Minor Political Parties in Australia Essay

Minor Political Parties in Australia


Minor parties or small parties have been in recent years been of much interest in the European nationals and political systems as they are key stakeholders in the formation of a coalition government. In Australia, for instance, minor parties have been of great impact on government formation and administration. This is not a wonder since the Australian form of government follows the Westminster method where the majority party forms the government. The majority party is or the ruling party is the party that garnered many votes and has a higher representation in the lower house.

However, Australia has a different parliamentary system than other nations since it has a powerful senate. The senate has almost all the powers in the House of Representatives. For a bill to become a law, it must be passed over both houses. Furthermore, the Senate is the house in which there is a higher representation of minor parties, therefore, wielding a balancing effect in the establishment of government policies.

Political Parties Context

In the context of political parties, there are two kinds: Major and Minor political parties. A major political party is a party in which it has many candidates running for the elective parliamentary position and that has a high number of elected members thus can join the government or the official opposition party depending on the number of elected seats in the parliament (Brenton 283). Majority parties are the form the government or can become the opposition party that acts as the “watchdog” pinpointing the wrong deeds of the ruling government.

Minority parties, on the other hand, are parties with low support or parties with few elected members in the parliament. A minor party is thus challenged in the process of policymaking since the “voice” is heard when there is a high representation in the court. In Australia, a minor party can stand candidates in all the electorate posts or list candidates in a few posts. In the legislative hose, a minor party’s size will be determined by the number of candidates elected on their tickets. The influence of minor parties can be immense or negligible depending on the influence of the members of both houses.

In the Australian political structure, there are two major parties, the Australian Labour Party and the coalition between the Nationals Party of Australia and the Liberal Party of Australia. For other reasons, society forms other political parties which have low representation. These political; parties are considered to be Minor parties due to the small number of representatives in the parliament (Juriansz and Brian 557). Due to the small number of representatives, the Minor parties are unlikely to be included in the formation of the government.

The formation of a Minor party can be as a result of a split in a major party. For example, the DLP was formed after the ALP split. Other minor parties are formed from social movements that transition to a political party. For instance, the social movement concerned with environmental matters transitioned to a political party so that they can stand candidates for their representation in parliament.

The Australian political structure also allows candidates to seek election mandate without any support of a political; party. In this case, the candidate is said to be an independent candidate. An independent candidate is thus a person vying for an elected seat without membership of neither a major nor a minor party.


Categorization of Political Parties

Australia’s political structure has existed as a two-party system for a greater period. The emergence of minor parties has in recent years challenged the two-party system by appealing for election posts and forming the government (Clune 148). The minor parties have regularly risen to challenge the major parties and seek political seat thus causing a threat to the existing ruling and opposition parties.

Some of the minor parties in Australia include free traders, Lang Labour, Country progressive parties, the Australian Party, shooter and fishers, the Liberal Movement Party, and various communist parties.

Richmond (331) categorized minor parties into three major groupings which include aggrieved minority, Secessionist, and doctrinal.

  • Aggrieved Minority: these minor parties are mainly formed for economic interests or other alternative interests, or both. Examples include New State, independence, the Australian Conservative Party, the Progressive Party, and the Defence of Government Schools.
  • Secessionist: secessionist parties are formed when there is split in a major party and one of the sides forms a small and pure party from the bigger party. Examples include the National Liberal, Australia Party, Workers Party, DLP, and New Liberal Movement.
  • Doctrinal: these are political parties that premise a certain doctrine either in season or out of season. Examples of doctrinal parties include socialist parties, Nazi, and communist, The Australian Greens.

It is worth noticing that the Richmond categorization fails to recognize two popular minor political parties since they were attributed after 1978. These minor parties are the One Nation Party and the Australian Green. According to the categorization provided by Richmond, the Australian Green Party could fall at the ‘aggrieved category’ since on their view there are no other political parties that will advocate for the environment and other ‘greener’ subjects. One Nation Party, on the other hand, can be categorized as a doctrinal party: their doctrine was predominantly no other Asian immigrants to Australia.

However, Richmond (331) argued that no specific criteria would be followed in categorizing a political party. For instance, the Australian Green can as well be considered as a doctrinal party since the aspect of a green environment can be viewed as a doctrine. DLP can also fit in the aggrieved minority the One Nation Party could fit in the aggrieved minority as well.

While the classical categorization can be well viewed on the Richmond perspective, we can as well observe the indication of why the minority parties rise in power and having many representations in parliament resulting in the sharing of power. The revolution and differences in ideologies are what cause secession in major political parties. The Political system in Australia also advocates for democracy which is a key contributor to the formation of minor political parties. It is also evident that Australia is considered a fully democratic country meaning that people are allowed to air their ideologies and chose their esteemed candidate regardless of political party affiliation.

A fragmentary party is another distinct categorization of minor political parties where the co-founders have spilled from major political parties. Ghazarian (2015) used a different approach to categorize minor political parties based on their performance in the senate. Ghazarian explored the rise and fall of these fragmentary parties without entirely considering the factors that led to the rise and fall of the various parties.

Ghazarian provided another a different approach for classifying the more recent minor political parties. Ghazarian categorized the concept into two-part categorization where the fragmentary parties were classified as either issue-based or issues-competitive parties. According to his argument, Ghazarian stated that the older minor parties that garnered many votes in the senate are the fragmentary parties which include the DLP. The Australian Democrats, and the Liberal Movement.

The most recent minor parties that won seats in the senate are categorized as issue-based and issues competitive party. For instance, the Austrian Green Party and the One Nation Party seek representation in the senate to promote issues that they felt they required to be addressed in the national seen. The Australian Green Party even went further and won the senate seats to present issues that they thought the major parties failed to address. The formation of a political party is thus a tactical methodology employed by a few individuals so that they can be members of various parliamentary committees and enhance what is called political stability. This is mainly used in the current parliamentary system where they can get a platform to represent their ideas.

