Liberal Movement

Liberal Movement

The Liberal Movement (LM) was a minor South Australian political party in the 1970s. Stemming from discontent within the ranks of the Liberal and Country League, it was organised in 1972 by former premier Steele Hall as an internal group in response to a perceived resistance to sought reform within its parent. A year later, when tensions heightened between the LCL's conservative wing and the LM, it was established in its own right as a progressive liberal party. When still part of the league, it had eleven parliamentarians; on its own, it was reduced to three.

In the federal election of 1974, it succeeded in having Hall elected to the Australian Senate with a primary vote of 10 per cent. It built upon this in the 1975 state election, gaining almost a fifth of the total vote and an additional member. However, the non-Labor parties narrowly failed to dislodge the incumbent Dunstan Labor government. That result, together with internal weaknesses, led in 1976 to the LM's being re-absorbed into the LCL, newly renamed as the Liberal Party of Australia. The non-Labor forces again failed in 1977 but succeeded in winning government at the 1979 election.

A segment of the LM, led by former state attorney-general Robin Millhouse, did not rejoin the Liberals, instead forming a new party, the New LM which, combined with the Australia Party, under the invited leadership of Don Chipp, formed the nucleus of the Australian Democrats which aspired to a balance of power in the federal Senate and up to four state upper houses for three decades. The LM and its successor parties gave voice to what is termed "small-l liberalism" in Australia.

Party system

Prior to parties becoming established in the Australian colonies in the later 19th century, all members of the colonial parliaments were independents, occasionally labelled as 'liberal' or 'conservative', amongst other terms. [Jaensch (1986), p. 179] With the advent of Labor, these groups combined to form anti-Labor parties. 'Liberal', in the Australian context, refers to what could be described as classical liberalism, and is distant from the modern meaning that the word has acquired in the United States and other countries. As a train of thought, Australian liberalism has been less rooted in any defined ideology and more in pragmatism and opposition to Labor. Liberalism in Australia represents the centre-right of the political spectrum, while Labor represents the centre-left.

The first Labor party in South Australia was the United Labor Party (ULP) in 1891, born out of a trade union association that recommended and supported trade unionist candidates. In response, the National Defence League (NDL) was born three years later. In 1909, the NDL combined with other anti-Labor parties to form the Liberal Union (later known as the Liberal Federation). The ULP morphed into the Australian Labor Party in 1910, and has been known by this name ever since. Later a Country Party emerged, representing rural interests, but this was assimilated back into the conservative side of politics with the formation of the Liberal and Country League (LCL) in 1932. [Jaensch (1986), p. 382] The South Australian party system has not deviated from this two-party divide, and all other parties have gained negligible representation or influence.

Liberal representation

Political scientists Neal Blewett and Dean Jaensch characterised the LCL as a strange amalgamation of differing groups: "the Adelaide 'establishment', the yeoman proprietary (farmers and regional workers), and the Adelaide middle class" [Blewett and Jaensch (1971), p. 8–9] Of these groups, the middle class was the most electorally depressed, both in parliament and within the party itself, due to a 2:1 ratio favouring regional areas both in electoral legislation and the party organisation. Only in 1956 did they achieve parliamentary representation through Robin Millhouse, who was elected to the seat of Mitcham. [Jaensch (1997), p. 37]

Millhouse was a vocal advocate of his broader constituency; championing their case in a party dominated by rural conservatives. He wrote a paper on the 'Liberal Case for Electoral Reform', arguing for a fairer electoral system, as it was biased against voters resident in the capital city, Adelaide, whether they be progressive or conservative, Liberal or Labor. [Jaensch (1997), p. 38] Many younger voters, who would have normally been attracted to the LCL, were abandoning the party for Labor due to their dissatisfaction with the electoral system known as the 'Playmander'. But this concerned the rural conservatives little, who hoped to retain their hold on power through the present system. Millhouse's paper was quickly ignored.

