1891 (1891)
Headquarters 161 London Circuit, Canberra ACT 2600
Ideology Democratic Socialism, Social democracy, Social Liberalism, Third Way
Political position Centre-left
International affiliation Socialist International
Politics of Australia
Political parties

The Australian Labor Party is an Australian political party.

Known as Labor, or the ALP for short, the party is the current governing party of Australia, since the 2007 federal election. Kevin Rudd is the party's federal parliamentary leader and Prime Minister of Australia.

Founded in 1891 by the emerging labour movement in Australia, Labor is the country's oldest active political party, having contested state seats from 1891, federal seats following the Federation at the 1901 federal election, and gained Australia's first majority in either house at the 1910 federal election. The ALP predates both the British Labour Party and New Zealand Labour Party among others in both party formation and government. The party competes against the Liberal/National Coalition for political office at the federal and state (and sometimes local) level.



Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (right) and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard (left) at their first press conference as Leader and Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, 4 December 2006
Chris Watson, first leader of then Federal Labour Party 1901–07 (held the balance of power) and Prime Minister of Australia in 1904
Andrew Fisher, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1908–09, 1910–13, 1914–15
Billy Hughes, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1915-16
James Scullin, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1929–32
John Curtin, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1941–45
Ben Chifley, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1945–49
Gough Whitlam, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1972–75
Bob Hawke, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1983–91
Paul Keating, Labor Prime Minister of Australia 1991–96

The policy of the Australian Labor Party is contained in its National Platform, which is approved by delegates to Labor's National Conference, held every three years. According to the Labor Party's website, "The Platform is the result of a rigorous and constructive process of consultation, spanning the nation and including the cooperation and input of state and territory policy committees, local branches, unions, state and territory governments, and individual Party members. The Platform provides the policy foundation from which we can continue to work towards the election of a federal Labor Government."[1]

The platform gives a general indication of the policy direction which a future Labor government would follow, but does not commit the party to specific policies. It maintains that "Labor's traditional values will remain a constant on which all Australians can rely." While making it clear that Labor is fully committed to a market economy, it says that: "Labor believes in a strong role for national government — the one institution all Australians truly own and control through our right to vote." Labor "will not allow the benefits of change to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, or located only in privileged communities. The benefits must be shared by all Australians and all our regions." The Platform and Labor "believe that all people are created equal in their entitlement to dignity and respect, and should have an equal chance to achieve their potential." For Labor, "government has a critical role in ensuring fairness by: ensuring equal opportunity; removing unjustifiable discrimination; and achieving a more equitable distribution of wealth, income and status." Further sections of the Platform stress Labor's support for Equality, Human Rights, Labour Rights and Democracy.

In practice, the Platform provides only general policy guidelines to Labor's federal, state and territory parliamentary leaderships. The policy Labor takes into an election campaign is determined by the Cabinet (if the party is in office) or the Shadow Cabinet (if it is in opposition), in consultation with key interest groups within the party, and is contained in the parliamentary Leader's policy speech delivered during the election campaign. When Labor is in office, the policies it implements are determined by the Cabinet, subject to the Platform. Generally, it is accepted that while the Platform binds Labor governments, how and when it is implemented remains the prerogative of the parliamentary caucus. It is now rare for the Platform to conflict with government policy, as the content of the Platform is usually developed in close collaboration with the party's parliamentary leadership as well as the factions. However, where there is a direct contradiction with the Platform, Labor governments have sought to change the Platform as a prerequisite for a change in policy. For example, privatisation legislation under the Hawke government occurred only after holding a special national conference to debate changing the Platform.