Role of Minority Parties in the Senate

The minor parties were in most cases formed as a result of the fragmentation of major parties from 1955 to 1983 in which their election in the senate proved that the minority can get represented in the parliament despite the dominance of the two-party system that was in existence for long term. The formation of minor parties, however, changed its course from fragmentation and was now formed to promote specific policy in the upper house. They were also established to represent ideas that the major parties deemed negligible. The wave of the minor political parties in 1984 emerged as people wanted to have their ideas represented (Gauja 486).

The minor political parties, in this case, were created not to oppose the ruling party but to act as an ambassador of change or act as a mediator in parliament. These minor political parties highlighted perceived shortcomings in governance and promised to address them if elected. It is also common in other liberal democracies the role played by minor parties which is to promote or advance certain issues rather than opposing the major parties.

In other established European systems of government, for example, new minor political parties have emerged primarily intending to get other parties including the major parties to pay attention to issues that they would wish dominate the electoral competition. The agendas formulated by the new minor parties are always at the center of debate since the major parties always view them on the general perspective of economic and social status. Additionally, the policy stresses for the new political parties are usually linked with grievances of new social movements. It is for this reason that the minor political parties elected since 1984 to the Australian Senate regarded as ‘movement’ parties.

From the history of minor political parties in Australia and in any other established nation, it is clear that the major role of these new political parties is to advocate for representation of policies in the government. The social movement parties that later transitioned to political parties wanted to promote equity in the senate so that their ideologies can be considered. Minor parties especially those formed after 1984 are seen to have a different approach in the upper house rather than opposing the big parties. These parties were formed to enable their policy ideas to have a presence in the parliamentary set up so that what was ignored by the major parties to now have discussions.

Representation in parliament would give the new political parties a better avenue to present their grievances. Although the power in the senate is determined by the number of votes, the minor parties have a great influence on the entire system of governance. The area in which the major policies are left out, the minor parties are responsible to resurrect them provided they are a representation of the entire party.

Another role played by minority parties is to act as watchdogs to the ruling party and the opposition party. The minority parties may not be deemed as the opposition parties but their contribution to challenging the major parties is a matter of importance. Minority parties are best regarded as watchdogs since they will question the activities or the policies promoted by the major parties. As such, the major parties will not have the liberty of instilling their policies that are not in line with the constitution.

Another key aspect that leads to the formation of minor parties is the feeling that the major parties were reluctant in addressing the disarmament of nuclear weapons. It is for this reason that led to the formation of NDP as the major party was reluctant to un disarmament issues.  Later, NDP disintegrated leading to the emergence of WA Greens and the Vallentine Peace Group. Meanwhile, the Australian Greens had a superior influence on the wider conservation groups that arose in the 1960s.

The conservation had greater influence in government, unlike the peace and disarmament groups. The conservation party inherently succeeded in influencing and persuading the Hawk Labour government to take its conservation schema seriously and legislate policy (Lohrey 30). This criterion meant that the movement had less need to spawn as a political party since it was in a position to influence the government without necessarily being a political party. This was however between the years the 1980s and early 1990s. However, the dice changed when Paul Keating replaced Bob Hawk as the prime minister thus reducing the powers of a movement to influence policymaking in the government (Nick 71).

Due to the reduction in power of influencing the government in policymaking, some elements in the conservative movement formed the Australian Greens. Australian Greens, however, fused its position as just an ‘environment party’ and progressed into social reformist issues and anti-war strategies during the Howard government regime.

The One Nation’s party emerged as a social movement that was formed as a vehicle to challenge the government in buying their ideas. The supporters of One Nation Party had common ideas that underpinned the party’s ideology on economic, and immigration policies for a successful nation (Henderson 135). The role of the party was to create an avenue to present their social issues that included same-sex marriage and the notion of what instituted a ‘family’.


Minority parties in Australia were formed to represent various ideologies that the major parties failed to address. Minor parties have similar characteristics as the social movement since bot had a similar course of using their position to influence the state on implementing certain policies that they deemed appropriate.

Work Cited

Brenton, Scott. “Policy traps for third parties in two-party systems: the Australian case.” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 51.3 (2013): 283-305

Clune, David. “The Making of a Party System: Minor Parties in the Australian Senate: Professionals or Part‐Timers? Major Party Senators in Australia.” Australian Journal of Politics & History 62.1 (2016): 148-150

Gauja, Anika. “Evaluating the success and contribution of a minor party: The case of the Australian Democrats.” Parliamentary Affairs 63.3 (2010): 486-503

Ghazarian, Zareh. The Making of a Party System: Minor Parties in the Australian Senate. Monash University Publishing, 2015

Henderson, Peter. “A step to the (far) right: Peter Sawyer and radical-right politics in contemporary Australia.” Journal of Australian Studies 32.1 (2008): 135-146

Juriansz, John, and Brian Opeskin. “Electoral redistribution in Australia: accommodating 150 years of demographic change.” Australian Journal of Politics & History 58.4 (2012): 557-579

Lohrey, Amanda. Quarterly Essay 8 Groundswell: The Rise of the Greens. Vol. 8. Black Inc., 2002

Nick Economou, ‘Backwards into the future: national policymaking, devolution and the rise and fall of the environment’ in K.J. Walker and K. Crowley (eds), Australian Environmental Policy 2: Studies in Decline and Devolution, UNSW Press, Sydney, 1999, p. 71

Richmond, K. (1978). Minor Parties in Australia. Political Parties in Australia. G Starr, K.

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