The LCL had governed, primarily under the stead of Sir Thomas Playford, for 30 years, and finally lost to Labor in 1965. A year and a half later, when Playford retired, Steele Hall was elected to replace him. Hall had never conflicted with the party line, and was expected to uphold the existing LCL principles. However, when the LCL was returned to office in 1968 under his leadership, his course differed from what was expected. He appointed Millhouse his Attorney-General, and continued a raft of social reform that had begun under the previous Labor government. This was opposed by some conservatives within the party; lines began to be drawn, and factions began to appear. Hall commented in the party's newsletter that "too many people see the LCL as a party tied to conservative traditions. We must show voters that we can move with the times, that we are 'with it'." [Jaensch (1997), p. 39]

Electoral reform

The level of malapportionment had grown to a level in excess of 3:1 in favour of rural areas, and Hall, having won the previous election on 46.7 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote, committed himself to a fairer electoral system. Previously 39 members were elected; 13 from metropolitan Adelaide and 26 from the country. Hall's first attempt for reform was a system with 45 seats and 20 from the country; this proposal receiving scorn from both Labor and the rural councillors, seen as not going far enough by the former and going too far by the latter. A second proposal, for 47 seats with 19 in the country, was adopted with bipartisan support in the House of Assembly, but encountered opposition in the Legislative Council. The new system would make an LCL win near-impossible in the coming election, and Hall and the LCL were aware of it. For his weakening of rural constituencies, Hall became an enemy to those councillors who stood in defence of the previous system. [Blewett and Jaensch (1971), p.184–187]

Labor's leader, Don Dunstan, also introduced a bill for reform of the Legislative Council, which sought to remove its wage and property based qualifications. Hall himself stated he would approve the bill if it included a clause guaranteeing that the Legislative Council could only be abolished through a referendum. Dunstan agreed, but Hall's own party split on the issue. The bill passed the House of Assembly with Labor support, but failed in the Legislative Council where the LCL's rural conservatives dominated its restricted electoral base. [Dunstan (1981), p 161–162]

Behind the votes in parliament was a personal antagonism between Hall and Ren DeGaris, the leader of the LCL in the Legislative Council. DeGaris, who was elected to the council in 1962, was a staunch defender of its franchise and electoral boundaries. The two were the "de facto" leaders of the party's two factions; Hall representing the urban-based progressives, and DeGaris the rural-based conservatives. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 15–16] The conflict between the two extended beyond politics and on to a personal level, contributing to the polarisation of views within the LCL and making it difficult for an internal compromise to be reached on the issue of electoral reform.

After the LCL lost government in 1970, primarily due to the electoral reform, Hall managed to be re-elected as leader. He convinced a majority of the party's membership that reform was needed, and sought to remove the influence that the party's representatives in the Legislative Council held. When the Dunstan government again introduced a bill to introduce universal suffrage to the council, Hall gained the support of 7 out of 20 members in the Assembly, but only 2 of 16 LCL members in the Legislative Council supported the bill. [Jaensch (1997), p. 40]

The conservatives then moved against Hall, putting forward party proposals to lessen the influence of its parliamentary leader. Liberal parties in Australia had long held to a tradition of the separation of houses, independence of members, and the ability of the parliamentary leader to choose his own cabinet. The rural councillors sought to preserve their power, and demanded that cabinet positions not be decided by the leader, but elected by the parliamentary party as a whole. As this would include the Legislative Council, dominated by its rural membership, Hall's support among moderate Liberals would be overwhelmed by the councillors' inclusion.

After the parliamentary party agreed on this issue, Hall resigned the leadership on 16 March 1972, stating that "I cannot continue to lead a Party that will not follow; I cannot lead a Party which has lost its idealism and which has forgotten that its purpose for existence is to govern successfully for the welfare of all South Australians. Our Party is still deeply cleft by the pervasive influence of a number of its members in the Legislative Council." [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 2–3]

Premier Dunstan, with whom Hall had never had amiable relations, crossed the floor of the house and shook Hall's hand in a gesture of solidarity. [Dunstan (1981), p 204]


Hall initially sought to establish his own separate party, but Ian Wilson, the former member for the federal Division of Sturt, convinced him to stay within the LCL and bring about internal change.Hall (1973), p. 39] Strong support emerged from within the party for Hall's stand, particularly from its youth wing, the Young Liberals. On 21 March 1972, a faction, but closer to a 'party within a party' was formed: the 'New Liberals'. On 28 March it was renamed the Liberal Movement. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 47]

It quickly gained support within the LCL's membership, capturing a number of party branches and began preselecting its own members. Robin Millhouse was a member of the faction, and served as both the deputy leader of the LCL and the LM. Thanks to the electoral reform that had occurred, with more urban electoral districts to contest, the urban-based LM greatly increased its parliamentary representation, with seven members in the House of Assembly (including Hall, Millhouse and future Premiers David Tonkin and Dean Brown), three in the Legislative Council, and one in the Australian House of Representatives (Ian Wilson).

