Australian Labor Party (Victorian Branch)
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The Australian Labor Party (Victorian Branch) also known as Vic Labor is the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party. The parliamentary leader is elected from and by the members of the party caucus, comprising all party members in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. The party factions have a strong influence on the election of the leader. The leader's position is dependent on the continuing support of the caucus (and party factions) and the leader may be deposed by failing to win a vote of confidence of parliamentary members. By convention, the premier sits in the Legislative Assembly, and is the leader of the party controlling a majority in that house. The party leader also typically is a member of the Assembly, though this is not a strict party constitutional requirement.
When the Labor party wins sufficient seats to be able to control a majority in the Legislative Assembly, the party leader becomes the State Premier and Labor will form the government. When the party is not in government, the party leader becomes the Leader of the Opposition. To become a Premier or Opposition Leader, the party leader must be or within a short period of time become a member of the Legislative Assembly.
Daniel Andrews has been the leader of the party since 3 December 2010 and James Merlino has been deputy party leader since February 2012. At the 2014 state election the ALP in Victoria obtained a majority with 47 of the 88 seats in the Legislative Assembly and formed the Government of Victoria. On 4 December 2014 Andrews was sworn in as Premier of Victoria and Merlino has been Deputy Premier. The party has only 14 of the 40 seats in the Legislative Council. The Andrews Ministry comprises 22 ministers.
While struggling to balance an uneasy alliance of trade unionists and progressive social reformers during the 1890s, the political labor movement in Victoria underwent several changes of name. It was called the Progressive Political League between 1891 and 1894, the United Labor and Liberal Party of Victoria from June 1894, the United Labor Party from 1896 and the Political Labor Council of Victoria from 1901; before becoming the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party.
George Prendergast and George Elmslie
Labor members were first elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1894, but the actual numbers are uncertain. At the 1897 election Labor won 8 of the 95 seats, all of which had to be contested. Its representation went to 9 of the 95 seats at the 1900 election, and 12 of the 95 seats at the 1902 election. George Prendergast became the first leader of the parliamentary Labor party in only 1904. At the 1904 election Labor won 17 of the 67 seats and at the 1907 election it slipped to 14 of 65 seats; and 21 of 65 seats in 1908. At the 1911 election Labor won only 20 of the 65 seats, to 43 for the various factions of the Liberal Party. Prendergast resigned the leadership because of ill-health in 1913, to be succeeded by George Elmslie, who had been elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1902 and became deputy leader in 1912.
In December 1913, the Liberal Premier, William Watt, resigned after a dispute with the rural faction of his own party. The acting Governor, John Madden, surprised the Liberals by sending for Elmslie, who on 9 December formed Victoria's first Labor government. Elmslie's tenure as Premier lasted only 14 days, by which time the Liberal factions re-united, and Watt moved a no-confidence motion in Elmslie and resumed office on 22 December. Watt resigned in June 1914 to enter federal politics, and Alexander Peacock returned to leadership. The 1914 election was fought after World War I was declared, and Labor increased its seats to 22, while the Liberals retained 43.
The 1916 Labor split occurred over the issue of World War I conscription in Australia which saw pro-conscription Labor members expelled from the party and running as National Labor candidates at the 1917 election. That election also saw the emergence of the Victorian Farmers' Union (the forerunner of the Country Party) as a party. There was also a split in the Nationalist party into rural and city factions and both factions fielded their own candidates. However, Victoria introduced compulsory preferential voting before this election, and most of the preferences resulting from multiple Nationalist candidates were kept within the party. At that election, of the 65 seats, the pro-Ministerial city faction of the Nationalists won 13 seats, while the rural faction won 27. Labor won 18 seats, National Labor won 3 and the VFU won 4. After the election the rural Nationalist faction took control of the party, ousting Premier Alexander Peacock. The Nationalists reunited under Bowser. Elmslie died in 1918 and Prendergast returned to the party's leadership. At the 1920 election Labor won 20 seats to the Nationalists' 30. VFU became a force, holding the balance of power in the Legislative Assembly with 13 seats, a position it held until 1952. In 1920, it supported the conservative Nationalist government. In 1921, the VFU voted with Labor against the Nationalist government when it abolished the compulsory wheat pool operating in the state, leading to a dissolution of Parliament and the 1921 election, which maintained the same balance of power.