Early ideology

The Labor Party is commonly described as a social democratic party, but its constitution stipulates that it is a democratic socialist party.[2] The light on the hill is a phrase used to describe the objective of the Australian Labor Party. The phrase was coined in a 1949 conference speech by then Prime Minister Ben Chifley. The party was created by, and has always been influenced to some extent by trade unionists, and its policy at any given time has been the policy of the broader labour movement. Thus at the first federal election 1901 Labor's platform called for a White Australia (a view held by all federal MPs at the time bar Bruce Smith, a Free Trader), a citizen army and compulsory arbitration of industrial disputes.[3] Labor has at various times supported high tariffs and low tariffs, conscription and pacifism, White Australia and multiculturalism, nationalisation and privatisation, isolationism and internationalism, as has the conservative side of Australian politics.

In the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917, support for socialism grew in trade union ranks, and at the 1921 All-Australian Trades Union Congress a resolution was passed calling for "the socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange." As a result, Labor's Federal Conference in 1922 adopted a similarly worded "socialist objective," which remained official policy for many years. The resolution was immediately qualified, however, by the "Blackburn amendment," which said that "socialisation" was desirable only when was necessary to "eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features."[4] In practice the socialist objective was a dead letter. Only once has a federal Labor government attempted to nationalise any industry (Ben Chifley's bank nationalisation of 1947), and that was held by the High Court to be unconstitutional.

However, the idea that only the socialist working class formed Labor is untrue. Analysis of the early NSW Labor caucus reveals "a band of unhappy amateurs", made up of blue collar workers, a squatter, an MD, and even a mine owner. In addition, many members from the working class supported the liberal notion of free trade between the colonies - in the first grouping of state MPs, 17 of the 35 were free-traders. Some historically declare the party a mix of socialism, liberalism, pragmatism and 'Laborism'.[5] These commitments are deemed to place Labor closer, intellectually and historically, to the 19th century colonial liberals as the forerunners to the Labor party over the conservatives of the time.[6]

Modern Labor

Various ideological beliefs were factionalised under reforms to the ALP under Gough Whitlam, resulting in what is now known as the Socialist Left who tend to favour a more interventionist economic policy and more socially progressive ideals, and Labor Right, the now dominant faction that tends to be more economically liberal and focus to a lesser extent on social issues.

The Whitlam government was the first Australian government to use the term economic rationalism.[7] The Gough Whitlam Labor government from 1972 to 1975 was different to previous Labor governments, in that it pursued social-democratic policies rather than democratic socialist policies, a precursor to the party's current third way position. Under the Whitlam government, tariffs across the board were cut by 25 percent after 23 years of Labor being in opposition.[8]

The Bob Hawke and Paul Keating governments from 1983 to 1996 pursued many economic policies associated with economic rationalism and the "Third Way", such as floating the Australian Dollar in 1983, reductions in trade tariffs, taxation reforms, changing from centralised wage-fixing to enterprise bargaining, the privatisation of Qantas and Commonwealth Bank, and deregulating the banking system. Keating also proposed a GST in 1985, however due to its unpopularity amongst Labor as well as the electorate, was not adopted. The party also refrained from other reforms, such as wholesale labour market deregulation (e.g. WorkChoices), the eventual GST, the privatisation of Telstra and welfare reform including "work for the dole", which John Howard and the Liberal Party of Australia were to initiate after winning office in 1996.

It is also said by a former staff member of Tony Blair that New Labour and Blair learnt from the Hawke government in the 1980s on how to govern when they took power in the UK.[9]

Current Labor leader Kevin Rudd's first speech to parliament in 1998 stated:

Competitive markets are massive and generally efficient generators of economic wealth. They must therefore have a central place in the management of the economy. But markets sometimes fail, requiring direct government intervention through instruments such as industry policy. There are also areas where the public good dictates that there should be no market at all.

