Commonwealth Liberal Party

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Commonwealth Liberal Party
Historic leadersAlfred Deakin
Joseph Cook
Founded1909 (1909)
Dissolved1917 (1917)
Merger ofProtectionist Party
Anti-Socialist Party
Merged intoNationalist Party of Australia
Political positionCentre-right

The Commonwealth Liberal Party (CLP, also known as the Deakin–Cook Party, The Fusion, or the Deakinite Liberal Party) was a political movement active in Australia from 1909 to 1917, shortly after Federation. The CLP came about as a result of a merger between the two non-Labor parties, the Protectionist Party and the Anti-Socialist Party (formerly Free Trade Party) which most of their MPs accepted. The CLP is the earliest direct ancestor of the current Liberal Party of Australia.


Alfred Deakin, Prime Minister of Australia 1903–1904, 1905–1908 (Protectionist Party), 1909–1910 (CLP)
Joseph Cook, Prime Minister of Australia 1913–1914

George Reid adopted a strategy of trying to reorient the party system along Labour vs non-Labour lines – prior to the 1906 election, he renamed his Free Trade Party to the Anti-Socialist Party. Reid envisaged a spectrum running from socialist to anti-socialist, with the Protectionist Party in the middle. This attempt struck a chord with politicians who were steeped in the Westminster tradition and regarded a two-party system as very much the norm.[1]

Cartoon by Claude Marquet depicting the Fusion as a camel, with Alfred Deakin as its head and Joseph Cook and John Forrest as humps

The Commonwealth Liberal Party was formed in response to Labor forming its second government under Andrew Fisher in 1908. Under considerable pressure from middle- and upper-class interests, Alfred Deakin, the leader of the Protectionists, and Joseph Cook, leader of the Anti-Socialists, joined forces in order to counter Labor's growing popularity. In 1909, the two parties at a meeting in Melbourne's Parliament House agreed to merge into the CLP, based on a shared anti-Labor platform. Deakin was the new party's first leader, with Cook as deputy leader. The merger didn't sit well with several of the more liberal Protectionists, who defected to Labor or sat as independents.

Between them, the Protectionists and Anti-Socialists held a majority of seats on the floor of the House of Representatives. As a result, the newly merged party used its numbers to force Fisher to hand power to Deakin. However, the CLP was defeated by Labor at the 1910 election, which saw Labor with an elected majority in both houses, the first federal occurrence for a party.

Cook took over the leadership from Deakin shortly before the 1913 election and won government by a single seat. However, only a year later, Cook deliberately introduced a bill abolishing preferential treatment for public-service union members. Cook knew the Labor-controlled Senate would vote the bill down, giving him an excuse to call a double dissolution election, the first time one would be called. When the Senate rejected the bill twice, Cook called the 1914 election. The CLP was again defeated with Labor again winning a majority in both houses.

The CLP remained in opposition until November 1916, when it reached a confidence and supply agreement with Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who had recently been expelled from Labor for supporting conscription in World War I and organised his followers as the National Labor Party. In February 1917, the CLP and National Labor formally merged to form the Nationalist Party of Australia. Although the merged party was dominated by former Liberals, Hughes became its leader with Cook as his deputy. Hughes would stay on as Prime Minister until the 1922 election where the new Country Party of Australia (later The Nationals) stripped the Nationalists of their majority, and demanded his resignation in exchange for confidence and supply. Stanley Bruce subsequently became Prime Minister.

The Commonwealth Liberal Party is often referred to by the retronym "Deakinite Liberal Party" in order to distinguish it from the later Liberal Party of Australia, which was officially founded in 1945.

