Free Trade Party

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Free Trade Party
Leader George Reid
Founded 1889
Dissolved 1909
Succeeded by Commonwealth Liberal Party
Ideology Free Trade
Conservatism
Liberalism
Political position Centre-right
Politics of Australia
Political parties
Elections

The Free Trade Party which was officially known as the Australian Free Trade and Liberal Association, also referred to as the Revenue Tariff Party in some states and renamed the Anti-Socialist Party in 1906, was an Australian political party, formally organised between 1889 and 1909. It advocated the abolition of protectionism, especially protective tariffs and other restrictions on trade, arguing that this would create greater prosperity for all. However, many members also advocated use of minimal tariffs for government revenue purposes only.

The party was centred on New South Wales, where its leaders were Sir Henry Parkes and Sir George Reid. It dominated New South Wales colonial politics before federation.

In the elections for the first Commonwealth Parliament, the Free Traders, who campaigned in some states as the Revenue Tariff Party, formed the second largest group in the Australian House of Representatives, with 25 seats. Reid became the Parliament's first Opposition Leader with William McMillan as his deputy, later becoming Prime Minister in 1904-05. Joseph Cook became deputy leader of the party on McMillan's retirement in 1903.

A separate Tasmanian Revenue Tariff Party contested the 1903 federal election in Tasmania and won two seats but also sat and merged with the Free Trade Party in federal Parliament.

After the question of tariffs had largely been settled, Reid cast around for another cause to justify his party's existence. He settled on opposition to socialism, criticising both the Australian Labor Party and the support offered to it by the Protectionist Party, led by Alfred Deakin. The Free Trade Party was eventually renamed the Anti-Socialist Party (ASP) before the 1906 federal election. The Labor Party and the FTP/ASP continued to grow in electoral strength at the expense of the Protectionist vote. Some Protectionists continued their exodus to Labor and the ASP.

George Reid, Prime Minister of Australia 1904-1905

Reid retired in 1908, with the party leadership passed to Joseph Cook, who agreed to merge with the Protectionists to become the Commonwealth Liberal Party in 1909.

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