The Coalition, also known as the Liberal–National Coalition, is a political alliance of centre-right liberal and conservative parties, which has existed in Australian politics in various forms since 1923.
The Coalition is composed of the Liberal Party of Australia (formerly the United Australia Party, the Nationalist Party of Australia and the Commonwealth Liberal Party) and the National Party of Australia (formerly named the Country Party and the National Country Party), as well as the Liberal National Party (LNP) in Queensland and the Country Liberal Party (CLP) in the Northern Territory.
The extent to which the parties are in alliance varies at state and territory level. At one extreme, the non-Coalition National Party of Western Australia and The Nationals South Australia currently compete alongside Coalition parties, while the CLP and LNP, contesting elections only in the Northern Territory and Queensland, respectively, were formed from mergers of Liberal and National state branches. A Liberal–National merger at a national level has been proposed on several occasions, without much progress.
When in government at the federal level, the Liberal Party leader usually serves as Prime Minister of Australia and the National Party leader as Deputy Prime Minister, as is currently the case with Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce, respectively. This situation derives from the Liberal Party's consistently superior numbers in the Parliament of Australia, and is usually reflected at state level, with Liberal Party leaders of state branches generally serving as Premiers (or Chief Ministers in territories). The most notable exception to this rule was in Queensland, where the National Party was generally the stronger coalition partner, and also occasionally in Victoria and Western Australia. At all levels of government, the Coalition's strongest opponent is most often the Australian Labor Party. Based on the traditional definition of what a Coalition is, it currently only exists in federal, New South Wales and Victorian politics.
The main members of the Coalition at the federal level are the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia. The Country Liberal Party of the Northern Territory participates through its affiliation with the Nationals and the Liberal National Party of Queensland participates through its affiliation with the Liberals (though some federal LNP parliamentarians sit as Nationals).
The origins of the Coalition date back to the 1922 federal election, when the Nationalist Party, the main middle-class non-Labor party of the time, lost the absolute majority it had held since its formation in 1917. The Nationalists' only realistic coalition partner was the two-year-old Country Party. However, Country Party leader Earle Page had never trusted the Nationalist Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, and demanded Hughes' resignation before he would even consider coalition talks with the Nationalists. Hughes resigned, and Page then entered negotiations with the new Nationalist leader, Stanley Bruce. The Country Party's terms were unusually stiff for a prospective junior partner in a Westminster system (and especially so for a relatively new party)--five seats in an 11-member cabinet, as well as the Treasurer's post and second rank in the ministry for Page. Nonetheless, Bruce agreed rather than force a new election. The Nationalist–Country Coalition was reelected twice, and continued in office until its defeat in 1929.
The Country Party fought the 1931 federal election in a coalition with the Nationalists' successor party, the United Australia Party, but the latter came up only four seats short of a majority in its own right, enough to rule alone with confidence and supply support from the Country Party. The parties once again joined in a full Coalition government following the 1934 federal election, and remained in coalition following Labor's return to power in 1941. The Coalition again split following the 1943 election, but the Country Party and the UAP's successor, the present-day Liberal Party, renewed their agreement for the 1946 federal election. They won the 1949 election as a Coalition, and stayed in office for a record 23 years. Since 1946, the Coalition has remained intact with two exceptions, both in opposition: the parties decided not to form a coalition opposition following the 1972 election, but resumed the coalition though still in opposition following the 1974 election. The Coalition remained together upon entering opposition in 1983 election. The Coalition suffered another break, related to the "Joh for Canberra" campaign, from April to August 1987, the rift healing after the 1987 federal election.
The solidity of the Coalition is so strong that when the Liberals won outright parliamentary majorities in their own right in 1975, 1977 and 1996, the Coalition was retained.
The status of the Coalition varies across the Commonwealth and states. Below is the Coalition's status on a state-by-state basis:New South Wales: A Coalition between the Liberal and National parties exists in New South Wales. The Liberal Party is led by Gladys Berejiklian and the National Party by John Barilaro. Led by Barry O'Farrell, it won the 2011 state election in a massive swing and the 2015 election with a reduced majority, led by Baird. The Coalition has existed in one form or another without interruption since 1927. New South Wales is the only state where the non-Labor Coalition has never broken, and yet has also never merged. This remained the case even in 2011, when the Liberals won a majority in their own right but still retained the Coalition.
