- National Party of Western Australia
The Nationals Western Australia Leader Brendon Grylls Party President Hon Colin Holt MLC Founded 1913 (as Country Party of Western Australia) Headquarters Level 1, 35 Havelock Street, West Perth WA 6005 Ideology Agrarianism Political position Centre Website The Nationals WA Politics of Australia
Founded in 1913 to represent the interests of farmers and pastoralists, it was the first agrarian party in Australia to contest and win seats at the 1914 state election. Since then, it has continuously held seats in the state's Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, particularly in the state's Wheatbelt region, and for many years it also held Federal seats. While the party had historically functioned as part of a two-party coalition with the centre-right Liberal Party (and its predecessors) for most of its existence, tensions have always existed over the coalition arrangement, and on two occasions the party split over the issue.
Since the passage of reforms initiated by the Labor Party to the electoral system reducing the number of non-metropolitan seats, the Nationals have refashioned themselves as an independent third party in Western Australian politics in an effort to ensure their survival and continued representation for agrarian interests in Parliament.
In 2005 the party confirmed its intention to maintain parliamentary independence from the Liberal Party. In 2007, leader Brendon Grylls stated that the party "took a significant step and said no to a traditional coalition with the Liberal Party and will contest the (next) election as a stand-alone conservative party". Following the unexpected hung parliament produced by the election, the Nationals found themselves with the balance of power in both houses of the Western Australian parliament, opting ultimately to support the Liberals without becoming part of a coalition.
Nationals WA candidate Tony Crook defeated Liberal Party incumbent Wilson Tuckey in the lower house seat of O'Connor at the 2010 federal election, where a four-seat deficit for both sides saw the first hung parliament since the 1940 federal election. Crook sits as a crossbencher, he and his party remained open to negotiations by both sides on the formation of the 2010 federal government. His main platform is pro-Royalties for Regions policy and anti-Mineral Resource Rent Tax. Since his election, Crook at times has voted for federal Labor government policies in parliament contrary to the official position of the National Party of Australia.
- 1 Naming
- 2 History
- 3 Party leaders
- 4 Party performance
- 5 References
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 External links
On foundation, the party was known as the Country Party of Western Australia. In 1944, it was renamed the Country and Democratic League following its severance from the Primary Producers' Association; however, the name proved confusing, especially after the Liberals' decision to adopt the name Liberal and Country League, and the parliamentary party reverted to being the Country Party at the 1949 federal election. The organisation followed suit at its 1961 conference. In 1974, the party contested state and federal elections under the National Alliance banner, and then was officially renamed the National Country Party. On 1 April 1985, upon its union with the breakaway National Party, it became the National Party of Western Australia, which was formally affiliated with the National Party of Australia. As with all National parties around Australia, in late 2003 the party was rebranded as The Nationals Western Australia, although the official name has not changed.
The gold rush of the 1890s had seen tremendous growth in the state in terms of both capital and population. Between the discovery of gold at Halls Creek in 1885 and federation in 1901, the population increased from 35,959 to 184,124, and by 1911 had risen to 282,114—in all, an almost eightfold increase. The gold rush peaked in 1903 and, while gold still represented over 65% of the total exports of Western Australia, the industry had started to enter a period of decline. With this decline came a recognition by government that continued economic growth depended on the development of agriculture. Massive public loans from overseas together with assisted immigration from the United Kingdom saw large areas of land opened up—from 1900 to 1910, the area under crop rose from 74,308 acres (30,071 ha) to 521,862 acres (211,190 ha), while the railway network doubled in size and many public buildings were erected throughout the cultivated areas of the state. In addition, immigrants who had come in search of gold or work increasingly took on jobs as farm workers—the proportion of the population on the Goldfields had fallen from 32.2% of the State in 1901 to 22.3% by 1911, while the agricultural population had risen from 28.2% to 35.5% in the same period. Land was also given to unemployed labourers and retrenched public servants, which they could gain title on by making it productive. Following the pioneering work in 1903 by William Farrer in New South Wales on marginal-rainfall wheat varieties, wheat became by far the most important agricultural export, with the rate of expansion from 1904 to 1913 in wheat production and export surpassing all other states.