In April 1924, the VFU, now called the Country Party, again withdrew its support from the Nationalist government when it tried to legislate a reduction in the rural over-representation. Peacock, back in government, called the 1924 election in June, at which Labor won 27 seats, the Nationalists 20 and the Country Party 13. The Country Party supported the minority Labor government in exchange for a number of policy concessions. Prendergast became Premier at the age of 70 – the oldest man ever to take the office for the first time. The only real talents in his government were Edmond Hogan as Minister for Agriculture and Railways and William Slater as Attorney-General. John Cain was an Assistant Minister. The Prendergast government was the first Labor government in Victoria able actually to govern. Immediate action was taken to provide shelter for unemployed Victorians, while the government set up royal commissions into the causes of a major police strike in 1923, the prices of bread and flour, and the soldier settlement scheme. Increased expenditure was made available for rural roads, while reductions were made on rail freights and fares. With the support of the Country Party, he was able to pass several bills assisting farmers, but the Country Party would not support anything which benefited Labor's urban working-class base. This was a frustrating situation for Labor ministers, and several urged Prendergast to call another election in the hope of improving their position, but Prendergast was too timid to run the risk. In November the Country Party patched up its differences with the Nationalists, and the two parties joined forces to defeat Prendergast in the Assembly. The Country Party leader, John Allan, succeeded him as Premier.
Labor in Victoria in the early federal period was much weaker than in the other states, and there had never been a majority Labor state government. This was partly due to the continuing attraction of Deakinite liberalism among middle-class voters in Melbourne, partly because Victoria did not have the huge pastoral and mining areas that the other mainland states had. The Parliamentary Labor Party remained small and contained limited talent. Victoria was Labor's weakest state throughout the 1920s, due to the gross over-representation of rural areas in the Legislative Assembly, and the strength of the Country Party in rural areas and the Nationalist Party in middle-class Melbourne seats. Labor's parliamentary representation was confined to the industrial areas of Melbourne and a few provincial towns. There was little talent in the Parliamentary Labor Party and few regarded Prendergast as likely ever to win a state election. Most notably, however, the lack of a Labor majority government was due to the high degree of rural over-representation existing in the state's electoral system, which strongly favoured rural electorates to the disadvantage of inner-city electorates, where Labor's vote was concentrated.
Hogan had been elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1913. His was not a natural Labor seat, but it was heavily Irish-Catholic, which helped Hogan, an active Catholic, retain it. In 1914 he was elected to the Labor Party's state executive and in 1922 he became State President. Prendergast resigned as Labor leader in 1926 and was succeeded by Hogan.
Hogan was a fine speaker and soon became a leading figure in a parliamentary party which was thin on talent. Victoria was Labor's weakest state and in the 1920s there seemed little chance it would ever win a state election. When Prendergast stepped down in 1926, Hogan was the obvious choice to succeed him. His main drawback was his close association with the Melbourne horse-racing, boxing and gambling identity John Wren, who was widely suspected of corruption. The Wren connection alienated many middle-class voters from Labor through the 1920s and 1930s.
Nevertheless, at the 1927 election Hogan was able to capitalise on resentment against rural over-representation in the state Parliament and consequent domination by the Country Party. Labor won 28 seats to the Nationalists 15 and the Country Party's ten. Hogan was able to form a minority government with the support of the four Country Progressive Party and two Liberal members. But this alliance broke down in 1928 in the face a prolonged and violent industrial dispute on the Melbourne waterfront, and in November he was defeated in a confidence vote and resigned, being succeeded by the Nationalist William McPherson with the support of the Country Party.
In 1929 the Country Party withdrew its support from the McPherson government, resulting in the 1929 election, fought just as the Great Depression was breaking over Australia. Hogan led Labor to its best result yet, winning 30 seats to the Nationalists' 17 and the Country Party's 11. A collection of Country Progressives, Liberals and independents held the balance, and they agreed to support a second Hogan government. Tom Tunnecliffe was Chief Secretary, John Cain was Minister for Railways and William Slater was Attorney-General.
