Conservatism in Australia

Conservatism in Australia refers to the political philosophy of conservatism as it has developed in Australia. Politics in Australia has since at least the 1910s been most predominantly a contest between the Australian labour movement and the combined forces of anti-Labour groups. The anti-Labour groups have at times identified themselves as "free trade", as "nationalist", as "anti-communist", as "liberal", “right of centre”, besides other labels. Until the 1990s, the label "conservative" has rarely been used in Australia, and when used it tended to be used by pro-Labour forces as a term of disparagement against their opponents.

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In the early 20th century, "Conservatism" was used as a disparaging epithet by detractors of right wing politics and politicians within Australia, often by supporters and members of left leaning movements and parties such as the Australian Labor Party and later the Australian Greens. People on the right called themselves "liberals". That only changed in the late 20th century; John Hirst says that as a significant political movement, conservatism is "a very recent arrival in Australia". John Howard, who became prime minister in 1996, was the first holder of the office to describe himself as a conservative."[1]

In the 21st century the term covers similar political issues as found in other Western democracies. In the early 20th century the liberals had connections with reform movements. However, as Howard has argued, the Liberal Party became the trustee of both the classical liberal and conservative traditions. That is, it combines liberal (market-based, pro-business, anti-union) economic policies with conservative social policies.[2]

Political parties

Mainstream political conservatism is primarily represented by the Liberal Party of Australia, and its coalition partner, the National Party, which historically was the party of the conservative small farmers and espoused agrarianism. The Liberal Party was formed in 1944 as a successor of the United Australia Party, which had been formed in 1931 as a successor of the Nationalist Party and ideologically similar parties that preceded it. The Liberal Party’s ideology has been described as conservative,[3] liberal-conservative,[4] conservative-liberal,[5] and classical liberal.[6] The Liberal Party tends to promote economic liberalism (which in the Australian usage refers to free markets and small government).[7]

Moser and Catley state, "In America, 'liberal' means left-of-center, and it is a pejorative term when used by conservatives in adversarial political debate. In Australia, of course, the conservatives are in the Liberal Party"[8] (though they are not exclusively found in the Liberal Party). Jupp points out that, "[the] decline in English influences on Australian reformism and radicalism, and appropriation of the symbols of Empire by conservatives continued under the Liberal Party leadership of Sir Robert Menzies, which lasted until 1966."[9] Beecher comments that, "across the economic and cultural landscape, Howard proved that the centre of politics in Australia is inherently conservative."[10]

There are also other minor parties which may be perceived to be conservative in orientation on account of some of their policies - and even some are regarded as right wing or extreme right, such as the Democratic Labour Party, One Nation Party, Liberal Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party, Australian Christians, Yellow Vest Australia (previously called the Australian Liberty Alliance), Rise Up Australia, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Fraser Anning's Conservative National Party and Katter's Australian Party, although some would not champion the classical liberal approach to economics adopted by the Liberal Party.[11] In the 45th Australian Senate, the Liberal Democratic Party's David Leyonhjelm, the Independent Cory Bernardi, Independent Fraser Anning and the United Australia Party's Brian Burston formerly formed a "conservative bloc".[12][13]

Think tanks and other entities

Some think tanks in Australia have a conservative focus. The Centre for Independent Studies, for example, focuses on classical liberal issues such as free markets and limited government, while the Institute of Public Affairs advocates free market economic policies such as privatisation and deregulation of state-owned enterprises, trade liberalisation and deregulated workplaces, climate change scepticism,[14] the abolition of the minimum wage,[15] and the repeal of parts of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.[16] The H. R. Nicholls Society focuses on industrial relations, and advocates full workplace deregulation, contains some Liberal MPs as members and is seen to be of the New Right. The Menzies Research Centre is an associated entity of the Liberal Party.[17][18]

Apart from political parties, conservative grass-roots movements have also arisen in Australia in recent years. Q Society of Australia is a far-right anti-Muslim association that works closely with the Australian Liberty Alliance. Some of these may have connections to existing political leaders, such as Senator Cory Bernardi’s Conservative Leadership Foundation[19] (which is dedicated to fostering community based conservative leadership) or explicitly reject party politics in favour of cultural restoration, such as the Sydney Traditionalist Forum[20] and Edmund Burke's Club [21] (which are described as “an association of ‘old school’ conservative, traditionalist and paleoconservative individuals”).

In Australia however there are some differences in the political landscape in which conservatism exists, compared to what is found in other countries, especially in economics. Australia undertook in the mid-1980s significant economic reforms – faith in markets, deregulation, a reduced role for government, low protection and the creation of a new cooperative enterprise culture - under the centre-left Australian Labor Party and specially under social liberal Paul Keating."[22] Consequently issues like protectionism, welfare reform, privatisation and deregulation are no longer debated as intensely as they are in Europe or North America. The main issues that distinguish conservatism in Australia have tended to be same-sex marriage, abortion rights, euthanasia, free speech, religious freedom, as well as immigration especially of Muslims. Other issues are nationalism, the monarchy and republicanism, white Australia, cultural issues and "traditional values".


