Liberal and Country League

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Liberal and Country League
Historic leaders Richard Butler (1932–38),
Thomas Playford (1938–66),
Steele Hall (1966–72),
Bruce Eastick (1972–74)
Founded 1932 (1932)
Dissolved 1974 (1974)
Preceded by Liberal Federation,
Country Party (SA)
Succeeded by Liberal Party of Australia (SA)
Politics of Australia
Political parties
Elections

The Liberal and Country League (LCL) was the major conservative party in South Australia from 1932 to 1974.[1] In its 42-year existence, it spent 34 years in government, mainly due to an electoral malapportionment scheme known as the Playmander, introduced by the LCL government in 1936, which saw a change from multi-member to single-member seats in the lower house, a reduction of seats from 46 to 39, and two thirds of seats to be located in rural areas ("the country"). This arrangement was retained even as Adelaide, the state capital, grew to two-thirds of the state's population. The most populous Adelaide-area seats had as much as 5-10 times the number of voters than the least populous rural seats − at the 1968 election the rural seat of Frome had 4,500 formal votes, while the metropolitan seat of Enfield had 42,000 formal votes. Additionally, with a decisive advantage to the LCL, swing voters may have been more likely to vote for the expected status quo LCL government.

History[edit]

Sir Richard Layton Butler, LCL Founder and Premier 1933–1938

Created on 9 June 1932 as the result of a merger between the Liberal Federation and the Country Party, the first of many LCL governments was formed, following the 1933 election under Richard Layton Butler. Traditionally a socially conservative party, the LCL contained three relatively distinct factions whose ideologies often conflicted:

  • Farmers, graziers and rural property owners.
  • The Adelaide Establishment of old money families and those fortunate enough, through marriage, to have been accepted by the Establishment.
  • The urban middle class, who continued to support the party although they had little say in its running. Indeed, it was not until the election of Robin Millhouse in 1955 that someone from this third faction was elected to parliament. Millhouse, often considered during his term as the most progressive member of the LCL, was eventually expelled in 1973 for his continued criticism of the conservative wing of the party, going on to form the splinter Liberal Movement party with state and federal success.

Leaders[edit]

Throughout its existence, the LCL had four parliamentary leaders:

  • Butler, who served as Premier of South Australia until 5 November 1938.
  • Sir Thomas Playford, Premier from 5 November until his electoral defeat nearly 27 years later.
  • Steele Hall, who succeeded Playford as leader of the LCL following Playford's resignation as party leader in 1966, Premier from 1968 to 1970.
  • Bruce Eastick, who succeeded Hall as leader of the LCL following Hall's resignation as party leader in 1972.

It was Playford that the LCL would become synonymous with over his 26 years and 125 days as Premier (a world record for an elected national or regional leader).

LCL in power[edit]

Sir Tom Playford, LCL Leader 1938-1966, Premier 1938–1965

The LCL was so identified with Playford that during election campaigns, voters were asked to vote for "The Playford Liberal and Country League". Playford gave the impression that the LCL membership were there solely to raise money and run election campaigns; his grip on the party was such that he frequently ignored LCL convention decisions. This treatment of rank and file party members continued to cause resentment throughout the party, the first public inkling of which was the reformation of a new Country Party in 1963. Although a shadow of its former self, the reformed Country Party served as a wakeup call to Playford that there were problems within the LCL.

This split mirrored the dissatisfaction amongst the Establishment faction, which had been steadily losing its power within the party and was appalled at the "nouveau riche (new money) commoners", such as Millhouse, that had infiltrated the parliamentary wing of the LCL. Added to this mix was the important factor that the LCL party machine had become moribund as leaders had become lulled into a false sense of security due to the Playmander and extended run of election wins. The LCL was thus caught unawares when Labor began targeting marginal LCL seats.

Due to these factors, the LCL's grip on power began to slip in the 1950s; they would lose seats in every election from 1953 onward. Even at the height of Playford's popularity, the LCL was almost nonexistent in Adelaide, winning almost no seats in the capital outside the wealthy "eastern crescent" and the area around Glenelg and Holdfast Bay. Due to its paper-thin base in the capital, the LCL never held more than 23 seats at any time during Playford's tenure.

The party's record-setting run in government was nearly ended at the 1962 state election. Under Frank Walsh, Labor won a decisive 54.7 percent of the two-party preferred vote. In most of Australia, this would have given Walsh a landslide majority government. However, due to the rural weighting, Labor only picked up a two-seat swing, leaving it one short of a majority. The two independents threw their support to the LCL.