We are not afraid of a vision in the Labor Party, but nor are we afraid of doing the hard policy yards necessary to turn that vision into reality. Parties of the Centre Left around the world are wrestling with a similar challenge—the creation of a competitive economy while advancing the overriding imperative of a just society. Some call this the `third way'. The nomenclature is unimportant. What is important is that it is a repudiation of Thatcherism and its Australian derivatives represented opposite. It is in fact a new formulation of the nation's economic and social imperatives.[10]

Rudd is critical of free market economists such as Friedrich Hayek,[11][12] although Rudd describes himself as "basically a conservative when it comes to questions of public financial management", pointing to his slashing of public service jobs as a Queensland governmental advisor.[13][14]


ALP mythology says the first party branch was founded at a meeting of striking pastoral workers under a ghost gum tree (the "Tree of Knowledge") in Barcaldine, Queensland in 1891. The Balmain, New South Wales branch of the party also claims to be the oldest in Australia. The party as a serious electoral force dates from 1891 in New South Wales, 1893 in Queensland and South Australia, and later in the other colonies. In New South Wales in 1891, the first election contested by Labour candidates (as Labor was spelt at the time - see Etymology), 35 of 141 seats were won by Labour candidates.[15] In 1899, Anderson Dawson formed a minority Labour government in Queensland, the first in the world, which lasted one week.

Sections of state Labour and the Australian labour movement were mixed in their support for the Federation of Australia. Some labour representatives argued against the proposed constitution, claiming the Senate as proposed was much too powerful, similar to the anti-reformist Colonial upper houses and the British House of Lords. They feared federation would distract attention from the need of social and industrial reform, and further entrench the power of the conservative forces. The first Labour leader and Prime Minister, Chris Watson, was a supporter of federation but not its implementation.

After Federation, the Federal Parliamentary Labour Party (informally known as the Caucus) first met on 8 May 1901 at Parliament House, Melbourne, the meeting place of the first Federal Parliament.[16] This is now taken as the founding date of the federal Labor Party, but it was some years before there was any significant structure or organisation at a national level.

The ALP during its early years was distinguished by its rapid growth and success at a national level, first forming a minority government under Chris Watson, the first Labour Prime Minister in the world, for four months in 1904. Andrew Fisher then formed another minority government 1908-09. At the 1910 federal election, Fisher and Labour became Australia's first federal majority government, held Australia's first Senate majority, was the world's first Labour Party majority government, the first time the Labour Party had controlled any house of a legislature, and the first time it controlled both houses of a bicameral legislature.[17] The state branches were also successful, except in Victoria, where the strength of Deakinite liberalism inhibited the party's growth. The state branches formed their first majority governments in New South Wales and South Australia in 1910, in Western Australia in 1911, and in Queensland in 1915. Such success eluded equivalent social democratic and labour parties in other countries for many years. One of the party's early innovations was the establishment of a federal arbitration system for the resolution of industrial disputes, which formed the basis of the industrial relations system for many decades.

Through its membership of the Socialist International, the ALP is affiliated with democratic socialist, social-democratic and labour parties in many countries. The party was historically committed to socialist economic policies, but this term was never clearly defined, and no Labor government ever attempted to implement "socialism" in any serious sense. Labor supported national wage fixing and a strong welfare system, it did not nationalise private enterprise. The single exception to this was Ben Chifley's attempt to nationalise the private banks in the 1940s, but this was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court of Australia.[18] The commitment to nationalisation was dropped by Gough Whitlam.

From its formation until the 1950s Labor and its affiliated unions were the strongest defenders of the White Australia Policy,[citation needed] which banned all non-European migration to Australia. This policy was partly motivated by 19th century theories about "racial purity" (shared by most Australians at this time), and partly by fears of economic competition from low-wage labour. In practice the party opposed all migration, on the grounds that immigrants competed with Australian workers and drove down wages, until after World War II, when the Chifley government launched a major immigration program. The party's opposition to non-European immigration did not change until after the retirement of Arthur Calwell as leader in 1967. Subsequently Labor has become an advocate of multiculturalism, although some of its trade union base and some of its members continue to oppose high immigration levels.

