Fusion: the party system we had to have?


Despite occasional efforts by pundits to make it sound volatile and exciting, Australia’s party system is one of the most stable in the democratic world. Its fundamental shape has not changed in a hundred years, writes Charles Richardson.

It was in May 1909 that the non-Labor groups were ‘fused’ together into a single party, whose lineal descendant is today’s Liberal Party. Since then, with rare exceptions, Australian elections have been a contest between Labor and non-Labor parties.

But too much shouldn’t be read into the Fusion’s title of ‘Liberal Party’; the turn of the century political climate made ‘Liberal’ an all-purpose title. However, as the intellectual authority of liberalism faded, the party and its successors were more often described as ‘conservative.’ In effect, the ideological content of ‘liberalism’ was denied by giving it a capital ‘L.’

Richardson argues that the fortunes of liberalism would have been better served by bringing Labor within the pale of a liberal alliance, thereby isolating conservatives and populists, and marginalising the doctrinaire socialists.

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