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Liberal Party of Australia (South Australian Division)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Liberal Party of Australia (South Australian Division), commonly known as the South Australian Liberals, is the South Australian Division of the Liberal Party of Australia. It was formerly the Liberal and Country League (LCL), formed in 1932, before changing its name in 1974.[3] It is one of two major parties in the bicameral Parliament of South Australia, the other being the Australian Labor Party (SA Branch). The party has been led by Premier of South Australia Steven Marshall since the 2018 state election; their first win in twenty years.

During its 42-year existence as the Liberal and Country League, it spent 34 years in government, mainly due to an electoral malapportionment scheme known as the Playmander. The Playmander was named after LCL leader Sir Tom Playford, who was the Premier of South Australia for 27 years from 1938 until his election loss in 1965. The Playmander was dismantled through an electoral reform in 1968, with the first election under the new boundaries in 1970. Since the electoral reform, the party has won only 4 of the 15 state elections: 1979, 1993, 1997 and 2018.



Sir Richard Layton Butler, LCL Founder and Premier 1933–1938
Sir Richard Layton Butler, LCL Founder and Premier 1933–1938

The Liberal and Country League had its roots in the Emergency Committee of South Australia, which ran as the main non-Labor party in South Australia at the 1931 federal election landslide. In the House of Representatives, it took an additional two seats to hold six of the state's seven seats. In the bloc-voting winner-take-all Senate, it took the three seats up for election.

Encouraged by this success, the Liberal Federation (the SA branch of the United Australia Party) and the SA Country Party merged to form the LCL on 9 June 1932, with former Liberal Federation leader Richard Layton Butler as its first leader. Liberal Federation itself was preceded by Liberal Union (1910–1923) with the latter created from a tri-merger between the Liberal and Democratic Union (formed 1906), the Farmers and Producers Political Union (formed 1904) and the National Defence League (formed 1891).

In its first electoral test, the 1933 state election, the LCL took advantage of a three-way split in the state Labor government to win a smashing victory, taking 29 seats versus only 13 for the three Labor factions combined. Butler then became the Premier of South Australia.

Traditionally a socially conservative party, the LCL contained three relatively distinct factions whose ideologies often conflicted:[citation needed]

The urban middle class continued to support the party although they had little say in its running. Indeed, it was not until the election of Robin Millhouse in 1955 that someone from this third faction was elected to parliament. Millhouse, often considered during his term as the most progressive member of the LCL, continually criticised the conservative wing of the party. He eventually resigned in 1973 and joined the splinter Liberal Movement party.[4]

Playmander period

Early years

Sir Tom Playford, LCL Leader 1938–1966, Premier 1938–1965
Sir Tom Playford, LCL Leader 1938–1966, Premier 1938–1965

The Butler LCL introduced the electoral malapportionment scheme later known as the Playmander in 1936. The House of Assembly was also reduced from 46 members elected from multi-member districts to 39 members elected from single-member electorates. The electorates consisted of rural districts enjoying a 2-to-1 advantage in the state parliament, even though they contained less than half of the population. Two-thirds of seats were to be located in rural areas ("the country"). This arrangement was retained even as Adelaide, the state capital, grew to two-thirds of the state's population.

Even allowing for a smaller chamber, the LCL suffered heavy losses at the 1938 election, winning just 15 of 39 seats. However, Labor picked up only a small number of additional seats. In an unprecedented result, the crossbench swelled massively, with no less than 14 independents elected from a combined independent primary vote of 40 percent, higher than either major party (33 percent for the LCL, 26 percent for Labor). Butler and the LCL had to rely on the crossbench for confidence and supply to remain in government. Only months later, Butler resigned in favour of Tom Playford to make an unsuccessful attempt to enter federal politics. From the 1941 election onward, the Playford LCL would regain and keep a parliamentary majority, albeit narrowly. Additionally, turnout crashed to a record-low 50 percent in 1941, triggering the Playford LCL to introduce compulsory voting from the 1944 election.