Between the 2007 federal election and the 2008 Western Australian state election, the party was in government nationally, as well as in all eight state and territory legislatures. This was the first time any single party or any coalition had achieved this since the ACT and the NT gained self-government.[19]


The ALP adopted the formal name "Australian Labour Party" in 1908, but changed the spelling to "Labor" in 1912. While it is standard practice in Australian English both today and at the time to spell the word labour with a "u", the party was influenced by the United States labor movement and a prominent figure in the early history of the party, the North American–born King O'Malley, was successful in having the spelling "modernised".[20] The change also made it easier to distinguish references to the party from the labour movement in general.[21] Furthermore, the spelling "labor" had been acceptable in both British and Australian English in earlier periods. (See also: Spelling in Australian English)

Labor splits

The Labor Party has suffered three major splits:

  • In 1916 over the issue of conscription during the First World War.[22] Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes supported the introduction of conscription, while the majority of his colleagues in the ALP and trade union movement opposed it. After failing to gain majority support for conscription in two national plebiscites which bitterly divided the country in the process, Hughes and his followers were expelled from the Labor Party. He formed the Nationalist Party of Australia in alliance with the conservatives and remained Prime Minister until 1923. At the state level William Holman, also a supporter of conscription, quit the party at the same time and became Nationalist Party Premier of New South Wales.
  • In 1931 over economic issues revolving around how best to handle the Great Depression. The ALP was essentially split three ways, between those who believed in radical policies such as NSW Premier Jack Lang, who wanted to repudiate Australia's debt to British bondholders; proto-Keynesians such as federal Treasurer Ted Theodore; and believers in orthodox finance such as Prime Minister James Scullin and a senior minister in his government, Joseph Lyons. In 1931 Lyons left the party and joined the conservatives, forming the United Australia Party as successors to the Nationalists and becoming Prime Minister in 1932.
  • The 1954 split on communism. During the 1950s the issue of communism and support for communist causes or governments caused great internal conflict in the Labor party and the trade union movement in general. From 1945 onward, staunchly anti-Communist Roman Catholic members (Catholics being an important traditional support base) in opposition to communist infiltration of unions, formed Industrial Groups to gain control of them, fostering intense internal conflict. After Labor's loss of the 1954 election, federal leader Dr H.V. Evatt "issued a statement attacking the Victorian ALP state executive".[23] He blamed subversive activities of the "Groupers" for the defeat. After bitter public dispute many Groupers were expelled from the ALP and formed the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) whose intellectual leader was B.A. Santamaria. The DLP was heavily influenced by Catholic social teaching and had the support of the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix. Because of its "veto with a view to reunification" strategy, the DLP's preferences (see Australian electoral system) helped the Liberal Party of Australia remain in power for over two decades, but it was successfully undermined by the Whitlam Labor Government during the 1970s, so that after 1978 the DLP was reduced to a small "rump" based in Victoria, which nevertheless continued to contest federal elections as the DLP (according to the parliamentary library election results for 1980 and onward).[24]

In addition, founding member Joseph Cook left the party in 1894, and went on to be Prime Minister of Australia with the Commonwealth Liberal Party in 1913-14.


The Australian Labor Party is a democratic and federal party, which consists of both individual members and affiliated trade unions, who between them decide the party's policies, elect its governing bodies and choose its candidates for public office. The majority of trade unions in Australia are affiliated to the party, and their affiliation fees, based on the size of their memberships, makes up a large part of the party's income. The party consists of six state and two territory branches, each of which consists of local branches which any Australian resident can join, plus affiliated trade unions. Individual members pay a membership fee, which is graduated according to income. Members are generally expected to attend at least one meeting of their local branch each year, although there are differences in the rules from state to state. In practice only a dedicated minority regularly attend meetings. Many members only become active during election campaigns. The party has about 50,000 individual members, although this figure tends to fluctuate along with the party's electoral fortunes.

