For the first occasion since 1935 the major non-Labor parties are campaigning for the forthcoming Queensland election as a united entity, the Liberal National Party (LNP), rather than separately under a coalition agreement or in open conflict. If recent opinion polls and expert analyses prove to be correct Queensland will return only its second ever elected united non-Labor party government.
It is not commonly recognised that there was a precedent for this situation - from 1925 to 1935 – so it is timely to revisit that experience and see what lessons may be learned.
The Labor Party achieved its first majority victory in 1915, on a radical reform agenda which included abolition of the Legislative Council, which was implemented in 1922. For some years the opposition parties were in disarray as they seemed to assume that in due course they would just slip back into power.
The existence of three separate non-Labor parties at the closely contested 1920 election convinced Arthur Moore - the newly appointed deputy leader of the Country Party and member for the Darling Downs electorate of Aubigny from 1915 to 1941 -that much closer collaboration could result in future election success. This vision became an integral feature of his political approach and career.
Following the 1923 election Moore became leader of the Country Party and deputy Opposition leader, rising to Opposition leader in 1924. After a failed attempt earlier that year, in December 1925 the merged Country and Progressive National Party (CPNP) was formed. This was only months before the 1926 election, when William McCormack’s Labor Party retained its 14 seat victory margin, but obtained a lower share of the vote than the CPNP.
The group Moore led was not always harmonious. It was bedeviled by inexperience; factional and personal rivalries; plus persistent underlying mistrust between some city and country members. Some power brokers within the CPNP saw Moore as a conciliatory, stop-gap leader to be replaced later by someone more prominent and dynamic. No such person was to emerge.
The first annual conference of party’s external administration, known as the Country and Progressive National Organisation (CPNO), was not held until 1928 when a clear strategy was developed for the 1929 election. The CPNP sought a mandate to reverse what were seen as excessive socialist legislation over the preceding 14 years. In particular, most state enterprises purchased or developed since 1915 were highlighted as loss-making failures. The plan also was to re-establish a democratically elected Legislative Council, due to growing concerns at hastily prepared legislation.
The 1929 election outcome was a very convincing victory over a bickering Labor Party, with the CPNP winning 43 of the 72 seats, gaining a record 54.2 percent of the vote. The Moore government immediately encountered increasing difficulties due to the escalating Great Depression. For the next two years all Australian governments, irrespective of their political complexion, grappled with little success to agree a common approach, culminating in the unpopular – but in retrospect quite successful - deflationary 1931 Premiers’ Plan, finally implemented by all states.
A now more united Labor Party, with AWU dominance entrenched and led by William Forgan Smith, was able to distance itself from the Premiers’ Plan and even successfully blame the Moore government for being the principal cause the Great Depression in Queensland. It won a narrow victory at the 1932 election and, on the back of a recovering Australian economy, won emphatically in 1935 over a dispirited and crumbling CPNP.
This adverse result led to the early demise of the CPNP. A “new” Queensland Country Party was formed the next year, being joined by the 13 re-elected country members while the three surviving city members joined the United Australia Party. Both parties struggled to regain ground for many years, only winning office again in 1957 as a coalition with the Liberal Party, following the schism in the Labor Party.
Only fragmented records remain from the CPNP era. It seems that the CPNO never had a solid branch or funding base. Given this poor precedent, it will be interesting to see how the LNP performs if it wins government. Unity, a strong branch structure and electorally acceptable policies to address changing economic circumstances seem to be necessary pre-requisites.
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