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The Coalition in Australian politics refers to the grouping of two political parties that has existed in the form of a coalition agreement since 1922, with only brief breaks (e.g. 1987), between the now Liberal Party and The Nationals. The two parties are, broadly speaking, right-wing parties.
There is also a tiny third party, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) of the Northern Territory, mainly because the population of this territory is too small. Both the Liberals and Nationals "receive Country Liberal Party delegations", and the party president "has full voting rights with the National Party and observer status with the Liberal Party". The party also directs its federal members and senators which of the two other parties (or neither) to sit with. The CLP is often also shown in many election results tables as part of one of the other coalition parties, if not the Coalition as a whole.
It is said that the Coalition could not have worked if it were not for Australia's unique preferential voting systems, as the system allows the Liberals and Nationals to compete locally, but direct preferences to each other in elections, thereby avoiding "three corner contests", usually with the Australian Labor Party (ALP) that may occur under first past the post voting. Many three corner contests do still happen, causing friction from time to time, but not usually causing any long term damage to the relationship.
Indeed the whole point of introducing preferential voting was to allow safe spoiler-free three-cornered contests. It was a government of the forerunner of the Liberal party that introduced the necessary legislation.
For example, this preferential voting system was implemented in October 1918, after a byelection for a federal seat in Western Australia caused an ALP candidate to win after the conservative vote was split in two. Two months later, a byelection held under preferential voting caused the initially-leading ALP candidate to lose after some lower-placed candidates' preferences had been distributed. See Preferential voting, under The Australian electoral system.
As a result of variations on the preferential voting system are used in every state and territory, the coalition has been able to thrive, wherever its member parties have both been active. The National Party is not organised in Tasmania and in recent years has attracted little support in South Australia and Western Australia, but has long been a major player in rural areas of Queensland, New South Wales, and to a lesser extent in Victoria. The preferential voting system has allowed the Liberal and National parties to compete and cooperate at the same time. By contrast, a variation of the preferential system known as Optional Preferential Voting has proven a significant handicap to coalition co-operation in Queensland.
It is interesting to note that in South Australia, the only National Party member of State Parliament, Karlene Maywald , is actually Minister for the River Murray, Regional Development, Small Business and Consumer Affairs in the Rann Labor Government, informally creating a coalition between the ALP and the National Party at South Australia's state level of government. The National Party, however, rejects the notion that it is in a coalition with Labor at the state level. State National Party President John Venus told journalists that: "We (The Nationals) are not in coalition with the Labor Party, we are not in coalition with the Liberals, we are definitely not in coalition with anyone. We stand alone in South Australia as an independent party." Flinders University political scientist Haydon Manning disagrees saying that it is "churlish to describe the government as anything but a coalition".
Because one of the big parties is a coalition, there is no easy way of saying "two-and-a-half-party system". Or is it a "three-party"? Generally speaking, most commentators and general public call it a "two party system".
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