Coalition (Australia)

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The Coalition
Leader Malcolm Turnbull MP
Deputy Leader Warren Truss MP
Founded 1923
Ideology Social conservatism
Economic liberalism
Classical liberalism
House of Representatives
90 / 150
33 / 76
Politics of Australia
Political parties

In Australian politics, the Coalition is a formal alliance of broadly centre-right parties, which has existed in various forms since 1923. The partners in the alliance are the Liberal Party (LPA), the National Party (formerly the Country Party and the National Country Party), the Country Liberal Party (CLP), and the Liberal National Party (LNP). Notable previous partners were the Nationalist Party and the United Australia Party, both predecessors of the current Liberal Party. The extent to which these parties are in alliance varies at state and territory level. At one extreme, the National Party of Western Australia and The Nationals South Australia currently compete alongside the Liberals, 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 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 Warren Truss, 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). 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.

Present-day Coalition status


Coalition Member Parties
  Liberal Party of Australia
  Liberal National Party of Queensland
  National Party of Australia
  Country Liberal Party (NT)

The main members of the Coalition at the federal level are the Liberals and Nationals. The Country Liberal Party of the Northern Territory participates through its affiliation with the Nationals (though the CLP's lone federal House member sits as a Liberal), and the Liberal National Party of Queensland participates through its affiliation with the Liberals (though some federal LNP senators and MPs 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 liked 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) of 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 on the basis of an electoral coalition with the Nationalist's 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.[1] 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.[2]

The bonds between the Coalition partners are so strong that, even when the Liberals won enough seats to theoretically govern alone, as occurred in 1975, 1977 and 1996, the Coalition was retained.


The status of the Coalition varies across the Commonwealth and states. Below is the status of each state 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 Mike Baird and the National Party by Troy Grant. It won the 2011 state election in a massive swing. 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.
Coalition Lower House Seats
NSW Parliament
54 / 93
Vic Parliament
38 / 88
QLD Parliament
42 / 89
WA Parliament
38 / 59
SA Parliament
21 / 47
Tas Parliament
15 / 25
ACT Parliament
8 / 17
NT Parliament
12 / 25
  • 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. At the federal level, LNP MP and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss is the federal leader of the Nationals, and five other LNP MPs sit with the Nationals in the House. LNP Senator Matthew Canavan sits with the Nationals, while the LNP's four other Senators sit with the Liberals. 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.[3] 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 only ever had 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 coalition between the ALP and the National Party at South Australia's state level of government. 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".[4] 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.[5]
  • 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.[6]
  • Victoria: A Coalition between the Liberal and National parties exists in Victoria. The Liberal Party is led by Matthew Guy[7] and the National Party by Peter Walsh.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]


  • 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 Northern Territory merged in 1974, forming the Country Liberal Party. The CLP governed the Territory from 1974 to 2001, and won back power in 2012. 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.[12] 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. The CLP's lone member in the House of Representatives, Natasha Griggs, sits with the Liberals.


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, 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 legislation, following Labor's 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.[13]

