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Liberal-National Coalition In Power - 1996-2007

The Liberal Party/National Party Coalition came to power in a sweeping victory in March 1996 behind John Howard, defeating the Australian Labor Party which had been in office for 13 years. The Liberal Party held 76 seats in the House of Representatives, the National Party 18 seats, the ALP 49, and there were five independents. When the new Senate took office on July 1, 1996 the Liberal Party had 31 seats of the 76 seats, the Australian Labor Party 29, the National Party 6, the Australian Democrats 7, the Greens 2 and there was 1 independent. Thus, the Liberal Party/National Party Coalition was 3 seats short of a majority in the Senate. The Australian Democrats, who held the balance of power in the Senate, have indicated that they would block important legislation that the Coalition was determined to pass. In addition, budgetary legislation, while originating in the House, must be approved by the Senate.

If the Government is unable to pass its legislation through the Senate, it can ask the Governor General for a "double dissolution," under which the entire parliament is dissolved and all members must stand for reelection at the same time. The new government can then convene a combined session of both Houses of Parliament to pass legislation. In 1975 repeated refusal by the Liberal/National opposition in the Senate to approve the budget in 1975 led to dissolution of the then-Labor government by the Governor-General.

Federally, the economic restructuring commenced under the Hawke and then Keating Labor Governments massively changed the Australian economic scene and this was accelerated by the Liberal Government led by John Howard which won office in 1996 and set out to downsize the public sector. The internationalising and restructuring of the economy greatly accelerated and brought both benefits and painful social and economic costs. Industrial policies shifted away from arbitration and union representation towards collective bargaining and individual contracts.

The Liberal Party and the Nationals, which formed Australia's governing coalition had been in power since 1996. This coalition solidified an alliance between urban and rural interests, given that the Liberals primarily represent urban and pro-business voters while the Nationals, whose support is waning, primarily represent rural voters. The coalition held 87 seats in the House (75 Liberal and 12 National). The main opposition party is the Australian Labor Party (60 seats in the House), which represents left-of-center and pro-trade union voters. The other parties-Australian Democrats, Australian Greens, and Family First - are small and have a marginal impact on politics. The prime minister was John Howard, who took office in 1996 and was reelected in 1998, 2001, and 2004.

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