The two national newspapers in Australia, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, take a conservative stance.[23][24] Since the 1970s, the Financial Review has advocated economic liberalism in Australia, driving a consistent editorial line favouring small government, deregulation, privatisation, lower taxes and trade liberalisation.

Major conservative regional newspapers include The Daily Telegraph, The West Australian, The Mercury, The Canberra Times, The Advertiser and The Courier-Mail.[25]

The primary conservative magazines in Australia are News Weekly, Quadrant and The Spectator Australia.[26][27]

On television, a conservative outlook is represented by Sky News Australia.[28]

Newspapers and other publications owned by News Corp have been accused of adopting anti-Labor political positions. The publications owned by News Corp include The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Mercury, The Advertiser and The Courier-Mail. Sky News is also owned by News Corp.


Australian Conservatives generally, but not exclusively, oppose the idea of Australia becoming a republic, changing the flag or removing perceived vestiges of Australia's Anglo-Saxon legacy.

Whether Australia should remain a monarchy or become a republic was a contentious issue in the 1990s. It has since not been a priority for the government as of 2019. In 1998 when debate peaked, Howard took the monarchist position favoured by most conservatives. Howard argued that the monarchy had provided a long period of stability and whilst he said there was no question that Australia was a fully independent nation, he believed that the "separation of the ceremonial and executive functions of government" and the presence of a neutral "defender of constitutional integrity" was an advantage in government and that no republican model would be as effective in providing such an outcome as the Australian constitutional monarchy.[29] Despite opinion polls suggesting Australians favoured a republic, the 1999 republic referendum rejected the model proposed by the 1998 convention involving appointment of the head of state by Parliament.[30] Conservatives generally support keeping the current flag (with its British insignia) and are proud of the nation's British heritage.[31]

See also


  1. Graeme Davison et al. eds., The Oxford Companion to Australian History (2nd ed. 2001) p 148
  2. Brett 2003, p. 1.
  3. James C. Docherty (2010). The A to Z of Australia. Scarecrow Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-1-4616-7175-6.
  4. Nicole A. Thomas; Tobias Loetscher; Danielle Clode; Michael E. R. Nicholls (2012). "Right-Wing Politicians Prefer the Emotional Left". 7 (5). PLOS ONE: 4. CiteSeerX The Liberal Party of Australia has an ideology in line with liberal conservatism and is therefore right of centre. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. Peter Starke; Alexandra Kaasch; Franca Van Hooren (2013). The Welfare State as Crisis Manager: Explaining the Diversity of Policy Responses to Economic Crisis. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 191. ISBN 978-1-137-31484-0.
  6. Kuo-Tsai Liou (1998). Handbook of Economic Development. CRC Press. p. 357. ISBN 978-1-4616-7175-6.
  7. Dennis Raphael (2012). Tackling Health Inequalities: Lessons from International Experiences. Canadian Scholars’ Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-55130-412-0.
  8. Mosler & Catley 1998, p. 83.
  9. Jupp 2004, p. 172.
  10. Eric Beecher, ed. (2009). The Best Australian Political Writing 2009. Melbourne Univ. Publishing. p. 236.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  11. Louise Chappell (2003). Gendering Government: Feminist Engagement With the State in Australia and Canada. UBC Press. p. 54.
  12. "Anti-Asian, anti-Islam party falls apart in Australia". Asia Times. 15 June 2018.
  13. "The tax cut battle explained in less than two minutes". Sydney Morning Herald. 18 June 2018.
  14. "Big donors dump IPA on climate scepticism". Sydney Morning Herald. 25 August 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  15. "Institute of Public Affairs calls for the abolition of the minimum wage". Sydney Morning Herald. 7 April 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  16. "Conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs gives George Brandis race law ultimatum". Sydney Morning Herald. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  17. Associated Entity Disclosure Return, 2014-15
  18. Reekie 1998, p. 63.
  19. "Conservative Leadership Foundation"
  20. "SydneyTrads - Weblog of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum
  21. "Edmund Burke's Club
  22. Paul Kelly, The end of certainty: The story of the 1980s (1992) p 660
  23. Clancy, Laurie (2004). Culture and customs of Australia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-313-32169-6.
  24. De Mestral, Armand (2017). Second Thoughts: Investor State Arbitration between Developed Democracies. McGill-Queen's Press. Most conservative newspapers, namely the Australian Financial Review (owned by the Fairfax group) and especially the Australian
  25. Banks, Arthur (1998). Political Handbook of the World 1998. Springer. p. 57.
  26. Forde, Susan (2011). Challenging the News: The Journalism of Alternative and Community Media. Macmillan. p. 186.
  27. "The Spectator slams ABC attacks". Australian Financial Review. 29 November 2013.
  28. "Andrew Bolt's show sends Sky further right on the night". The Guardian.
  29. "Pandora Archive". 23 August 2006. Archived from the original on 10 December 1999. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
  30. Vizard, Steve, Two Weeks in Lilliput: Bear Baiting and Backbiting At the Constitutional Convention (Penguin, 1998, ISBN 0-14-027983-0)
  31. Dutton 2002, p. 83.


Further reading

  • Hirst, John, "Conservatism," in Graeme Davison et al. eds., The Oxford Companion to Australian History (2nd ed. 2001) pp 148–50
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