The Great Depression in Australia had a devastating effect on Victoria's economy and society, since the state was heavily dependent on agricultural exports, mainly wheat and wool, for its income, and these industries collapsed almost completely as demand in Britain dried up. By 1931 most Victorian farmers were bankrupt and about 25 percent of the workforce was unemployed. Hogan's government, in common with all other governments, had no solution to this disaster. Even if the Labor government was minded to attempt radical solutions, it was dependent on Country Progressive support in the Assembly, and had only six members in the Legislative Council.
Hogan adopted the orthodox economic view that governments must balance their budgets, and since the Council would not permit any increases in taxation, the only way to do this in the face of falling government revenue was to cut expenditure. This increased the burdens on the poor and unemployed, while providing no stimulus to the economy. There was little possibility of effective unemployment relief, although there were some government works to soak up unemployment, such as the Shrine of Remembrance and the Great Ocean Road.
In August 1930 Hogan attended a conference with the other Premiers and the Labor Prime Minister, James Scullin, to consider what to do. On the advice of Sir Otto Niemeyer, a senior official of the Bank of England (which controlled most of Victoria's access to credit in the City of London), they agreed to radical cuts to government spending and borrowing. This provoked a storm of protest in the Labor Party and trade unions, who regarded Scullin and Hogan as traitors.
A second conference in June 1931 produced the Premiers' Plan, which entailed further cuts in government spending, accompanied by increases in taxation on the wealthy. In the circumstances both of these measures further depressed the economy, while not satisfying either side of politics. The 1931 Labor split occurred, with a breakaway NSW Labor Party led by Jack Lang rebelled and brought down the Scullin government in November, but Hogan survived with Country Party continued support from the cross benches. In any case the Nationalists, now renamed the United Australia Party (UAP) preferred to see Hogan implement the Premiers' Plan.
In February 1932 Hogan traveled to London to talk to the banks about Victoria's desperate economic plight. While he was away Tom Tunnecliffe was acting Premier, and he was much more willing than Hogan to reject the Premiers' Plan. As a result, the Country Party withdrew its support, and in April the government was defeated in a confidence vote. Tunnecliffe replaced Hogan as Labor leader and led the Labor campaign in May 1932 election, now rejecting the Premiers' Plan completely. The Labor Party Executive expelled everyone who had supported the Premiers' Plan, including Hogan, although it did not run a candidate against him. At the elections the UAP won 31 seats to Labor's 16 and the reunited Country Party's 14. Hogan and one of his ex-ministers were elected as "Premiers' Plan Labor" candidates. UAP leader Stanley Argyle became Premier.
After sitting as an independent for four years, Hogan joined the Country Party in 1935, and formed a close relationship with the Country Party leader Albert Dunstan. The result was a renewed alliance between the Country Party and Labor, brokered by Hogan, John Wren and the Victorian Labor State President, Arthur Calwell. In April 1935 Dunstan walked out of Argyle's government, and became Premier with Labor support. Hogan became Minister for Agriculture and Mines, and held these posts through Dunstan's record term as Premier until September 1943.
John Cain, Snr
John Cain, snr was assistant minister for agriculture in the short-lived minority Prendergast Labor government in 1924, a minister without portfolio in the first minority Hogan Labor government (1927–28), and minister for railways and for electrical undertakings in the second Hogan government (1929–32). When Hogan's government collapsed during the Great Depression and Hogan himself was expelled from the Labor Party, Cain became party deputy leader under Tunnecliffe. Cain succeeded Tunnecliffe as Labor leader in 1937. Under both Tunnecliffe and Cain, Labor supported the Dunstan minority Country Party government from 1935 to 1943. At the 1943 election, Labor, now led by John Cain, benefiting from the popularity of John Curtin's wartime federal government, won 22 of the 65 seats.
