The Australian Labor Party (ALP; known as Labor, historically spelt Labour) is a major centre-left political party in Australia. The party has been in opposition at the federal level since the 2013 election. The party is a federal party with branches in each state and territory. Labor is in government in the states of Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, and in both the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. The party competes against the Liberal/National Coalition for political office at the federal and state (and sometimes local) levels. It is the oldest political party in Australia.
The Australian Labor Party has its origins in the Labour parties founded in the 1890s in the Australian colonies prior to federation. Labor tradition ascribes the founding of Queensland Labour to a meeting of striking pastoral workers under a ghost gum tree (the "Tree of Knowledge") in Barcaldine, Queensland in 1891. The Balmain, New South Wales branch of the party claims to be the oldest in Australia. Labour as a parliamentary party dates from 1891 in New South Wales and South Australia, 1893 in Queensland, and later in the other colonies.
At the 1893 South Australian elections the ULP was immediately elevated to balance of power status with 10 of 54 lower house seats. The liberal government of Charles Kingston was formed with the support of the ULP, ousting the conservative government of John Downer. So successful, less than a decade later at the 1905 election, Thomas Price formed the world's first stable Labor government. John Verran led Labor to form the state's first of many majority governments at the 1910 election.
Though Watson further strengthened Labour's position in 1906, he stepped down from the leadership the following year, to be succeeded by Andrew Fisher who formed a minority government lasting seven months from late 1908 to mid 1909. At the 1910 election, Fisher led Labor to victory, forming Australia's first elected federal majority government, Australia's first elected Senate majority, the world's first Labour Party majority government at a national level, and after the 1904 Chris Watson minority government the world's second Labour Party government at a national level. It was the first time a Labour Party had controlled any house of a legislature, and the first time the party controlled both houses of a bicameral legislature. The state branches were also successful, except in Victoria, where the strength of Deakinite liberalism inhibited the party's growth. The state branches formed their first majority governments in New South Wales and South Australia in 1910, Western Australia in 1911, Queensland in 1915 and Tasmania in 1925. Such success eluded equivalent social democratic and labour parties in other countries for many years.
The Labor Party is commonly described as a social democratic party, and its constitution stipulates that it is a democratic socialist party. The party was created by, and has always been influenced by, the trade unions, and in practice its policy at any given time has usually been the policy of the broader labour movement. Thus at the first federal election 1901 Labor's platform called for a White Australia policy, a citizen army and compulsory arbitration of industrial disputes. Labor has at various times supported high tariffs and low tariffs, conscription and pacifism, White Australia and multiculturalism, nationalisation and privatisation, isolationism and internationalism.
Various ideological beliefs were factionalised under reforms to the ALP under Gough Whitlam, resulting in what is now known as the Socialist Left who tend to favour a more interventionist economic policy and more socially progressive ideals, and Labor Right, the now dominant faction that tends to be more economically liberal and focus to a lesser extent on social issues. The Whitlam Labor government, marking a break with Labor's socialist tradition, pursued social-democratic policies rather than democratic socialist policies. Whitlam, in contrast to earlier Labor leaders, also cut tariffs by 25 percent. Whitlam led the Federal Labor Party back to office at the 1972 and 1974 elections, and passed a large amount of legislation. The Whitlam Government lost office following the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis and dismissal by Governor-General Sir John Kerr after the Coalition blocked supply in the Senate after a series of political scandals, and was defeated at the 1975 election. Whitlam remains the only Prime Minister to have his commission terminated in that manner. Whitlam also lost the 1977 election and subsequently resigned as leader.
After the 2013 election, Rudd resigned as leader and Bill Shorten became leader of the party. The party narrowly lost the 2016 election however they gained 14 seats and were 7 seats off a 1 seat majority Government. The party had an upset lost at the 2019 election due to the fact the party had been ahead in the opinion polls for 2 years. The party lost some of its seats it gained at the last election. After the 2019 election Shorten stood down as leader. Anthony Albanese was elected as leader unopposed.
The head office of the ALP, the National Secretariat, is managed by the National Secretary. It plays a dual role of administration and a national campaign strategy. It acts as a permanent secretariat to the National Executive by managing and assisting in all administrative affairs of the party. As the National Secretary also serves as national campaign director during elections, it is also responsible for the national campaign strategy and organisation.
Members join a state branch and pay a membership fee, which is graduated according to income. The majority of trade unions in Australia are affiliated to the party at a state level. Union affiliation is direct and not through the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Affiliated unions pay an affiliation fee based on the size of their membership. Union affiliation fees make up a large part of the party's income. Another source of funds for the party are political donations and public funding.
Australian Young Labor is the youth wing of the Australian Labor Party, where all members under age 26 are automatically members. It is the peak youth body within the ALP. Former Presidents of AYL have included former NSW Premier Bob Carr, Federal Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke, former Special Minister of State Senator John Faulkner, former Australian Workers Union National Secretary and current Member for Maribyrnong and Federal Labor Leader Bill Shorten as well as dozens of State Ministers and MPs. The current national president is Liam O'Regan, from Queensland.
Preselections are usually conducted along factional lines, although sometimes a non-factional candidate will be given preferential treatment (this happened with Cheryl Kernot in 1998 and again with Peter Garrett in 2004). Deals between the factions to divide up the safe seats between them often take place. Preselections, particularly for safe Labor seats, can sometimes be strongly contested. A particularly fierce preselection sometimes gives rise to accusations of branch stacking (signing up large numbers of nominal party members to vote in preselection ballots), personation, multiple voting and, on occasions, fraudulent electoral enrolment. Trade unions were in the past accused of giving inflated membership figures to increase their influence over preselections, but party rules changes have stamped out this practice. Preselection results are sometimes challenged, and the National Executive is sometimes called on to arbitrate these disputes.