3

Australian Federal Politics has been tumultuous for Prime Ministers. The last 10 years have seen 6 Prime Ministers (when a political term in Australia is normally four years).

But this is not the first time this has happened. It is the second. When we look at the historic record we see the first time this happened:

  • Barton - 1901
  • Deakin - 1903
  • Watson - 1904
  • Reid - 1904
  • Deakin - 1905
  • Fisher - 1908
  • Deakin - 1909
  • Fisher - 1910

What would have caused this?

My question is: This is the second time Australia has had 6 PMs in 10 years. What caused it the first time?

  • 1
    Why would we assume that the first time had an identifiable cause? – Mark C. Wallace Jul 15 '16 at 11:27
  • 1
    The wiki page for Alfred Deakin seems to explain what happened and why. – Steve Bird Jul 15 '16 at 12:06
  • 3
    The time period you're asking about is the first decade of federation. Until 1901, what are now states in Australia were separate British colonies, effectively different countries with their own laws, currency, etc. In 1901 the colonies united & became one country. Some of the colonial era rivalries still remain between the states. Those rivalries existed during early federation & national political parties were still in their infancy; the country was still finding its way as a united entity. – Fred Jul 15 '16 at 12:30
  • 2
    Australia is the kind of place where a PM can just up and vanish. – T.E.D. Jul 15 '16 at 18:20
  • 1
    @T.E.D. Nah, mate, wozz a Chinese sub wot dun it! ;) Alright, in all earnestness: I've been at that spot and I've flown over it (when I was still flying bugsmashers). That is one mean strip of ocean. That his body was never found is no surprise. It's a maelstrom! – Marakai Jul 16 '16 at 6:13
6

How did the PMs change so quickly?

Let's take a look at why did the PMs leave the first time this happened:

  1. Edmund Barton (Jan 1901-Sept 1903): Retired from the Parliament and Government to become founding Justice of Australian High Court.
  2. Alfred Deakin (Sep 1903 - Apr 1904): Resigned to hold early elections in a bid to gain majority in the Parliament by catching the Labour Party off-guard. Labour Party was demanding to extend the scope industrial relations laws concerning the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill to cover state public servants. Deakin was not prepared to do that so he sought to reduce Labour's sway in Parliament by holding new elections.
  3. Chris Watson (Apr 1904-Aug 1904): He also sought to dissolve the Parliament and hold new elections but Governor General Lord Northcote refused to do so. Watson resigned as he found it hard to run the government without winning simple majority first.
  4. George Reid (Aug 1904-Jul 1905): He did not have majority in the Parliament either. He was aware that sooner or later Labour and Protectionist parties will patch up. This happened and he was ousted when Labour and Protectionists joined to vote him out just few months later.
  5. Alfred Deakin (Jul 1905-Nov 1908): Took the office for second time. This time he was ousted by Labour Party through vote.
  6. Andrew Fisher (Nov 1908-Jun 1909): He did not have majority either. Conservative members of Protectionist Party and Free Traders merged together into Commonwealth Liberal Party. This gave the newly formed CLP majority in Parliament. Fisher tried to get the Governor General dissolve the parliament however his attempts failed and CLP voted him out.
  7. Alfred Deakin (Jun 1909-Apr 1910): His political move of merging with Free Traders was seen as a betrayal by many. It had a drastic impact on his popularity and in General Elections of 1910 his party was defeated by Labour under leadership of Fisher even though he was not voted out due to his majority in Parliament.
  8. Andrew Fisher (Apr 1910-Jun 1913): He was not voted out but he lost the elections of 1913.

The common factors

From this, we can deduce following factors:

  1. Lack of a clear majority party
  2. Differences between Labour, Protectionists and Free Traders
  3. Unpopularity of Protectionist-Free Trade merger

So basically it all goes back to the Federal Elections of 1903. Protectionists formed the government but as they lacked majority, they had to rely on support of Labour. The alliance of Protectionists and Labour was very fragile and soon fell apart, when Deakin proved unable/unwilling to meet Labour's demands on Conciliations and Arbitration Bill. Labour as a result withdrew their support and Government fell. George Reid refused the offer to form Government so Watson was invited to do so. Watson found it easier to resign than rule as he had no majority. Reid then formed government but it did not last long as Labour and Protectionists reconciled and ousted Reid.

The Federal Elections of 1906 also generated similar results of no party gaining simple majority. Deakin once again formed a minority government but was ousted after losing Labour support. So Andrew Fisher formed the Government. But then Protectionists and Free Traders joined to form Commonwealth Liberal Party, therefore gaining majority. Fisher was voted out by newly formed CLP members. Alfred Deakin once again became PM.

In Federal Elections 1910, Fisher finally won majority. He remained in Power until Elections of 1913 when CLP under Joseph Cooke won by a narrow majority of one seat.

Since in Australia there is no term limit on PM, we have to rely on Election timing. Elections usually occur in 3 years in Australia but they can be held earlier if the House is dissolved.

  • 1
    Good answer, but to really make the point I think it might help to contrast with the times when governments lasted for longer times. Presumably when one party gains a solid majority (helped by there not being three equally popular parties (more or less)) then more stable governments form. – PhillS Jul 15 '16 at 14:03
  • @PhillS Sadly majority did not much help Deakin during his third government. While he did retain his post, he lost the next election – NSNoob Jul 15 '16 at 14:06
  • 1
    @NSNoob Well done! Now please explain the current fiasco, too! We sure as hell don't get any proper analysis from our miserable rags, whether Murdoch or Fairfax! Actually... don't. It's too early in the day for me to start drinking... – Marakai Jul 16 '16 at 6:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.