Queensland: Due to Brisbane having a much smaller share of Queensland's population compared to the other state capitals, Queensland is the only state in which the Nationals have consistently been the stronger non-Labor party. The Nationals were the senior partner in the non-Labor Coalition from 1925 until the Coalition was broken in 1983. At an election held two months later, the Nationals under Joh Bjelke-Petersen came up one seat short of a majority, but later gained a majority when two Liberal MLAs crossed the floor to join the Nationals. The Nationals then governed in their own right until 1989. The Coalition was renewed in 1991, and won power under Rob Borbidge from 1996 to 1998. In 2008, the parties agreed to merge, forming the Liberal National Party, under the leadership of former National Lawrence Springborg. Although it is dominated by former Nationals, it has full voting rights within the Liberal Party and observer status within the National Party. Springborg stood down in 2009, and was succeeded by former Liberal John-Paul Langbroek. The LNP won an overwhelming majority government in the 2012 state election under the leadership of former Liberal Campbell Newman, who had taken over from Langbroek a year earlier. However, it lost power in 2015, and Springborg returned to the leadership, only to lose a challenge by Tim Nicholls in May 2016. At the federal level, six LNP MPs sit with the Nationals and 16 with the Liberals. LNP Senator Matthew Canavan sits with the Nationals, while the LNP's four other Senators sit with the Liberals.The highest-profile LNP MP in recent years has been former federal Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss. The LNP has an informal agreement with its federal counterparts as to which party room in which LNP members will sit. Incumbent MPs retain their previous federal affiliations, whereas members who win seats from the ALP that previously belonged to the Coalition will sit with the previous member's party. An amicable division of seats was decided upon for new seats or seats that have never been won by the Coalition. In practice, most LNP MPs from Brisbane and the Gold Coast sit with the Liberals, while those from country seats usually sit with the Nationals.
South Australia: The state branch of the Country Party merged with the Liberal Federation, the state branch of the UAP, in 1932 to form the Liberal and Country League. A separate Country Party (later Nationals SA) was revived in 1963, though the main non-Labor party in South Australia continued to use the LCL name until 1973, when it became the state division of the Liberal Party. The revived SA Nationals have never been successful in South Australia, due to the state's highly centralised population (some three-fourths of the population lives in Adelaide) and the Liberals' strong support in rural areas that would tilt National in most of the rest of Australia. The party's current incarnation has only elected two representatives: Peter Blacker from 1973 to 1993, and Karlene Maywald from 1997 to 2010. From 2004 to 2010, Maywald was a Minister in the Rann Labor Government, before losing her seat at the 2010 South Australian state election, thereby informally creating a Labor-National coalition in South Australia. The National Party, at the time, rejected the notion that it was in a coalition with Labor at the state level. State National Party President John Venus told journalists, "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 disagreed, saying that it is "churlish to describe the government as anything but a coalition". The party did not run candidates at the 2010 federal election, but ran one candidate in the seat of Barker and two for the Senate at the 2013 election. The Nationals candidate for Barker and several other Coalition figures assured electors that the Nationals would be part of the Coalition if they were elected, after comments from the Liberal candidate to the contrary.
Tasmania: The National Party has never done well in Tasmania, even though its first leader, William McWilliams, was a Tasmanian. A Tasmania branch of the then-Country Party was formed in 1922 and briefly held the balance of power, but merged with the Nationalists in 1924. It was refounded in 1962, but never gained much ground. In 1969, Liberal MHA Kevin Lyons, the son of former Prime Minister Lyons, pulled together most of the Tasmanian Country Party into the Centre Party, which held the balance of power in that year's state election. It threw its support to the Liberals, and Lyons—the Centre Party's lone MHA—became Deputy Premier. The Liberal-Centre alliance fell apart in 1972, forcing an early election. In 1975, what remained of the Centre Party became the Tasmanian chapter of what was by now the National Country Party before fading away completely. A Tasmanian National Party branch was briefly revived in the 1990s before it too disappeared, leaving the Liberal Party as the sole major non-Labor party in the state.