Dunstan resigned on 14 September 1943 and John Cain formed government, which lasted only 4 days. The conservative parties resolved their differences and Dunstan resumed office and retained it with Labor support until November 1945, when Dunstan resigned again. Cain again became premier on 21 November 1945. Labor's lower house parliamentary position was much better than it had been in 1943, since the 1945 election had given Labor 31 seats to the Country Party's 18 and the Liberals' 13, with three independents. With a majority in neither House, Cain's government was unable to pass much legislation. On 2 October 1947 the Victorian Legislative Council blocked his government's budget to show its opposition to the federal Labor government of Ben Chifley, which had announced plans to nationalise the private banks. Although this issue had nothing to do with state politics, Cain was forced to resign and call the 1947 election for 8 November, at which Labor was heavily defeated. The 1950 election gave Labor 24 seats to the Liberals' 27 and the Country Party's 13. Since the Liberals and Country Party hated each other, no stable majority government was possible, and this, together with the unpopularity of the new federal Liberal government, gave Cain his opportunity. In October 1952 the Country Party premier, John McDonald, resigned and called the 1952 election. Labor won 37 seats, the first time it had won a majority in the lower house, and Cain formed his third government.
Cain's government was hampered by the hostility of the Legislative Council (which until 1950 had been elected on a restricted property-based franchise and so always had a conservative majority), and also by tensions within his own party. During the war the Communist Party had grown greatly in strength in the trade unions which controlled and funded the Labor Party, leading a faction of anti-Communist Catholics to form within the party to fight Communist influence. (This body, known as The Movement, was organised by B. A. Santamaria and supported by the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix). Conflict between left and right in the Labor Party grew increasingly bitter in the Cold War atmosphere of the 1950s.
Nevertheless, the Cain government was able to pass more legislation than any previous Labor government in Victoria had done. Major reforms were carried out in the areas of workers' compensation, tenancy law, long service leave, hospitals, public transport, housing, charities and the Crimes Act. Changes included the provision on long-service leave to railway workers, increased eligibility to workers' compensation, alterations to the Shops and Factories Act and the Landlord and Tenant Act, and the introduction of legislation "to penalize rogues who resorted to fraudulent misrepresentation in soliciting corporate investment from the public."
The government had also reformed wage determination procedures and public service administration, while constructive initiatives were carried out in adult education and soil conservation. Even some reforms to the electoral system were carried through the Council, where Labor and Liberal members united to reduce the malapportionment which had given the Country Party disproportionate representation since the 1920s. In its first two years the Cain government won the approval of the Melbourne daily papers The Age, The Herald and The Argus. Nevertheless, Cain's third Government fell on 19 April 1955 when 19 expelled Labor lower house members aligned to "The Movement" "crossed the floor" against the government in a no-confidence vote.
The 1955 Labor split began in October 1954 after the federal leader, Dr H. V. Evatt, blamed Santamaria and his supporters in the Victorian Labor Party for Labor's loss of seats at the 1954 federal election. Santamaria exercised strong influence in the Cain government through "Movement" linked ministers such as Bill Barry and Frank Scully. Protestant and left-wing ministers strongly opposed the Movement faction. In December 1953 the Lands Minister, Robert Holt, resigned rather than introduce a Santamaria-influenced bill which would have promoted the settlement of Italian immigrants as small farmers in Gippsland.
In early 1955 the Labor Party's federal executive dissolved the state executive and began to expel Santamaria's supporters from the party. The Victorian branch then split between pro-Evatt and pro-Santamaria factions, and in March the pro-Evatt State Executive suspended 24 members of State Parliament suspected of being Santamaria supporters. Four ministers were forced to resign from the government. When the Parliament met on 19 April, 19 expelled Labor members crossed over to vote with the Liberal and Country Party members to defeat the government. At the ensuing May 1955 election, the expelled members and others stood as the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist), later the Democratic Labor Party. Their strategy was to draw votes from the Labor Party and direct preferences to the Liberal Party. Labor was heavily defeated, winning only 20 seats, from the 37 at the 1952 election, to the Liberals' 34 and the Country Party's ten. Only one of the expelled Labor members was re-elected.
Cain suffered a stroke on 9 August 1957 and died, aged 75. Alfred Ernest "Ernie" Shepherd (1901–58) succeeded Cain as party leader, only to die himself little more than a year afterwards. From 1958 to 1967 Clive Stoneham was Labor and Opposition Leader. He lost the 1961, 1964 and 1967 elections to the incumbent Liberal Premier, Henry Bolte, with the electoral assistance of the Democratic Labor Party, which directed its preferences to the Liberals.