In 1945, the Liberal and Country League became the South Australian division of the newly-formed Liberal Party of Australia. However, the SA division continued to be known as the LCL.[5]

Effects on elections

Under the scheme, a vote in a low-population rural seat had anywhere from double to ten times the value of a vote in a high-population metropolitan seat. For example, at the 1968 election the rural seat of Frome had 4,500 formal votes, while the metropolitan seat of Enfield had 42,000 formal votes. The scheme allowed LCL to win sufficient parliamentary seats even when it lost the two-party vote to Labor opposition by comprehensive margins at several elections: 1944, 1953, 1962 and 1968. For instance, in the 1944 and 1953 elections, Labor took 53 percent of the two-party vote, which would have normally been enough to deliver a solid majority for the Labor leader–Robert Richards in 1944 and Mick O'Halloran in 1953. However, on both occasions, the LCL managed to just barely hold onto power. By the 1950s, a number of Labor figures had despaired of ever winning power. O'Halleran, for instance, felt he needed to maintain a cordial relationship with Playford in hopes of getting Labor-friendly legislation through the House of Assembly.

Playford had become synonymous with the LCL over his record 27-year tenure as Premier of South Australia. The LCL became so strongly identified with Playford that during election campaigns, it branded itself as "The Playford Liberal and Country League". Playford gave the impression that the LCL membership were there solely to raise money and run election campaigns; his grip on the party was such that he frequently ignored LCL convention decisions. This treatment of rank and file party members continued to cause resentment throughout the party. This split mirrored the dissatisfaction amongst the Establishment faction, which had been steadily losing its power within the party and was appalled at the "nouveau riche (new money) commoners", such as Millhouse, that had infiltrated the parliamentary wing of the LCL.

Fall from power

The LCL's grip on power began to slip in the 1950s; they would lose seats in every election from 1953 onward. Even at the height of Playford's popularity, the LCL was almost nonexistent in Adelaide, winning almost no seats in the capital outside the wealthy "eastern crescent" and the area around Glenelg and Holdfast Bay. Due to its paper-thin base in the capital, Playford's LCL often won just barely enough seats to govern alone; the party never held more than 23 seats at any time during Playford's tenure. Despite this, the LCL party machine had become moribund as leaders had become lulled into a false sense of security due to the extended run of election wins aided by the Playmander. The LCL was thus caught unawares when O'Halloran's successor as state Labor leader, Frank Walsh, eschewed a statewide campaign in favour of targeting marginal LCL seats.

Walsh's strategy almost paid off at the 1962 election. Labor won a decisive 54.3 percent of the two-party preferred vote to the LCL's 45.7 percent. In the rest of Australia, this would have been enough for a comprehensive Labor victory. However, due to the Playmander, Labor only picked up a two-seat swing, leaving it one short of a majority. The two independents threw their support to the LCL, allowing Playford to remain in office. This election showed how grossly distorted the Playmander had become; by this time, Adelaide accounted for two-thirds of the state's population, but elected only one-third of the legislature. A year later, the LCL received another jolt with the reformation of a separate Country Party. Although a shadow of its former self, the reformed Country Party served as a wakeup call to Playford that there were problems within the LCL.

Labor finally beat the Playmander against the odds at the 1965 election. Despite winning the same two-party vote as it had three years earlier, the Playmander was strong enough that Labor was only able to win government by two seats. Playford resigned as party leader in 1966 and was succeeded by Steele Hall.

Dismantling Playmander

Steele Hall, LCL Leader 1966–1972, Premier 1968–1970
Steele Hall, LCL Leader 1966–1972, Premier 1968–1970

At the 1968 election, Labor won a 53.2 percent two-party vote to the LCL's 46.8 percent, but suffered a two-seat swing, resulting in a hung parliament. The lone independent in the chamber, Tom Stott, threw his support to the LCL, allowing Hall to form a minority government. Hall was embarrassed that his party was in a position to win power despite having clearly lost the vote. Concerned by the level of publicity and public protest about the issue, Hall committed himself to reducing the rural weighting. Under his watch, the lower house was expanded 39 to 47 seats, 28 of which were located in Adelaide. It fell short of "one vote one value", as Labor had demanded, since rural areas were still over-represented.

Nonetheless, with Adelaide now electing a majority of the legislature, conventional wisdom held that Hall knew he was effectively handing the premiership to Labor leader Don Dunstan at the next election. That election took place in 1970 when Stott crossed the floor to vote against the LCL. As expected, the LCL was defeated. Hall remained as the Leader of the Opposition. One vote one value would later be introduced by Labor following the 1975 election.