However, falling wheat prices after 1908 and a drought in 1911-1912 caused major hardship to the newly-established farmers, especially in the eastern wheatbelt which had lower rainfall, less capital and less preparation. This led to some resentment towards the Liberal government then in power, and especially towards Minister for Lands James Mitchell, who had adopted a particularly enthusiastic attitude towards settlement in such areas. Two new events on the horizon brought things to a head—the 1911 state election which produced the first majority Labor government in Western Australia (including several members from agricultural areas); and an attempt by the Rural Workers Union to bring agricultural workers into the Commonwealth arbitration system to regulate their wages and working conditions. In March 1912, the Western Australian Farmers and Settlers' Association was formed to represent small employers' interests, and included primarily wheat farmers, but also small graziers, dairy farmers and orchardists. By 1914, it had 180 branches and 6,000 members, mostly located in the Wheatbelt region with some penetration of the South West region. It was inspired in part by the success of Canadian grain growers' associations from 1900 onwards.
Formation of the Country Party
At its second conference in June 1912, held at Perth Technical School, the FSA decided to adopt a political platform and elect members to Parliament who were pledged to support it. The FSA's leadership at this time was dominated by conservative established farmers, and particularly by its founding president Alexander Monger, a former member of the Liberal party. However, the association had also been highly successful in attracting Labor supporters, so the entire question of the platform was referred to a special conference held in March 1913. Strongly influenced by eastern Wheatbelt representatives, the conference was militant in tone and decided by a vote of 103 to 17 to form a country party in both State and Federal parliaments. By early 1914, the emergent Country Party of Western Australia had adopted some elements of Labor's political structure such as preselection ballots, a local branch structure, annual conferences and the observance of a pledge by party members, and saw their role as a balance of power capable of bargaining for concessions from the government of the day, clearly influenced by Labor's past practice before emerging as a major party in 1904.
These events took the Liberal party by surprise and caused some consternation amongst them. Their initial view of the FSA had been positive—federal member for Swan and former Premier (1890–1901), Sir John Forrest, believed the movement "would be of great use to the Producers, add to the strength of Liberalism and prove advantageous in every way". The FSA's first meetings were at the Liberal League's clubrooms in Perth, and its Executive was dominated by well-established families from the established farming districts around York and Beverley, epitomising the conservative values of pre-1890s Western Australian society. The Executive was staunchly opposed to the Labor party, and was concerned about the support Labor was able to attract in the newer districts, but at the same time wished for a more considered land settlement policy than the Liberals were offering, and opposed protectionism. The emergence of a three-party contest with a new Country Party remaining "entirely distinct from and not allied with any other Party" and representing the political interests of farmers, a compromise that both the Executive and the membership wholeheartedly supported, resulted in sharp criticism from key Liberals such as Forrest, who engaged in a two-month correspondence with Monger until April 1914 attempting to convince him to rejoin the FSA to the Liberal cause, and State opposition leader Frank Wilson. An invitation from the Liberal League for an exchange of preferences in the Legislative Council had been rejected by the Executive on the ground that "our constitution does not permit the council to comply with their request".
In May 1914, the Country Party won two of four contested seats in the Legislative Council—one in East Province and one in Central Province. At the Assembly elections on 21 October 1914, they contested 16 of the 50 seats in the Legislative Assembly, winning 8 of them. Five of these seats had Liberal incumbents (Beverley, Greenough, Irwin, Pingelly and York), while two had been held by Labor (Avon and Nelson). Alfred Piesse, the Liberal member for Toodyay, joined the Country Party and faced no contest for his seat. James Gardiner was selected as the first leader of the Country Party. The Labor government was returned with a one-seat majority, but could not always rely on its own members, and Gardiner told the Assembly on 8 December 1914 that there should be a "legitimate truce" and that the Country Party would support the government for the benefit of the state. During this time the government enacted a number of financial aid and other relief measures with Country Party support. However, Gardiner's willingness to work with Labor to achieve Country Party aims on the land alarmed conservatives on the FSA executive, and on 12 March 1915, at the first joint Country Party-FSA conference, the decision was made to appoint a new leader. Gardiner resigned six days later, and Francis Willmott became leader of the party, which became increasingly dominated by Monger. The party had to act carefully, as Labor had committed to an agricultural relief programme and the Executive was wary of upsetting the radical eastern wheatbelt branches. The status quo was cautiously backed at the party's August 1915 conference.
Coalition and division
Events in Western Australian politics assumed an unpredictable quality from late 1915 onwards. On 30 September 1915, the seat of Roebourne, previously held by Joseph Gardiner, was declared vacant and was won at a by-election two months later by the Liberal Party, leaving Labor with no majority in the Assembly. The FSA executive had tired of Gardiner and colleague Tom Harrison's continuing support for the government, writing in September 1915 accusing him of "always being the apologist for the bad administration of the present Government". In November, Country Party members were instructed to support a censure motion by the Liberal Party, but although all members did ultimately vote for the motion, it was defeated by the casting vote of the Speaker. On 18 December 1915, the Labor member for Williams-Narrogin, Edward Johnston, resigned from the party and was re-elected at a by-election as an Independent. For the first time since the Scaddan Government's election in 1911, non-Labor forces had a majority in the Assembly.