Regards its policies, it was generally progressive, and Hall himself stated that "we had no major differences with the written philosophies of the LCL". The LM's colour, purple, was described by observers as "LCL blue with a dash of Labor red", [Jaensch, (1997), p. 41] signifying the faction's location on the political spectrum. The LM was less concerned with creating differing policy as it was taking over and reforming the LCL; the non-Labor forces, in their disunity, were in a poor position to challenge the dominance of charismatic Premier Dunstan. The LM itself contained two poorly-defined internal groups: moderates, concerned with the inequalities of the electoral systems and the LCL's aging image; and radicals, who espoused the aforementioned in addition to the desire for wide-ranging social reform.

In the 1973 state election, the LM largely ran a separate campaign from the LCL as a whole. The majority of the LCL's metropolitan candidates were also within the LM, and it was hoped that enough seats would be gained so that not only would the LCL return to power, but that the LM would be able to overpower the conservative faction in the House of Assembly and re-elect Hall as leader. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 69–70] While the LM ran an innovative campaign, the LCL itself faltered, losing support in the country to the Country Party and to Labor in metropolitan Adelaide. Labor won its first-ever successive state election victory, and the LM were branded as being the reason behind the LCL's defeat. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 82–83]


Pressure from the LCL's leader, Bruce Eastick, and the conservative wing of the party, saw machinations against the LM. Millhouse was removed as the LCL deputy leader in 1973, and pressure began to be mounted on the faction. On 23 March, a motion was passed at the state council that allowed it to deny membership to those who belonged to 'outside political organisations', and the LM was subsequently declared to be one. Strangely, an LCL member could also be a member of the Communist Party of Australia, but not the LM. A motion to also declare the League of Rights an outside political organisation failed.Jaensch and Bullock (1978) p. 86–88]

It was not expected that the LM would split to form a separate party. But before it was established, Hall promptly resigned from the LCL, declaring it "hypocritical and decadent". Martin Cameron quickly followed, and Robin Millhouse consulted with members from his constituency before agreeing to resign from the LCL. Ian Wilson, who had earlier managed to convince Hall not to form a separate party, tried in vain to sway him to remain with the LCL and focus on reforming it from within. All other LCL-LM members did not follow. David Tonkin stated that "every one of those Liberals who resign from the League is making it more and more certain that the League will remain just as it is".

A number of LCL branches remained with the LM, and there were mass resignations from the LCL on the whole. Eastick was relatively unconcerned: the LCL had a massive membership of over 30,000 and the LM's split did little to dent it. The new party was formally announced on 2 April after an LM convention.

As Hall and Millhouse were both competent parliamentary performers, it was widely acknowledged in the media that they outperformed the LCL in providing an effective opposition. In one parliamentary division, with the entirety of the ALP and LCL on one side of the house and the LM members on the other, Millhouse took one of many opportunities to taunt Eastick and damage the LCL, labelling him "Dunstan lover!" [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 99] The South Australian media, which had earlier warmed to Premier Dunstan, then focused their attention on the LM and gave the fledgling party much-needed publicity. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 97]

The primary instigator for the creation of the LM in 1972 had been based around the lack of electoral reform. The electoral system had been expected to continue to return rural LCL members in the Legislative Council, yet at the 1973 elections Labor had, through the mass encouragement of registration for the council vote, managed to gain two seats, giving a 14-6 split in the council. As half the council was elected at each election, Labor only had to retain their vote to gain an additional two seats at the next election, and a minor rise in it would see additional council seats fall to them. It was increasingly plausible that Labor would be able to gain a majority in the Legislative Council within a decade and then carry through their goal of abolishing it, and push through any electoral legislation it so wished.