The members and unions elect delegates to state and territory conferences (usually held annually, although more frequent conferences are often held). These conferences decide policy, and elect state or territory executives, a state or territory president (an honorary position usually held for a one-year term), and a state or territory secretary (a full-time professional position). The larger branches also have full-time assistant secretaries and organisers. In the past the ratio of conference delegates coming from the branches and affiliated unions has varied from state to state, however under recent national reforms at least 50% of delegates at all state and territory conferences must be elected by branches.

The party holds a National Conference every three years, which consists of delegates representing the state and territory branches (many coming from affiliated trade unions, although there is no formal requirement for unions to be represented at the National Conference). The National Conference approves the party's Platform and policies, elects the National Executive, and appoints office-bearers such as the National Secretary, who also serves as national campaign director during elections. The current National Secretary is Karl Bitar. The most recent National Conference was held in April 2007.

The national Leader of the Labor Party is elected by the Labor members of the national Parliament (the Caucus), not by the conference. Until recently the national conference elected the party's National President, a largely honorary position, but since 2003 the position has rotated among people directly elected by the party's individual members. The current National President is Michael Williamson.

The Labor Party contests national, state and territory elections. In some states it also contests local government elections: in others it does not, preferring to allow its members to run as non-endorsed candidates. The process of choosing candidates is called pre-selection. Candidates are pre-selected by different methods in the various states and territories. In some they are chosen by ballots of all party members, in others by panels or committees elected by the state conference, in still others by a combination of these two. Labor candidates are required to sign a pledge that if elected they will always vote in Parliament in accordance with the Platform and decisions made by a vote of the Caucus. They are also sometimes required to donate a portion of their salary to the party, although this practice has declined with the introduction of public funding for political parties.


The Labor Party has always had a left wing and a right wing, but since the 1970s it has been organised into formal factions, to which many party members belong and often pay an additional membership fee. The two largest factions are Labor Unity (on the right) and the Socialist Left. Labor Unity generally supports free-market policies and the US Alliance and tends to be conservative on some social issues. The National Left, although it seldom openly espouses socialism, favours more state intervention in the economy, is generally less enthusiastic about the U.S. Alliance and is often more progressive on social issues. The factions are themselves divided into sub-factions, and there is a constantly changing pattern of factional and sub-factional alliances around particular policy issues or around particular pre-selection disputes. Frequently these alliances and disputes reflect power struggles between or within trade unions.

The trade unions are also factionally aligned. The largest unions supporting the right are the Australian Workers Union (AWU), the National Union of Workers (NUW) and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association (SDA). Important unions supporting the left include the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU), the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the Australian Services Union (ASU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). But these affiliations are seldom unconditional or permanent. The AWU and the NUW, for example, are bitter rivals and the NUW sometimes aligns itself with the left to further its conflict with the AWU. Moreover, in some cases different branches may have different factional alignment. On some issues, such as opposition to the Howard Government's industrial relations policy, all the unions are in agreement and work as a bloc within the party.

Pre-selections are usually conducted along factional lines, although sometimes a non-factional candidate will be given preferential treatment (this happened with Cheryl Kernot in 1998 and again with Peter Garrett in 2004). Deals between the factions to divide up the safe seats between them are also common. Pre-selections, particularly for safe Labor seats, are often bitterly contested, and have often involved practices such as branch stacking (signing up large numbers of nominal party members to vote in pre-selection ballots), personation, multiple voting and, on occasions, fraudulent electoral enrolment. Trade unions were in the past accused of giving inflated membership figures to increase their influence over pre-selections, but party rules changes have stamped out this practice. Pre-selection results are frequently challenged, and the National Executive is sometimes called on to arbitrate these disputes.

