The Protectionist Party of Australia was one of the three main federal parties at the time of federation and produced the country's first two Prime Ministers, but it was not long before their share of the vote was in decline. In the elections in 1901, 1903 and 1906, the party won 31, 26 and 16 seats respectively (another 4 seats in 1906 were won by the Independent Protectionist Party). While their total number of votes received in 1903 was actually higher than in 1901, the rate of increase was substantially lower than the growth in number of eligible voters. From having 36.75% of the primary vote in 1901, they fell to just 16.44% in 1906 (combined total of 21.28% for protectionist parties).

What were the circumstances that led to such a rapid decline in the share of the vote for the Protectionist Party and protectionist parties in general in Australia? To what extent did the actions of the Protectionist Party while in government contribute to its loss of support?

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The Australian Settlement was cemented in early Federal parliaments (Stokes in AJPS; Wikipedia). These measures in the early parliament cemented a system of tarifs and wages that satisfied the central impulse behind the protectionist party. Correspondingly, the two anti-Labor parties reformed themselves around anti-labor politics, rather than differentials amongst ruling class politics. Obviously this had to occur in a period of growing ALP parliamentary success. The period 1901 to 1920 saw a period of heightened class conflict in Australian society, and the ALP was the parliamentary beneficiary of this. cf: Connell & Irving (1980) Class structure in Australian History

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