LCL fall from power[edit]

The LCL lost government for the first time at the 1965 election. Despite winning almost the same overall two-party vote as it had three years earlier, the malapportionment was strong enough that Labor was only able to win government by two seats. Playford resigned in 1966, and Hall succeeded him.

At the 1968 election, Labor still commanded an overwhelming vote, yet suffered a two-seat swing. The lone independent in the chamber, Tom Stott, threw his support to the LCL, allowing it to regain government for two years under Hall. Hall was embarrassed that his party was in a position to win power despite having clearly lost in terms of actual votes. Concerned by the level of publicity and public protest about the issue, Hall reduced the rural weighting and expanded the lower house from 39 to 47 seats, 28 of which were located in Adelaide. The reforms fell short of "one vote one value", as Labor had demanded, since rural areas were still overrepresented. Nonetheless, conventional wisdom was that Hall was effectively handing the premiership to Labor leader Don Dunstan at the 1970 election. Again with little change in the vote but a very different set of seats, Labor won a convincing majority and took government. Hall remained Leader of the Opposition for two years before resigning from the LCL, claiming that the Party had 'lost its idealism [and] forgotten...its purpose for existence'. Bruce Eastick took the LCL leadership.

However, it was Playford's resignation as LCL Leader that acted as the spark for the party's problems to emerge in public spats, culminating in the formation of the Liberal Movement. The Liberal Movement was a socially progressive wing of the LCL that subsequently split from the party.[2] Following the split, the LCL under Eastick changed its official name to "Liberal Party of Australia (SA Division)" in 1974 to bring it into line with the federal Liberal Party of Australia. The LCL ended its existence in acrimony and in opposition, but having spent 34 of its 42 years in power.

One vote one value would be introduced by Labor following the 1975 election where the newly-formed Liberal Party won a 50.8 percent two-party vote but fell one seat short of forming government. Labor would regain their vote and majority at the 1977 election, however Dunstan resigned in the months prior to the 1979 election where the Liberals won government for one term.

Results 1933–73[edit]

The LCL began in 1932 and ended in 1974. The Playmander began in 1936 and ended after 1968. Two-party-preferred (2PP) figures are not available prior to 1944.

Liberals blue, Labor red. Electoral districts for the 2006 election in metro Adelaide with 35 metro districts representing 1.1 million people, with 12 rural districts representing 0.4 million people. In the 1965 election, 13 metro districts represented 0.7 million people and 26 rural districts represented 0.4 million people. For other maps 1993 and onward, see Elections in South Australia.
Results 1933–1973
% (seats) ALP LCL IND OTH ALP 2PP LCL 2PP
1973 51.52 (26) 39.79 (20) 4.32 4.37 (1) 54.5 45.5
1970 51.64 (27) 43.76 (20) 1.46 3.14 53.3 46.7
1968 51.98 (19) 43.82 (19) 1.03 (1) 3.18 53.2 46.8
1965 55.04 (21) 35.93 (17) 1.88 (1) 7.16 54.3 45.7
1962 53.98 (19) 34.51 (18) 3.15 (2) 8.37 54.3 45.7
1959 49.35 (17) 36.95 (20) 5.93 (2) 7.77 49.7 50.3
1956 47.37 (15) 36.69 (21) 7.34 (3) 8.60 48.7 51.3
1953 50.84 (14) 36.45 (21) 11.10 (4) 1.60 53.0 47.0
1950 48.09 (12) 40.51 (23) 10.07 (4) 1.34 48.7 51.3
1947 48.64 (13) 40.38 (23) 6.20 (3) 4.77 48.0 52.0
1944 42.52 (16) 45.84 (20) 6.64 (3) 5.00 53.3 46.7
1941 33.25 (11) 37.55 (20) 29.20 (8) 0.00
1938 26.16 (9) 33.44 (15) 39.73 (14) 0.66 (1)
1933 27.78 (6) 34.62 (29) 13.41 (3) 24.19 (8)
Source: Australian Government and Politics Database and ABC for 2PP
[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Liberal Party of Australia, South Australian Division: SLSA.sa.gov.au
  2. ^ "The 1970s". SA Memory:Past, Present for the Future. 16 May 2007. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  3. ^ UWA election results