The party's problems had already emerged in public spats, most notably the formation of the Liberal Movement, a socially progressive or "small-l liberal" wing of the LCL in 1972.[4] The divisions culminated in the Liberal Movement becoming a separate party in 1973, with Hall and fellow parliamentarians Martin Cameron and Robin Millhouse resigning from the LCL to join the newly formed party. Hall claimed that the Party had 'lost its idealism [and] forgotten...its purpose for existence'.

Bruce Eastick succeeded Hall as LCL leader after Hall's resignation from the party in 1973.

Liberal Party

Renaming to the Liberal Party

During Eastick's leadership, the Liberal and Country League met at the State Council meeting on 22 July 1974 to rename itself to "Liberal Party of Australia (South Australian Division)".[6][7] The renaming initiative was welcomed by federal Liberal leader and opposition leader Billy Snedden, who was present at the meeting. The party also revised its constitution, adopted a new platform, appointed new young party officials and organisers, modelling after the Victorian Liberals.[8]

In July 1975, David Tonkin challenged Eastick for party leadership, and became leader unopposed after Eastick stood aside.[9] This would be the last time that a Liberal leader was elected unopposed until 2013.

Hall's Liberal Movement dissolved in 1976 and three of its four state parliamentary members (Martin Cameron, John Carnie, David Boundy) rejoined the Liberal Party. Hall, who was elected to the Senate in 1974 and 1975 as a Liberal Movement member, also rejoined the Liberal Party and joined the federal Liberal Party room. The remaining Liberal Movement state parliamentary member was Millhouse, who refused to rejoin the Liberal Party, founding the New Liberal Movement instead. His new party merged with the Australia Party a year later in 1977 to become the Australian Democrats.

One vote one value was introduced by Labor following the 1975 election where the Liberal Party won a 50.8 percent two-party vote but fell one seat short of forming government. Labor would regain their vote and majority at the 1977 election, however Dunstan resigned in the months prior to the 1979 election where the Liberals won government for one term.

Tonkin Government (1979-1982)

At that election, David Tonkin, who succeeded Eastick as party leader in 1975, led the Liberals to victory against a weakened Labor Party. It was the first time in 20 years that the non-Labor side in South Australia had won the most seats while also winning a majority of the vote. However, despite winning 55 percent of the two-party vote, the largest two-party-preferred margin since the end of the Playmander at the time, the Liberals only won 25 of the 47 seats. This was because the "one vote one value" reforms left most of the Liberal vote locked in comfortably safe rural seats. Despite taking six seats off Labor, the Liberals only won 13 seats in Adelaide. As a result, despite winning a margin that would have been large enough for a strong majority government in the rest of Australia, the Liberals won only 25 seats, a bare majority of two.

Tonkin survived for only one term before the early 1980s recession resulted in him narrowly losing the 1982 election to Labor under John Bannon.

Opposition (1982-1993)

John Olsen succeeded Tonkin as leader in 1982, and led the Liberals to defeats at the 1985 and 1989. In the latter, the Liberals won a bare majority of the two-party vote. However, much of that majority was wasted on landslides in their rural heartland, allowing Labor to eke out a two-seat majority.

Olsen resigned to take up a Senate seat soon afterward, and was succeeded by Dale Baker. By 1992, however, Baker had been unable to gain much ground on Labor despite festering anger over its handling of the collapse of the State Bank of Australia. Baker resigned as leader and called for a spill of all leadership positions. Olsen resigned from the Senate soon afterward, and Baker intended to hand the leadership back to Olsen as soon as Olsen was safely back in the legislature. This gambit backfired, however, former Tonkin minister Dean Brown, returned to politics after a seven-year absence. Olsen, like Baker, was from the conservative wing of the party, while Brown was from the moderate wing. Brown narrowly defeated Olsen in the leadership vote.

Brown and Olsen Governments (1993-2002)

The Liberals went into the 1993 election as unbackable favourites. At that election, Brown won one of the most comprehensive state-level victories since Federation, taking 37 seats on 60.9 percent of the two-party vote and a swing of almost nine percent–in all three cases, the largest on record in South Australia. Along the way, the Liberals won all but nine seats in Adelaide, a city where they had been all but nonexistent even after adopting the Liberal banner.