Clyde Holding became party leader in 1967. During the 1970 state election campaign, which some commentators suggested Labor could win as a result of voter fatigue with the Liberals after their 15 years in power, Holding campaigned on the new federal policy of supporting state aid to non-government schools. However, in the week before the election, the left-wing state president, George Crawford and state secretary, Bill Hartley, issued a statement saying that a Victorian Labor government would not support state aid. As a result, federal leader Gough Whitlam refused to campaign for Labor in Victoria, and Holding was forced to repudiate his own policy. At the election, the Bolte government.was returned.
This episode led directly to federal intervention in the Victorian branch of the Labor Party. In 1971 the left-wing leadership was overturned by the National Executive and allies of Whitlam, Hawke and Holding took control. The left then formed an organised faction, the Socialist Left, to agitate for socialist policies, supported by some unions. This continuing conflict in the party made it difficult for Holding to oppose the Liberal government effectively. The surge in support for federal Labor which saw Whitlam elected Prime Minister in 1972 was not reflected in Victorian state politics. Bolte retired in 1972, and his successor, Dick Hamer, comfortably won the 1973 and 1976 state elections. Frank Wilkes became party leader in 1977. At the 1979 state election, Labor under Wilkes gained eleven seats, the party's best showing for many years, though not sufficient to form government.
John Cain, Jnr
John Cain, Jr., son of the former Labor premier, became party leader in September 1981, and won the 1982 election, winning 49 of the 81 seats in the Legislative Assembly, forming a Labor government for the first time since 1955. In 1984 the Labor government legalised prostitution in Victoria.
At the 1985 election Labor won 47 of the 88 seats; and 46 seats at the 1988 election. Cain's political support collapsed in August 1990. By this time the Labor government was in deep crisis, with some of the state's financial institutions on the brink of insolvency, the budget deficit unsustainably high and growing and the Labor Party deeply divided on how to respond to the situation.
Cain resigned and Joan Kirner was elected Labor leader, becaming the party's first female leader and Victoria's first female Premier. The party hoped that the elevation of a popular woman as its new leader would improve its position, but Kirner never succeeded in gaining control of the crisis into which the state had plunged. The conservative-leaning Melbourne newspaper, the Herald Sun, reacted unfavourably to a Premier from the Socialist Left, dubbing her "Mother Russia". She was lampooned alternatively as a sinister commissar and as a frumpy housewife in a polka dot dress. She seemed unfazed by the Herald Sun and gradually won some respect, though she was unable to improve significantly the government's standing.
During 1991 and 1992 Kirner took several decisions to cut government spending and raise revenue to some extent. However, her government failed to cut spending in many areas including education. Most of the Kirner Government attempts to cut spending were actively opposed by trade unions and some members of the government. The interest bill alone was $3.5 billion per year, the government sold off trains and trams and leased them back. Another decision was the sale in 1991 of the state-owned State Bank of Victoria, now on the verge of collapse, to the Commonwealth Bank.
Liberal leader Alan Brown persuaded the Nationals to contest the next election as a Coalition, the first time the two main non-Labor parties in Victoria had fought an election together since 1950, before Brown was deposed as Liberal leader by Jeff Kennett in 1991. Kirner went into 1992 knowing she faced a statutory general election, one which opinion polls gave her virtually no chance of winning. She waited as long as she could, finally calling an election for October. It was obvious as soon as the writs were dropped that Labor would not win a fourth term. Although she remained personally more popular than Kennett, it was not nearly enough to overcome the electorate's anger at her party. The Coalition's "Guilty Party" campaign did much to stoke this anger, targeting many Ministers in the Kirner Government and providing examples of concerns in their portfolios. The Coalition won the election in a landslide, scoring a 19-seat swing — the second-worst defeat that a sitting government has ever suffered in Victoria. The Liberals actually won enough seats that they could have governed in their own right. Kirner remained Opposition Leader until March 1993 and resigned from Parliament in May 1994.
Jim Kennan was a member of parliament between 1982 and 1993, initially in the Victorian Legislative Council, and then in the Legislative Assembly and was Deputy Premier of Victoria from 1990 to 1992. He became the Leader of the Opposition after Kirner resigned in March 1993, until his shock retirement from Parliament three months later.