Electoral results[edit]

House of Representatives[edit]

Election year # of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
+/– Leader
1910 596,350 (#2) 45.09
31 / 75
Alfred Deakin
1913 930,076 (#1) 48.94
38 / 75
Increase 7
Joseph Cook
1914 796,397 (#2) 47.21
32 / 75
Decrease 6
Joseph Cook


Election year # of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
+/– Leader
1910 1,830,353 (#2) 45.55
14 / 36
Alfred Deakin
1913 2,840,420 (#1) 49.38
7 / 36
Decrease 7
Joseph Cook
1914 5,605,305 (#2) 47.77
5 / 36
Increase 2
Joseph Cook


Associated bodies[edit]

Australian Liberal Union[edit]

The Australian Liberal Union was established in November 1911, following a conference in Melbourne attended by representatives of liberal organisations in each state. The conference resolved that the state-based organisations should co-operate more closely during federal election campaigns. The council of the new body was to consist of three representatives from each state.[2]

A second interstate conference was held in Melbourne in May 1912, with Senator Joseph Vardon presiding.[3] A constitution for the Australian Liberal Union was adopted, where it was agreed that the organisation would be governed by an annual conference. The constitution provided that the union would regularly confer with the federal parliamentary party, and that its work would be confined to federal politics. The state organisations would remain in charge of state politics, but would select federal candidates.[4] The conference also debated a fighting platform for the next federal election,[5][6] which was not issued until 13 June. It comprised 20 planks.[7]

A third conference was held in Melbourne in August 1913, postponed and moved from Sydney due to a smallpox outbreak.[8] The inaugural address at the conference was given by the incumbent prime minister and parliamentary Liberal leader Joseph Cook.[9] David Gordon was elected president of the organisation.[10] An updated platform was issued in October.[11] Another meeting was held in March 1914,[12] and in October 1915 Joseph Cook stated that a meeting of the executive was planned to be held.[13]

State bodies[edit]

In Victoria, the primary organisation supporting the parliamentary Liberals was named the Commonwealth Liberal Party, which Alfred Deakin launched with himself as president on 25 May 1909 at the Melbourne Town Hall.[14] According to Deakin's biographer Judith Brett, the CLP did not spread beyond Victoria and "in fact scarcely beyond Deakin and his family, who provided most of its office bearers".[15] His son-in-law Herbert Brookes was Deakin's "right-hand man",[16] serving as party treasurer and chief fundraiser, while Deakin's daughter Ivy Brookes was founder and secretary of the CLP women's section, intended to form a liberal counterpart to the more conservative Australian Women's National League. In 1911, the CLP renamed itself the People's Liberal Party, as part of an abortive merger with the People's Party (a rural liberal organisation).[15] In July 1911, the PLP launched a monthly magazine, the Liberal, which was financed and edited by Herbert Brookes. Deakin wrote anonymous articles for the publication, which was short-lived.[17]

The New South Wales Federal Liberal League was established in July 1909 to help elect Liberal candidates to federal parliament. It was established by delegates from the Liberal and Reform Association, the People's Reform League, the Liberal and Progressive League, and the three equivalent women's branches. Dugald Thomson was chosen as the organisation's president and Archdale Parkhill as its secretary. Joseph Cook was given the title of "leader".[18] The league began conducting preselection ballots and endorsing candidates for federal parliament later in the year.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fusion: The Party System We Had To Have? - by Charles Richardson CIS 25 January 2009
  2. ^ "Great liberal union". The Sydney Morning Herald. 29 November 1911.
  3. ^ "Liberal policy". The Age. 21 May 1912.
  4. ^ "Constitution and council". The Age. 23 May 1912.
  5. ^ "Liberal policy". The Age. 21 May 1912.
  6. ^ "Liberal organisation". The Age. 23 May 1912.
  7. ^ "Federal Liberal policy". The Age. 14 June 1912.
  8. ^ "Australian Liberal Union". The Age. 27 August 1913.
  9. ^ "Liberal Union conference". The Age. 29 August 1913.
  10. ^ "Liberal Union conference". The Age. 30 August 1913.
  11. ^ "Federal Liberal Party". The Age. 4 October 1913.
  12. ^ "Preparing for the elections". The Age. 11 March 1914.
  13. ^ "The Liberal campaign". 29 October 1915.
  14. ^ Brett 2017, p. 383.
  15. ^ a b Brett 2017, p. 407.
  16. ^ Brett 2017, p. 394.
  17. ^ Brett 2017, p. 408.
  18. ^ "Liberal move". The Sydney Morning Herald. 6 July 1909.
  19. ^ "Federal election: the Liberal Party". The Sydney Morning Herald. 24 November 1909.

External links[edit]