These figures led to talk of a generation of Liberal government in South Australia, much as the 1970s had been considered a "Dunstan Decade." However, Brown was unable to rein in the factional battles in his large party room. By late 1996, the Liberals' poll numbers had tailed off markedly less than a year before a statutory general election. This led two of Brown's fellow moderates, Joan Hall and Graham Ingerson, to throw their support to Olsen, which was enough for Olsen to defeat Brown in a leadership spill.

At the 1997 state election, the Liberals withstood a swing slightly larger than the one that swept them to power four years earlier, this time 9.4 percent. However, they only lost 11 seats, allowing Olsen to cling to power with a minority government supported by conservative crossbenchers.

Olsen was forced to resign in 2001 after a finding that he had misled the House about the Motorola affair. He was succeeded by Deputy Premier Rob Kerin.

Opposition (2002–2018)

Kerin only held office for three months before leading the Liberals into a statutory general election in 2002. The Liberals lost two seats to Labor, but won a paper-thin majority of the two-party vote. The balance of power rested with four conservative crossbenchers. They unexpectedly announced their support for Labor, making Labor leader Mike Rann premier-designate by one seat. However, Kerin announced that he still had a mandate to govern based on winning the two-party vote. He insisted that he would not resign unless Rann demonstrated he had support on the House floor to govern. Three weeks of deadlock ended in March, when Kerin called a confidence motion in his own government. He lost, and stood down in favour of Rann.

Kerin resigned as leader following a landslide loss in 2006. Factional battles resulted in three leaders in less than three years–Iain Evans, Martin Hamilton-Smith and the party's first female leader, Isobel Redmond.

The last serving parliamentarian from the LCL era, Graham Gunn, retired in 2010; he had been elected in 1970, the next-to-last election that the party fought under the LCL banner.

On 4 February 2013, Steven Marshall was elected unopposed as Liberal leader. Vickie Chapman was elected as deputy leader after a contest with former party leader Iain Evans.[9][10]

Marshall Government (present)

Ideology divisions

In the 1990s and 2000s, ongoing division continued based on both ideologies and personalities, with sides forming between the moderate Chapman and conservative Evans family dynasties, complicated further by the moderate Brown and conservative Olsen rifts.[11][12][13][14][15]

Parliamentary party leaders

Parliamentary Party Leader

Since the 1970s, five parliamentary Liberal leaders have served as Premier of South Australia: David Tonkin (1979–1982), Dean Brown (1993–1996), John Olsen (1996–2001), Rob Kerin (2001–2002), and Steven Marshall (2018–present).

Party leader Assumed office Left office Premier Reason for departure
Richard Layton Butler 1932 1938 1932–1938 Resigned to contest the 1938 Wakefield federal by-election
Sir Tom Playford 1938 1966 1938–1965 Resigned after 1965 election loss
Steele Hall 1966 1972 1968–1970 Resigned
Bruce Eastick 1972 1975 Resigned following party room challenge from Tonkin, after 1975 election loss
David Tonkin 1975 1982 1979–1982 Resigned after 1982 election loss
John Olsen 1982 1990 Resigned after 1989 election loss
Dale Baker 1990 1992 Resigned, endorsed Olsen to succeed him
Dean Brown 1992 1996 1993–1996 Lost party room challenge to Olsen
John Olsen 1996 2001 1996–2001 Resigned as premier due to Motorola affair
Rob Kerin 2001 2006 2001–2002 Resigned after 2006 election loss
Iain Evans 2006 2007 Lost party room challenge to Hamilton-Smith
Martin Hamilton-Smith 2007 2009 Resigned following party room challenge from Redmond
Isobel Redmond 2009 2013 Resigned
Steven Marshall 2013 present 2018–present

Deputy Leaders

Since the 1970s, six parliamentary Liberal deputy leaders have served as Deputy Premier of South Australia: Roger Goldsworthy (1979–1982), Stephen Baker (1993–1996), Graham Ingerson (1996–1998), Rob Kerin (1998–2001), Dean Brown (2001–2002), and Vickie Chapman (2018–present).