Brumby, Bracks and Andrews period
Kennan was succeeded as leader by John Brumby, who was a member of the Legislative Council at the time. Brumby transferred to the Legislative Assembly in a by-election for Kennan's seat. The defeat of the federal Labor government in March 1996 prompted Kennett to call an early state election three weeks later. Labor led by Brumby only managed a net two-seat gain, leaving it 20 seats behind the Coalition. Brumby was replaced as Labor leader in March 1999 by Steve Bracks. To everyone's surprise, Bracks won the September 1999 election, which produced a hung parliament and the independents agreed to support the minority Labor government. Labor won the 2002 state election in a landslide, taking 62 seats out of 88 in the Legislative Assembly, also winning a slim majority in the Legislative Council. In 2002, Labor reformed the Legislative Council and brought in four-year fixed-term parliaments. Labor made inroads towards same-sex equality in Victoria. Since 2001, Victorian Labor governments have amended 60 Acts to advance same-sex equality.
Labor won a third term at the 2006 state election. Bracks resigned as party leader and Premier on 27 July 2007, and Labor deputy leader, John Thwaites also announced his resignation on the same day. John Brumby was elected unopposed Labor leader on 30 July 2007 and became Premier. One notable achievement of the Brumby government was abortion law reform in 2008. It also signed contracts for the Wonthaggi desalination plant in 2009, to drought-proof the State.
At the 2010 state election Labor was narrowly defeated, winning only 43 of the 88 Legislative Assembly seats. Brumby resigned as party leader soon after, to be replaced by Daniel Andrews on 3 December 2010. Labor was in Opposition for one term, and won the 2014 state election from the Napthine Government, winning 47 seats in the Legislative Assembly.
Victorian Labor leaders
- George Prendergast (leader 1904 – 17 September 1913)
- George Elmslie (leader 17 September 1913 – 11 May 1918, premier 9 December 1913 – 22 December 1913)
- George Prendergast (leader 18 June 1918 – 14 April 1926, premier 1924)
- Edmond Hogan (leader 14 April 1926 – 1932, premier 20 May 1927 – 22 November 1928, 12 December 1929 – 19 May 1932)
- Tom Tunnecliffe (leader 13 July 1932 – 1937)
- John Cain (senior) (leader 1937–57, premier 14 September 1943 – 18 September 1943, 21 November 1945 – 20 November 1947, 17 December 1952 – 7 June 1955)
- Ernie Shepherd (leader 1957–58)
- Clive Stoneham (leader 1958–67)
- Clyde Holding (leader 1967–77)
- Frank Wilkes (leader 1977–81)
- John Cain II (leader 1981–90, premier 8 April 1982 – 10 August 1990)
- Joan Kirner (leader 1990–93, premier 10 August 1990 – 6 October 1992, first female premier of Victoria, and first woman in Australia to lose an election as premier)
- Jim Kennan (leader 1993)
- John Brumby (leader 1993–99)
- Steve Bracks (leader and premier 20 October 1999 – 30 July 2007)
- John Brumby (leader and premier 30 July 2007 – 2 December 2010)
- Daniel Andrews (leader 2010 – present, premier 4 December 2014 – present)
Victorian Labor Party deputy leaders
Partial list of deputy leaders
- George Elmslie (1912–13)
- John Cain (senior) (1932–37)
- not listed (1937-1967)
- Frank Wilkes (1967–77)
- Robert Fordham (1977–88)
- Joan Kirner (1988–90)
- Jim Kennan (1990–92)
- John Thwaites (1999–2007)
- Rob Hulls (2007–12)
- James Merlino (February 2012–present)
- Australian Labor Party
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- "Cain, John (1882–1957)". Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Australian National University. Retrieved 5 January 2009. External link in
- Ross McMullin, The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991
- Michael O'Grady (1979), 'The party leaders: Hamer and Wilkes,' in Peter Hay, Ian Ward, John Warhurst (eds.), Anatomy of an Election, Hill of Content, Melbourne, Victoria, pages 91-104.
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- Electoral Act 2002 (Vic) and The Constitution (Parliamentary Reform) Act 2003