The Australia Party was a minor political party established initially in 1966 as the Liberal Reform Group. As the Australia Party they became influential, particularly in the landmark 1972 federal election when their preferences assisted the Australian Labor Party to victory - hence ending 23 years of Liberal/Country Party coalition federal government. The Australia Party was not connected with the Australian Party, which was set up by Billy Hughes in 1930.
The Australia Party grew out of the Liberal Reform Group, a group of members of the Liberal Party of Australia and Independents who opposed the party's policy of conscription and military involvement in the Vietnam War. The leading figure in this group was a businessman, Gordon Barton who was assisted in the funding by Ken Thomas of TNT Transport and with the party organisation and branch establishment by Nick Gorshenin, Sydney shark meshing contractor and North Sydney council alderman.
Gordon Barton and Ken Thomas sponsored a full page advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22nd October, 1966 when US President Lyndon B Johnson visited Sydney lamenting the involvement of Australian troops in the Vietnam War. At this time no political party was opposed to Australian involvement in the war. Nick Gorshenin rang Gordon Barton that evening and they decided to form the Liberal Reform Group. They used their various contacts to establish the initial branches in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Newcastle and Gold Coast.
The "Australia Party" name was adopted in 1969 by which time it was also attracting disaffected Australian Labor Party (ALP) supporters. The party contested state and federal elections, achieving its best results in 1972. Though failing to win any seats, by directing their preferences to the ALP, they greatly assisted them to win government for the first time since 1949. Its poll performance declined a little in 1974 and again in the 1975 federal election, however by this stage the Australia Party had replaced the Democratic Labour Party as the 4th party after Labor, Liberal and Country parties.
Subsequently, the party allied itself with the New Liberal Movement in the formation of the Australian Democrats for the 1977 federal election. Significant figures in the Australia Party were Senator Reg Turnbull (elected as an independent but Australia Party leader from 1969–1970), and journalist Alan Fitzgerald, then a member of the elected Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council.
An important aspect of the Australia Party and later Australian Democrats is they nullified then overtook the minority influence of the Democratic Labour Party that had wielded much influence in post war federal and state politics. The Australia Party altered the power dynamics and the Australia Democrats continued that role until they were eclipsed by the Greens in the 2004 federal election.
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