Demographic and political challenges
The National Alliance and coalition tensions
The party entered into a temporary merger with the Democratic Labor Party, standing on a centrist platform as the "National Alliance" in both the March 1974 state election and the May 1974 federal election. The Alliance contested most of the state seats and every single federal seat, standing in many metropolitan seats for the first time. However in both elections the party lost votes and seats compared to the combined performance of its component parties in previous elections, losing its last seats in the federal House of Representatives and one of two Senators. The National Alliance was dissolved soon afterwards and the now-renamed National Country Party reverted to its traditional approach of contesting just rural seats afterwards. In the 1977 federal election the party's last Senator, Tom Drake-Brockman, retired and his seat was lost. The party would not win another federal seat until the 2010 federal election.
The 1974 state election saw the Liberals defeat Labor but they lacked a majority and so following negotiations a Liberal-National Country Coalition ministry was formed with the National Country Party holding three positions in the ministry, including leader Ray McPharlin as Deputy Premier under Sir Charles Court. However the National Country Party's reduced position led to public discussions about establishing a clear separate identity from the Liberals. Tensions grew over rural and education issues and, ultimately, milk quotas for dairy producers leading to a split. On 20 May 1975, McPharlin led the party out of the Coalition. The state party then came under pressure from the federal party to resume the coalition, with both federal leader Doug Anthony and Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen making visits to encourage this. In the negotiations which followed, McPharlin was replaced as leader by Dick Old and the Coalition was resumed on 31 May; however, Court insisted Old was too inexperienced to be Deputy Premier, and from this point until the Liberals' defeat in 1983, while the Coalition was maintained between the two parties, the Liberal Party got to name both leading positions in the Ministry. At the 1977 state election the Liberals gained seats whilst the National Country Party stood still, resulting in the latter losing one of its three ministerial posts. The Coalition remained in office.
The split (1978-1985)
In July 1978 the tensions within the party came to the forefront once more. The schism was triggered over a political donation of $200,000 from mining entrepreneur Lang Hancock through the party president from which offers of campaign assistance were made to parliamentary officeholders to vote to oust Old. By August the party had completely fractured when Hendy Cowan, the vice president of the party and an MLA, and Jim Fletcher, the general president, walked out of a strategy planning meeting. The allegation of the campaign offer had been made against Fletcher. Court's strong domination of conservative politics had resulted in the National Country Party having only minor influence and the split galvanised demands for greater independence.
A separate party called the "National Party" was formed. The name was initially disallowed after objections from the National Party in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania but later formalised as the National Party of Australia (WA). Disaffected members of the National Country Party joined including three Members of the Legislative Assembly, Cowan, McPharlin and Matt Stephens, and one Member of the Legislative Council, Thomas McNeil. The National Party operated as an independent force whilst the National Country Party remained in the Coalition. The two parties worked independently of one another whilst quietly (and occasionally, publicly) feuding. In the 1980 state election the National Country Party maintained the Coalition whilst the National Party agreed with the Labor Party not to contest each other's seats and Cowan publicly stated his party was willing to support a Labor minority government if it had the largest number of seats. The election saw each party return its three sitting MLAs, with the Coalition retaining power. On 12 May 1982, McPharlin resigned from the National Party and rejoined the National Country Party.
The Coalition lost power in the 1983 state election, in which McPharlin also lost his seat to the Liberals. All the other National Country and National MLAs retained their seats. The National Country Party was by this stage $1.25 million in debt, largely due to the failure of a grocery store it had entered to raise funds. This led to an unsuccessful motion to dissolve the party in May 1983.
There were renewed calls for the two rural parties to reunify. In August 1984 a seventeen point plan was agreed by both parties and on 2 October 1984 the two party organisations formally unified under the name "National Party of Western Australia". However the two parliamentary parties remained as separate entities because the three three sitting National Country Party MLAs (Dick Old, Albert Crane and Peter Jones) refused to work with Cowan and Stephens. On 29 January 1985 the parliamentary National Country Party was formally dissolved. The sitting MLCs joined the National party, however all three sitting MLAs refused to accept the merger and instead joined the Liberal Party.