To the LCL, this was a dangerous situation, and seeing a need to avoid it, compromised: their position abruptly changed to being in favour of wholesale reform of the Legislative Council. When Dunstan put forward bills to reform it, the LCL relented, and Eastick convinced the LCL councillors to let them pass, conditional on amendments to the legislation. These were, a) a minor change to the particular proportional system used to elect the councillors, and b) that it remained non compulsory to vote in the council. The new council would eventually have 22 members, with half elected each election from a multi-member constituency covering the entirety of the state. [Dunstan (1981), p.214–15] Hall attacked the LCL for its sudden change in stance on reform, and managed to see the first LM policy become law with the lowering of the council suffrage age to 18. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 92–93]

The reform legislation for the Legislative Council was not to take effect until the next election, and the death of LCL MLC Harold Kemp necessitated a by-election for the council district of Southern on 11 August. Southern was an ultra-safe rural LCL seat, and Labor declined to stand in the by-election. It was contested by the LCL, the LM, the Country Party and the Australia Party. The three non-LCL parties agreed on favourable preference deals in the hope of one of them displacing the LCL. The LM gained 29 per cent of the vote, and the LCL candidate won by a 4 per cent margin once preferences had been distributed. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 96]

Elections and support

Federal Election 1974

In order to give the LM national exposure, Hall decided to stand for the Australian Senate at the 1974 election. The federal election followed a double dissolution (meaning that all Senate seats, rather than half, were up for election; Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was hoping to attain a majority in the Senate), and all ten South Australian Senate seats were contested. The LM gained 9.9 per cent of the vote in the Senate and Hall was elected in his own right, without the assistance of preferences. In the House of Representatives, the LM gained 8.4 per cent of the vote across the 12 South Australian seats, ranging from a high of 18 per cent in metropolitan Boothby to 1.6 per cent in rural Angas. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 106–107]

Hall had abandoned his rural Yorke Peninsula-based seat of Goyder to stand for the Senate, and at the subsequent by-election the LM were concerned about how their vote would stand without the assistance of its prominent incumbent. To their surprise, they polled 46 per cent of the vote, which saw David Boundy elected on the back of Country Party preferences. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 107–108]

tate Election 1975

In the 1975 election, the LM had ambitions of becoming the largest non-Labor party and leading a coalition including the Liberals and the Country Party. It entered into an agreement with the Country Party if this was to occur, and attempted to seal a similar deal with the Liberals. The campaign was focused primarily on accusations of mismanagement of the economy by Labor, with the LM seeking to positioning itself between the Liberals and Labor, as the centre-ground of South Australian politics. Advertisements attacked the Liberal Party for being a conservative party, and Labor for its perceived socialism and poor economic record. [Hall. "Liberal Movement Policy Speech". 02-07-1975. (State Library collection)]

Millhouse, now the State Parliamentary Leader of the LM, announced the LM's policy for the 1975 state election at the Adelaide Town Hall on 2 July. The party's most effective orator, Millhouse outlined the LM's plans for economic rejuvenation: an end to compulsory unionism, budget and tax cuts, and measures to curb rising inflation and cost of living. Social policy included proposals for an early form of multiculturalism and promotion of 'cultural diversity' and bilingualism. Energy policy appealed to a new generation of environmentalists, and promoted conservation and promotion of solar power. He slammed the proposed City of Monarto as a 'monument to socialist folly'. [Millhouse, Robin. "Liberal Movement Policy Speech". 02-07-1975. (State Library collection)]

The LM commanded almost a fifth (18.2 per cent) of the vote and the combined non-Labor forces gained 50.8 per cent of the two-party-preferred total. The party increased its parliamentary representation by one, with an additional member in the Legislative Council, and made several formerly safe Liberal seats marginal (including that of its leader, Eastick). However, preferences did not flow as the non-Labor parties had wished, with up to 20 per cent of LM second-preferences flowing to Labor instead of the Liberals or Country Party. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 129–131] The LM regarded its first state electoral performance as impressive, and resisted initial overtures to rejoin the Liberals. The Liberals, having suffered a 12 per cent reduction in their primary vote and gained their lowest result, quickly dumped Eastick as leader. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 133–134]

Federal Election 1975

The second consecutive double dissolution federal election in late 1975 was held due to the dismissal of the Whitlam Government by Governor General John Kerr, and the subsequent appointment of federal Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister. Prior to the dismissal, the Liberal Party had used its majority in the Australian Senate to block supply bills. Hall voted in favour of the supply bills being passed, and objected to the federal Liberals' blocking of supply. [Ozpolitics. " [ The Dismissal] ". Accessed 02-03-2007.] When the election was held, there was a 12 percent swing towards the Liberal Party in South Australia, [UWA. " [ AGPD: Senate election in South Australia 1975] ". Accessed 02-03-2007.] or 7 percent on two party preferred. [ [ House of Representatives - Two Party Preferred Results 1949 - Present: AEC] ]

