The Federation Press

Political Parties in Transition?


Political Parties in Transition? reviews the recent developments affecting the major parties and the party system in Australia, and asks the question: are Australia’s major parties acting like a cartel?

The book includes detailed coverage about the evolution of the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal-National Party Coalition as well as the role of emergent parties such as the Greens. Consideration is given to whether these emergent parties have the capacity or indeed the opportunity to challenge major party dominance.

The book also examines the evidence for and against the idea that the major parties have colluded to maintain their dominance of the system. The authors consider whether recent policy and other changes affecting party resources and party positioning, have helped advantage the major parties. For example, cases where public funding disproportionately favours incumbents, or when elites of both major parties agree about policy fundamentals and thereby limit political choice.

With a depth of analysis suitable for postgraduate and undergraduate levels, Political Parties in Transition? is essential reading for students of political science and Australian studies, or anyone interested in Australian politics today.

Contributors include the following leading academics: Murray Goot, Gary Johns, Dean Jaensch, Raymond Miller, Ian Marsh, John O’Mahony, Rodney Smith, Nick Turnbull, Adriadne Vromen, and John Warhurst.


Is the representational role of political parties declining in Australia, as some political scientists claim to be the case in other countries? Do the established parties constitute a kind of cartel, preserving their own dominance and blocking new entrants? Do such trends bode ill for democracy?
Such questions are the thematic element in this book, linking otherwise disparate chapters on the major Australian parties, their structures, organisation and resources, and election campaigns. Interesting chapters on the Nationals and the Democrats, and on the Greens and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, broaden the coverage beyond the two major parties. Consideration of the Greens, in particular, shows that, even if the major parties do try to operate as cartels, they are not effective in practice in blocking new entrants that have new, more innovative and more inclusive ways of working.
A concluding chapter on the New Zealand experience also shows how ‘non-cartel’ parties can play the role of ‘circuit breakers’ or ‘substitute suppliers of policy’. One obvious lesson there is that a system of proportional representation helps in loosening the grip of the big players on the political process
By focusing on the institutional practices of political parties that are fundamental for the future of democracy, the book provides a useful contrast to the superficial media focus on party leadership rivalries. - Journal of Australian Political Economy

[The] view of major party dominance is the foundation of the cartel thesis of contemporary political parties, orginally advanced by Richard Katz and Peter Mair, and it is this thesis that is tested in the Australian context in this collection. ...
While the book is a most welcome addition to the somewhat patchy field of party studies in Australia, it is perhaps questionable whether linking the case study material through the contested cartel thesis provides a strong enough framework for the analysis. Nevertheless, the range and breadth of the material is generally insightful ... Overall, the book is an important contribution to the literature on Australian party politics and makes a serious attempt to understand the phenomenon of party decline. - Labour History No 93, November 2007

Table of Contents

Australia’s political cartel? The major parties and the party system in an era of globalisation
Ian Marsh

Party structures and processes
Dean Jaensch

Party organisations and resources: Membership, funding and staffing
Gary Johns

Cartel parties and election campaigning in Australia
Ian Ward

The cartel parties model and electoral barriers
Rodney Smith and John O’Mahony

Ideological convergence between the major parties and the representation gap in Australian politics
Ian Marsh

The Nationals and the Democrats: Cracks and chips in the cartel?
John Warhurst

The Australian Greens: Challengers to the cartel
Ariadne Vromen and Nick Turnbull

The Australian party system, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the party cartelisation thesis
Murray Goot

New Zealand’s multi-party system: Consolidation of the cartel model under proportional representation
Raymond Miller

Of interest...