The Cowan era
The conservative parties were in opposition through most of the 1980s with Labor yet to suffer from major fallout from the WA Inc fiasco and the 1987 stock market crash. In 1989 Liberal opposition leader Barry MacKinnon was pushing for the Nationals to help block supply in the Upper House to topple the Dowding government. Cowan refused to cooperate knowing that a small swing to the Liberals in the coming election could see them (the Liberals) gain as many as nine seats and an absolute majority in the Assembly, thus weakening the Nationals' position. In February the following year, Cowan and the Nationals had reversed their stance and decided to block supply in a bid to present themselves as a decisive and consistent conservative force.
In the 1993 state election, the conservative forces finally regained government, largely by just being able to finally present themselves as united. This was despite what should have been a relatively easy ride given Labor's problems with WA Inc. and the findings of the associated Royal commission which had been handed down the year before. The Liberals won a small, but absolute majority in both houses with the Nationals holding 6 seats in the lower house and 3 in the upper house. Nevertheless, a Liberal-National Party coalition was formed and Cowan was Deputy Premier under Richard Court from 1993 to 2001, as well as holding ministerial portfolios of Commerce and Trade (16 February 1993 to 16 February 2001), Small Business and Regional Development (10 February 1995 to 16 February 2001).
The Coalition was defeated at the 2001 state election. Subsequently Cowan resigned from both the party leadership and the state parliament to stand in the federal Senate election for the Nationals; however despite his profile and the party's belief that he was their best hope since Drake-Brockman's retirement, he was unsuccessful.
Cowan was succeeded as leader by Max Trenorden who led the party for the next four years in coalition with the Liberals. At the 2005 state election the Nationals retained the same number of seats but the Labor Pary retained power and came close to a majority in the Legislative Council and successfully implemented the ending of a malapportionment that had given the non-metropolitan parts of the state fewer voters per electorate than in the metropolitan parts; the National Party had long benefited from this arrangement. In May 2005 legislation was passed to remove the malapportionment in the Legislative Assembly (although it was retained for the Legislative Council) and shift to a system of one vote one value. The change was widely expected to devastate the National Party, leading to many questioning whether it would survive the coming election.
In June 2005 Trenorden was challenged by Brendon Grylls for the leadership and stood down before a formal ballot was held. Grylls sought to reposition the Nationals, taking them beyond their traditional rural base and making a greater appeal to regional Western Australia. The party adopted the flagship policy of "Royalties for Regions", under which 25% of mineral and oil royalty revenues would be spent in the regional areas of Western Australia to develop infrastructure. Grylls also moved the party away from the traditional Coalition with the Liberals to instead operate as an independent force, including a readiness to form government with either the Liberals or Labor to push for National policies.
In the 2008 state election the party won four lower house seats, which together with three independents, enabled the Liberals led by Colin Barnett to form an informal governing coalition. Unlike a conventional coalition however, the National members reserved "the right to exempt [themselves] from Cabinet and vote against an issue on the floor of the Parliament if it's against the wishes of the people [they] represent,"
The winning MLAs were party leader Brendon Grylls (Central Wheatbelt), Terry Redman (Blackwood-Stirling), Terry Waldron (Wagin) and Grant Woodhams (Moore). In the upper house, the party won five seats with the members being Mia Davies, Philip Gardiner and Max Trenorden (Agricultural Region), Colin Holt (South West Region) and Wendy Duncan (Mining and Pastoral Region). Grylls, Waldron and Redman hold cabinet positions in the Barnett Ministry, whilst Duncan is a Parliamentary Secretary.
Grylls and his partners negotiated the implementation of its Royalties for Regions policy, which provided  The policy is administered through the Department of Regional Development and Lands and provides for an additional $619 million (2009–10) in spending in regional communities above consolidated revenue allocations for the regions.
In the 2010 federal election, Tony Crook won the Australian House of Representatives seat of O'Connor for the National Party of Western Australia from long-term Liberal incumbent Wilson Tuckey. Crook campaigned on a policy of opposition to the Mineral Resource Rent Tax and support for a Royalties for Regions policy at a national level. He also declared his independence from the federal Nationals and declared he would sit as a crossbencher in the parliament. The election resulted in a hung parliament. Crook ultimately announced he would support the Liberal-National Coalition on confidence and supply, but would otherwise remain on the crossbench.