ALP Federal Parliamentary Leaders

See also: List of ALP federal leaders by time served

ALP State and Territory Parliamentary Leaders


Past Premiers and Chief Ministers

Northern Territory

  • Clare Martin (2001–2007, first Labor Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, first female Chief Minister of the Northern Territory)

Australian Capital Territory

  • Rosemary Follett (1989, 1991–95, inaugural Chief Minister of the ACT, and first female head of government of an Australian state or territory)

New South Wales

see also Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales


South Australia



Western Australia

Other past Labor politicians

See Category:Australian Labor Party politicians

For current ALP federal politicians, see:

See also


  1. ^ "ALP National Platform and Constitution 2007". Australian Labor Party. 
  2. ^ "National Constitution of the ALP". Official Website of the Australian Labor Party. Australian Labor Party. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-26. "The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields." 
  3. ^ McKinlay (1981) p. 19
  4. ^ McKinlay (1981) p. 53
  5. ^ Australian Labor Party history - Oz Politics
  6. ^ The Ideology of the Australian Labor Party: BBC, 16 August 2001
  7. ^ Quiggin, John (1997). Economic rationalism. Crossings. 
  8. ^ "Tariff Reduction". The Whitlam Collection. The Whitlam Institute. 
  9. ^ How the British came, saw and helped Rudd - National -
  10. ^ Rudd, Kevin (11 November 1998). "First Speech to Parliament". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  11. ^ Rudd, Kevin (16 November 2006). "What's Wrong with the Right". Retrieved 2006-12-09. 
  12. ^ Hartcher, Peter (14 October 2006). "Howard's warriors sweep all before them". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2006-12-04. 
  13. ^ "New Labor Leader Outlines Plan". The 7.30 Report. 4 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  14. ^ "Labor elects new leader". The 7.30 Report. 4 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-05. 
  15. ^ Page 4, So Monstrous a Travesty, Ross McMullen. Scribe Publications 2004.
  16. ^ Faulkner; Macintyre (2001) p. 3
  17. ^ Murphy, D. J.. "Fisher, Andrew (1862–1928)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 2007-05-31. 
  18. ^ Faulkner; Macintyre (2001) p. 87
  19. ^ In 1969–1970, before the ACT and NT achieved self-government, the Liberal and National Coalition was also in power federally and in all six states. University of WA elections database
  20. ^ "History of the Australian Labor Party". Australian Labor Party. 
  21. ^ Clarke, FG, Australia: A Concise Political and Social History (Sydney: Harcourt Brace & Company 1996), p 205
  22. ^ Hughes, William Morris (Billy) (1862–1952), Australian Dictionary of Biography, ANU web site
  23. ^ Paranoia split Labor for 25 years - Gerard Henderson -
  24. ^ IRS Research Brief Dec04

Further References

  • Calwell, A.A. (1963). Labor's Role in Modern Society. Melbourne, Lansdowne Press
  • Faulkner, John; Macintyre, Stuart (2001). True Believers - The story of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1865086096. 
  • McKinlay, Brian (1981). The ALP: A Short History of the Australian Labor Party. Melbourne: Drummond/Heinemann. ISBN 0858592541. 
  • McMullin, Ross (1991). The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891-1991. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia. ISBN 0195534514. 

External links

Simple English

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) is one of the two major political parties in Australia. The party was made in 1891; it is the oldest political party in Australia. It is currently in power in Australia, meaning that it runs the Government. Its current leader and Australia's Prime Minister is Julia Gillard. They are a social democratic party with strong links to the Trade Union movement. Since 1944, their main opponents have been the Liberal Party of Australia.

(right) and Julia Gillard (left) at their first press conference as Leader and Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party, 4 December 2006]]



In the 1860's the trade unions in Australia began to try to get better wages and working conditions for their members. They were defeated by employers, the legal system, and the governments of the Australian colonies. Workers soon decided that they needed to become active in politics, and make changes through parliament. The first meeting of the ALP is said to have taken place in Barcaldine, Queensland in 1891.[1] A group of shearers, who were involved in a big strike action, held a meeting in the shade of a large ghost gum (eucalyptus) tree, Corymbia aparrerinja.[2] This tree became known as the "Tree of Knowledge".[1]

Prime Ministers of Australia

Current leaders of States and Territories of Australia


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