Federal election results

House of Representatives

Election Seats won ± Total votes Share of votes Position Leader
51 / 75
Increase11 1,551,760 53.20% Majority gov't (NP-CP) Stanley Bruce
42 / 75
Decrease9 1,286,208 49.56% Majority gov't (NP-CP) Stanley Bruce
24 / 75
Decrease18 1,271,619 44.17% Opposition Stanley Bruce
50 / 75
Increase26 1,533,627 48.35% Majority gov't (UAP-CP) Joseph Lyons
42 / 74
Decrease8 1,618,946 45.58% Majority gov't (UAP-CP) Joseph Lyons
44 / 74
Increase2 1,774,805 49.26% Majority gov't (UAP-CP) Joseph Lyons
36 / 74
Decrease8 1,703,185 43.93% Minority gov't (UAP-CP) Robert Menzies
19 / 74
Decrease17 948,750 23.01% Opposition Arthur Fadden
26 / 76
Increase7 1,706,387 39.28% Opposition Robert Menzies
74 / 121
Increase48 2,314,143 50.26% Majority gov't (LP-CP) Robert Menzies
69 / 121
Decrease5 2,298,512 50.34% Majority gov't (LP-CP) Robert Menzies
64 / 121
Decrease5 2,133,979 56.82% Majority gov't (LP-CP) Robert Menzies
75 / 122
Increase11 2,093,930 47.63% Majority gov't (LP-CP) Robert Menzies
77 / 122
Increase2 2,324,500 46.55% Majority gov't (LP-CP) Robert Menzies
62 / 122
Decrease15 2,208,213 42.09% Majority gov't (LP-CP) Robert Menzies
72 / 122
Increase10 2,520,321 46.03% Majority gov't (LP-CP) Robert Menzies
82 / 124
Increase10 2,853,890 49.98% Majority gov't (LP-CP) Harold Holt
66 / 125
Decrease16 2,649,219 43.33% Majority gov't (LP-CP) John Gorton
58 / 125
Decrease8 2,737,911 41.48% Opposition William McMahon
61 / 127
Increase3 3,319,220 44.91% Opposition Billy Snedden
91 / 127
Increase30 4,102,078 53.05% Majority gov't (LP-NP) Malcolm Fraser
86 / 124
Decrease5 3,811,340 48.10% Majority gov't (LP-NP) Malcolm Fraser
74 / 125
Decrease12 3,853,549 46.40% Majority gov't (LP-NP) Malcolm Fraser
50 / 125
Decrease24 3,783,595 43.57% Opposition Malcolm Fraser
66 / 148
Increase16 3,872,707 44.69% Opposition Andrew Peacock
62 / 148
Decrease4 4,236,238 45.91% Opposition John Howard
69 / 148
Increase7 4,302,127 43.46% Opposition Andrew Peacock
65 / 147
Decrease4 4,681,822 44.27% Opposition John Hewson
94 / 148
Increase29 5,103,859 46.90% Majority gov't (LP-NP) John Howard
80 / 148
Decrease14 4,352,795 39.18% Majority gov't (LP-NP) John Howard
82 / 150
Increase2 4,887,998 43.01% Majority gov't (LP-NP) John Howard
87 / 150
Increase5 5,471,588 46.70% Majority gov't (LP-NP-CLP) John Howard
65 / 150
Decrease22 5,229,024 42.09% Opposition John Howard
72 / 150
Increase7 5,365,529 43.32% Opposition Tony Abbott
90 / 150
Increase18 5,882,818 45.55% Majority gov't (LP-LNP-NP-CLP) Tony Abbott


  1. Paul Davey (2006). The Nationals: The Progressive, Country, and National Party in New South Wales 1919–2006. Annandale, NSW: Federation Press. pp. 39–40. Retrieved 18 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Origins". The Nationals. Retrieved 18 August 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. King, Madonna (18 May 2010). "LNP differences a Coalition headache". The Drum. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Haxton, Nance (23 July 2004). "SA Govt recruits National Party MP". PM. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 1 February 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Brennan, Ben (4 September 2013). "Joyce takes aim at claim". The Murray Valley Standard. Retrieved 17 November 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Petrow, Stefan: Country Party, The Companion to Tasmanian History (University of Tasmania).
  7. "Matthew Guy elected as new Liberal Party leader in Victoria". ABC News. 4 Dec 2014. Retrieved 10 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Savage, Alison. "Peter Walsh takes over National Party leadership with new MP as deputy". ABC News. Retrieved 10 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Labor's clean sweep broken". Sydney: News Limited. 14 September 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  10. Ker, Peter (26 August 2010). "Don't count me among Coalition, says Nat". The Age. Melbourne: Fairfax Media. Retrieved 1 February 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. David Weber (11 March 2013). "Counting resumes for WA election but won't change decisive Barnett victory". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 11 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "History of the Country Liberals". Northern Territory: Country Liberal Party. 2010. Retrieved 24 August 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Non-classic Divisions". Australian Electoral Commission. 2010. Retrieved 7 November 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links