Leader Date started Date finished James Gardiner 21 October 1914 18 March 1915 Francis Willmott 18 March 1915 August 1919 Tom Harrison August 1919 August 1922 Henry Kennedy Maley August 1922 November 1923 Alec Thomson 15 December 1923 12 April 1930 Charles Latham 12 April 1930 8 October 1942 Arthur Watts 8 October 1942 31 January 1962 Crawford Nalder 1 February 1962 17 July 1973 Ray McPharlin 17 July 1973 18 May 1975 Dick Old 18 May 1975 30 January 1985 Hendy Cowan 25 March 1985 16 October 2001 Max Trenorden 17 October 2001 21 June 2005 Brendon Grylls 21 June 2005 incumbent
The following table records Country Party and National Party votes in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly as cast at state general elections. While the statistics reflect exact counts, it may not be possible to strictly compare vote percentages over time due to the number of uncontested seats prior to 1971.
Year Seats Votes Elected % of House Primary Count % of State 1914 8 16.0 13,344 13.98 1917 12 24.0 15,560 18.49 1921 16 32.0 1924 13 26.0 1927 7 14.0 22,439 15.97 1930 10 20.0 25,792 18.77 1933 11 22.0 27,381 15.06 1936 13 26.0 19,685 14.60 1939 12 24.0 24,681 12.00 1943 10 20.0 43,529 24.29  1947 12 24.0 26,416 16.16  1950 9 18.0 20,922 9.31 1953 9 18.0 9,196 4.91  1956 8 16.0 12,319 5.24 1959 8 16.0 17,179 6.55 1962 8 16.0 17,339 5.93 1965 8 16.0 14,630 4.87 1968 9 17.6 16,879 5.25 1971 8 15.7 26,604 5.64 1974 6 11.8 55,746 10.80  1977 6 10.9 30,784 5.28 1980 6 10.9 42,671 7.26  1983 5 8.8 32,915 5.11  1986 6 10.5 29,303 3.73 1989 6 10.5 37,075 4.60 1993 6 10.5 48,394 5.31 1996 6 10.5 55,817 5.79 2001 5 8.8 33,450 3.26 2005 5 8.8 39,548 3.69 2008 4 6.8 53,068 4.87
- 1 The totals given for 1924 reflect the combined seats and votes attracted by the Executive and Majority Country Party factions at the election.
- 2 In 1943 and 1947, a large disparity existed between the number of uncontested Labor and non-Labor seats. In 1943, 11 Labor seats were uncontested compared to one Nationalist seat, whilst in 1947, 15 Labor seats were uncontested compared to five non-Labor seats.
- 3 In 1953, seven of the Country Party's nine seats were uncontested at the election.
- 4 In 1974, the party combined with the Democratic Labor Party in the National Alliance which contested 44 of the 51 seats in the Assembly including many metropolitan seats. The result hence needs to be compared with the combined CP-DLP vote in 1971, which was 16.35%.
- 5 The totals given for 1980 and 1983 reflect the combined seats and votes attracted by the National Country and National parties.
- ^ Western Australian Electoral Commission (11 July 2008). "Final Boundaries". http://www.boundarieswa.com/2007/Final-Boundaries/. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- ^ The Nationals WA (30 June 2007). "2007 Annual Report". Archived from the original on 2008-07-19. http://web.archive.org/web/20080719170857/http://www.nationalswa.com/pdf/Annual+Report+2007.pdf. Retrieved 2008-09-13.
- ^ Gillard's Malaysia manoeuvre hooked on Crook: SMH 9 October 2011
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- ^ Appleyard (1981), p. 227-230.
- ^ Bolton (1972), p.22.
- ^ Glynn, Sean (1975). Government policy and agricultural development: Western Australian Wheatbelt, 1900-1930. UWA Press. p. 2.
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- ^ Layman (1979), p.159.
- ^ Graham (1966), p.9-10, 77-78, 91.
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- ^ "Legislative Election of 10 November 2001 - Senate Voting By State - Western Australia". Adam Carr's Electoral Archive. http://psephos.adam-carr.net/countries/a/australia/2001/2001senatewa.txt. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
- ^ a b "Stateline Western Australia". Abc.net.au. 2005-06-17. http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/wa/content/2005/s1396263.htm. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
- ^ a b "Lucky Grylls - Landline". ABC. http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2008/s2584238.htm. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
- ^ "Max Trenorden explains quitting. :: ABC Western Australia". Abc.net.au. http://www.abc.net.au/wa/stories/s1392496.htm. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
- ^ ABC Online (14 September 2008). "Nationals hand WA election win to the Liberals". http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/09/14/2364004.htm. Retrieved 2008-09-14.
- ^ "Royalties for Regions website". Government of Western Australia. http://www.royaltiesforregions.wa.gov.au/. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
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