Current federal parliamentarians



State election results

Liberals blue, Labor red. Electoral districts for the 2006 election in metro Adelaide with 35 metro districts representing 1.1 million people, with 12 rural districts representing 0.4 million people. In the 1965 election, 13 metro districts represented 0.7 million people and 26 rural districts represented 0.4 million people. For other maps 1993 and onward, see Elections in South Australia.
Liberals blue, Labor red. Electoral districts for the 2006 election in metro Adelaide with 35 metro districts representing 1.1 million people, with 12 rural districts representing 0.4 million people. In the 1965 election, 13 metro districts represented 0.7 million people and 26 rural districts represented 0.4 million people. For other maps 1993 and onward, see Elections in South Australia.

The Playmander began in 1936 and ended after 1968. Compulsory voting was introduced since the 1944 election.

Election Seats won ± Total votes % Position Leader
29 / 46
60,159 34.6% Majority Government Richard L. Butler
15 / 39
Decrease14 72,998 33.4% Minority government Richard L. Butler
20 / 39
Increase5 63,317 37.6% Majority Government Tom Playford
20 / 39
Steady0 113,536 45.8% Majority Government Tom Playford
23 / 39
Increase3 111,216 40.4% Majority Government Tom Playford
23 / 39
Steady0 113,673 40.5% Majority Government Tom Playford
21 / 39
Decrease2 119,106 36.5% Majority Government Tom Playford
21 / 39
Steady0 100,569 36.7% Majority Government Tom Playford
20 / 39
Decrease1 143,710 37.0% Majority Government Tom Playford
18 / 39
Decrease2 140,507 34.5% Minority government Tom Playford
17 / 39
Decrease1 179,183 35.9% Opposition Tom Playford
19 / 39
Increase2 246,560 43.8% Minority government Steele Hall
20 / 47
Increase1 258,856 43.8% Opposition Steele Hall
20 / 47
Steady0 250,312 39.8% Opposition Bruce Eastick
20 / 47
Steady0 218,820 31.5% Opposition Bruce Eastick
17 / 47
Decrease3 306,356 41.2% Opposition David Tonkin
24 / 47
Increase7 352,343 47.9% Majority government David Tonkin
21 / 47
Decrease3 326,372 42.7% Opposition David Tonkin
16 / 47
Decrease5 344,337 42.2% Opposition John Olsen
22 / 47
Increase6 381,834 44.2% Opposition John Olsen
37 / 47
Increase15 481,623 52.8% Majority government Dean Brown
23 / 47
Decrease14 359,509 40.4% Minority government John Olsen
20 / 47
Decrease3 378,929 39.9% Opposition Rob Kerin
15 / 47
Decrease5 319,041 34.0% Opposition Rob Kerin
18 / 47
Increase3 408,482 41.7% Opposition Isobel Redmond
22 / 47
Increase4 455,797 44.8% Opposition Steven Marshall
25 / 47
Increase3 398,182 38.0% Majority government Steven Marshall

See also


  1. ^ Factional war is definitely coming to SA: InDaily 12 July 2017
  2. ^
  3. ^ Liberal Party of Australia, South Australian Division:
  4. ^ a b "The 1970s". SA Memory:Past, Present for the Future. 16 May 2007. Archived from the original on 12 November 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  5. ^ "Liberal Party of Australia (N.S.W. Division) - Constitution". August 1945. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  6. ^ "Liberal and Country League State Council Address - Billy Snedden". 22 July 1974. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  7. ^ Martin, Robert (2009). Responsible Government in South Australia, Volume 2. South Australia: Wakefield Press. p. 82. ISBN 9781862548442.
  8. ^ "Labor in SA appears 'edgy'". The Canberra Times. 15 August 1974. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Alexander Downer endorses cleanskin Steven Marshall". The Australian. 2 February 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2020.
  10. ^ Wills, Novak, Crouch, Daniel, Lauren, Brad (4 February 2013). "Steven Marshall and Vickie Chapman to lead SA Liberal Party". The Advertiser.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ "South Australia's 10 most poisonous political feuds". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 21 May 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  12. ^ "Can Liberals heal rifts?". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 24 March 2006. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  13. ^ "Senior SA Liberal Iain Evans quits frontbench, to leave politics within 12 months". The Advertiser. Adelaide. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  14. ^ "Departing SA Liberal Iain Evans takes final swipe at parliamentary colleagues". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 30 October 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2016.
  15. ^ John Spoehr (2009). State of South Australia: From Crisis to Prosperity?. Wakefield Press. ISBN 9781862548657. Retrieved 10 August 2016.

External links

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