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National Party of Australia

The National Party of Australia is an Australian political party, originally called the Country Party and adopting its present name in 1975. It has been the minor party in stable coalitions with the Liberal Party of Australia both federally and in most states, both in government and in opposition since the 1940s.

When the coalition is in power in a particular parliament, the job of deputy Premier or Prime Minister is usually given to leader of the National Party in that parliament. For instance, the current federal leader, John Anderson, is deputy Prime Minister to John Howard. Therefore, when Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt died in office, his National deputy John McEwen was Prime Minister for a period of weeks while the Liberal Party elected a new leader. In the Queensland state parliament, the National Party has historically been the stronger coalition partner numerically so the converse arrangement applies.

Its support base and membership are closely associated with the agricultural community. Historically anti-union, the party has vacillated between state support for primary industries and free agricultural trade and has opposed tariff protection for Australia's manufacturing and service industries. They are usually pro-mining, pro-development, and anti-environmentalist. On social issues, they are generally regarded as the most conservative of Australia's mainstream parties. They strongly support the nuclear family (and thus oppose many measures recognising non-traditional relationships), oppose much of the agenda of many Aboriginal leaders (including treaties, land rights, and apologies over perceived government mistreatment), and are the only mainstream party that has an official policy opposing an Australian republic. (While John Howard, the current leader of the Liberal Party, opposes an Australian republic, and republicanism is a minority view among Liberal Party parliamentarians, there is no Liberal Party objection to a pragmatic approach avoiding divisive internal confrontations (particularly since it is not a minority view among Liberal Party grass roots supporters). Many senior ministers freely express views sympathetic to a republic and act according to them though few of these people have actually made express public admissions of republicanism. In this respect the Liberal Party is different from the Australian Labor Party, which includes republicanism as ALP policy despite it not being a consensus view among the ALP's own supporters.)

Its membership and support base has been under strain in recent years, being caught between the populist economic and cultural demands of the more conservative part of its rural electorate (attracted to One Nation) on the one hand, and a groundswell of rural support for greens and independents on the other. Demographic changes have not helped, with fewer and fewer people living on the land and in small towns, the continued growth of the larger provincial centres, and in some cases the arrival of left-leaning "city refugees" to rural areas eroding both the relative and even the absolute size of their support base. Pressure from voters in regional centres and its coalition partner to support economic orthodoxy and tolerant social policies adds to the National Party's current difficulties.



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