Against this background, and with relatively little media attention paid to the LM and its cause, Hall struggled to be re-elected, gaining only 6.5 per cent of the Senate vote and relying on preferences. In South Australia, Labor gained 41 per cent of the vote, and the Liberals 51 per cent. Hall's hope for Australia-wide support for the LM was dashed due to the previous events, with the party gaining negligible results for their candidates in other states. His opinion was that "the Liberal Movement was for its part in the contest happy to have survived." [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 139]


Independent of the LM, the LCL had begun to change. It eventually supported Don Dunstan's bills for electoral reform, both to the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council, and its internal structure was reorganised and modernised. The LCL renamed itself the Liberal Party of Australia to bring itself into line with its federal counterpart. Thus, many of the reasons for the LM's split had become null. Combined with the LM's declining membership (one third of members had not renewed) and its large debt, it found itself in a precarious position. Negotiations in April 1976 began with the aim for the LM to merge into the new Liberal Party. Once the news became public, Millhouse stated his complete opposition: "I will not rejoin the Liberal Party... I have meant what I said in the past and I do not see any change in the attitude of the Liberal Party to alter my view."Jaensch (1997), p. 46] Hall, however, wanted to unite the non-Labor forces, and acknowledged that "there is no prospect of maintaining LM electorate groups... in simple terms, our alternatives are to swallow some little pride, and unite to fight Labor."

When the LM voted narrowly in May 1976 to rejoin the Liberals (222 to 211), Millhouse immediately created the New LM, and became its only parliamentary representative. He was a prominent member of the Assembly, and a constant irritant to the Liberals, with whom he often sparred. When Don Chipp resigned from the federal Liberal Party, and stated his intention to create a centrist and progressive 'third force' in Australian politics, Millhouse's New LM responded. Chipp's Australian Democrats was created, and negotiations began for a merger between the two parties. The New LM candidates in the September 1977 state election stood under a joint New LM-Australian Democrats ticket, winning 12.3 per cent of the vote in the 12 electorates they contested, and Millhouse defeated the Liberal candidate in the lower house seat of Mitcham, which he would hold until 1982. The merger was finalised on 3 October 1977 and the New LM was absorbed into the Democrats. [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 172] [Jaensch and Bullock (1978), p. 182–185]

David Tonkin, an LM member before it split and became a separate party, had gained the Liberal party leadership in 1975, succeeding Eastick. He worked swiftly to heal the internal party wounds, and to re-establish the non-Labor forces and provide an effective opposition. The 1977 election saw a decline in Liberal support, but the party gained power after the abrupt resignation of Premier Dunstan, with an 11 per cent swing in 1979, receiving 55 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote. The first Democrats MLC was also elected in 1979 on a first preference vote of 6.5 per cent. [Parkin, Andrew (1986), p. 480] In 1982, however, the Labor Party again gained office and would rule for over a decade. The Democrats continued to attract support, and would solely hold the balance of power in the Legislative Council until 1997. [Parkin (1986), p. 329]



*cite book| last=Blewett| first=Neal|coauthor=Dean Jaensch| year=1971| title=Playford to Dunstan: The Politics of Transition|location=Melbourne| publisher=Cheshire|isbn=0-7015-1299-7
*cite book| last=Dunstan| first=Don| authorlink=Don Dunstan| title=Felicia: The Political Memoirs of Don Dunstan|year=1981|location=South Melbourne| publisher=Macmillan| isbn= 0-333-33815-4
*cite book| author=Hall, Steele (ed.)| year=1973|title=A Liberal Awakening: The LM Story|location=Leabrook| publisher=Investigator Press|isbn=0-85864-017-1
*cite book| last=Jaensch| first=Dean| coauthor=Joan Bullock| year=1978| title=Liberals in Limbo: Non-Labor Politics in South Australia 1970–1978|location=Richmond, Victoria| publisher=Dominion press| isbn=0-909081-37-9
*cite book |author=Jaensch, Dean (ed.) |title=The Flinders History of South Australia: Political History |year= 1986|publisher=Wakefield Press |location=Netley, South Australia |isbn=0-9492-6852-6
*cite book |author=Warhurst, John (ed.) |title=Keeping the Bastards Honest: The Australian Democrats' First Twenty Years |year=1997 |publisher=Allen & Unwin |location=St Leonards, New South Wales |isbn=1-8644-8420-9

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