Victoria: A Coalition between the Liberal and National parties exists in Victoria. The Liberal Party is led by Matthew Guy and the National Party by Peter Walsh. The Country Party was the stronger coalition partner on multiple occasions from the 1920s through to the 1950s, and Country leaders served as Premier of Victoria on five separate occasions. However, the relationship between the two parties was somewhat strained for most of the second half of the 20th century. They fought elections separately from 1952 to 1989, but fought and won the 1992 and 1999 elections as a Coalition under the leadership of Jeff Kennett. When Peter Ryan became leader of the Nationals shortly after the 1999 election, he terminated the Coalition agreement and led the Nationals into the 2002 and 2006 elections separately from the Liberals. However, the Coalition agreement was renewed in 2008 and the Victorian Liberal and National parties went into the 2010 election as a Coalition. The Coalition ended up winning the 2010 election with a one-seat margin under the leadership of Ted Baillieu, who resigned in 2013 and was succeeded by Denis Napthine. The Coalition lost power in 2014.
Western Australia: The Country Party was the stronger coalition partner from the 1933 state election to the 1947 state election, although the Coalition did not form government during this period. Western Australia has never had a premier from the Country/National Party. The National Party of Western Australia was in Coalition with the state Liberal government from 1993 to 2001 (see Hendy Cowan), but the Coalition was subsequently broken. In 2008, the Liberals, Nationals, and an independent MP formed the Government after the 2008 election, but this is not characterised as a "traditional coalition", with limited cabinet collective responsibility for National cabinet members. The Leader of the Liberals in Western Australia is Premier Colin Barnett and the Nationals Leader is Terry Redman. Tony Crook was elected as the WA Nationals candidate for the seat of O'Connor at the 2010 federal election. Although some reports initially counted Crook as a National MP, and thus part of the Coalition, Crook sat as a crossbencher. The Liberals won enough seats for a majority in their own right in the 2013 state election, but Barnett had announced before the election that he would retain the coalition with the Nationals.
Australian Capital Territory: The National Party is not affiliated in the Australian Capital Territory, leaving the Liberal Party as the sole major non-Labor party in the territory.
Northern Territory: The two parties' branches in the Northern Territory merged in 1974, forming the Country Liberal Party. The CLP governed the Territory from 1974 to 2001 and from 2012 to 2016. The CLP retains full voting rights within the federal National Party, and has observer status with the federal Liberal Party. Federal CLP members are directed by the CLP whether to sit with the federal Liberals or Nationals, although since the 2016 federal election, they have no members in the lower house. CLP Senator Nigel Scullion was the leader of the Nationals in the Senate from 2007 to 2008, when he was succeeded by Barnaby Joyce. He was deputy leader of the Nationals, alongside Truss, from 2007 to 2013, when Joyce succeeded him. After Joyce made his successful transition to the House of Representatives at the 2013 election, Senator Scullion returned as the Nationals Senate leader.
Coalition arrangements are facilitated by Australia's preferential voting systems which enable Liberals and Nationals to compete locally in "three-cornered-contests", with the Australian Labor Party (ALP), while exchanging preferences in elections. Such contests 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, without 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 legislation, following Labor's unexpected win at the 1918 Swan by-election where the conservative vote split. 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 co-operate 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 Queensland and New South Wales, because significant numbers of voters do not express all useful preferences.
Due to a disciplined coalition between the parties and their predecessors being in existence for almost 100 years with only a few brief cessations within a parliamentary system, most commentators and the general public often refer to The Coalition as a single party. Polling and electoral results contain a two-party-preferred (TPP) vote which is based on Labor and the Coalition. The Australian Electoral Commission has distinguished between "traditional" (Coalition/Labor) two-party-preferred (TPP/2PP) contests, and "non-traditional" (Independent, Greens, Liberal vs National) two-candidate-preferred (TCP/2CP) contests. At the 2010 federal election, all eight seats which resulted in a two-candidate-preferred result were re-counted to also express a statistical-only two-party-preferred result.