Our History

In 1944, the Liberal Party of Australia was founded after a three-day meeting held in a small hall not far from Parliament House in Canberra. The meeting was called by the then Leader of the Opposition (United Australia Party) Robert Menzies.

Robert Menzies had already served as Prime Minister of Australia (1939-41), but he believed that the non-Labor parties should unite to present a strong alternative government to the Australian people.

Eighty men and women from 18 non-Labor political parties and organisations attended the first Canberra conference.

They shared a common belief that Australians should have greater personal freedom and choice than that offered under Labor’s post-war socialist plans.

Robert Menzies believed the time was right for a new political force in Australia - one which fought for the freedom of the individual and produced enlightened liberal policies.

In his opening address at that meeting, he said:

...what we must look for, and it is a matter of desperate importance to our society, is a true revival of liberal thought which will work for social justice and security, for national power and national progress, and for the full development of the individual citizen, though not through the dull and deadening process of socialism.

It is often said that Robert Menzies stood for the ‘forgotten people’ of Australia; those mainstream Australians whose goals, needs and aspirations had been ignored by Government.

On October 16, 1944, the name The Liberal Party of Australia was adopted, uniting the many different political organisations. Two months later, at the Albury Conference, the Party’s organisational and constitutional framework was drawn up.

The name Liberal was chosen deliberately for its associations with progressive nineteenth century free enterprise and social equality. By May 1945 membership of the Liberal Party had swelled to 40,000.

It fought its first election in 1946 with some success and in 1947, the Liberal Party won State Government in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. In 1949 the Liberals, in coalition with the Country Party, were first elected to national government.

In 1949, the first branch of the Liberal Party was established in Canberra. The catalysts for the establishment of branch of the Liberal Party in the ACT was the creation of the new ACT seat in Federal Parliament and the determination of Liberal-minded Territorians to field a candidate at the 1949 general elections. The inaugural meeting of the Branch was held at the Albert Hall on 27 January 1949. Of the 54 people present, 42 immediately signed up as members. Malcolm Moir, an architect and President of the Canberra Chamber of Commerce, was elected president.

By 1961 there were three Liberal Party branches in the ACT – Canberra, Canberra City and North Canberra – which collectively comprised what was known as the ACT Electorate Conference. However, a membership of 150 prompted serious reflection about the Party’s capacity to contest upcoming ACT Advisory Council and Federal elections. The three branches were collapsed into one (the ‘Canberra Branch’) and it was not until 1966 that another branch was created, with the establishment of the Woden Valley Branch.

A Young Liberal branch had been operating in Canberra since at least 1962, with Divisional status conferred by the Federal Young Liberals in 1980. The Young Liberals have since continued to play an active and important role in the Division since then and have been prominent in the Federal Young Liberal Movement.

In 1974 the Legislative Assembly replaced the old Advisory Council. The Liberals did extraordinarily well in the first Assembly elections held that year, winning seven seats, compared with three for Labor. 1976 saw the ACT become a Division of the Liberal Party of Australia in its own right with Margaret Reid being elected as the Division’s first President. 1976 also marked the formation of ‘Liberal Action’ (later renamed the Women’s Forum), under the leadership of Helen Steele.

Sir Robert Menzies went on to lead Australia's most successful post-war party; it was elected to government for 23 years from 1949 to 1972, and for another term of more than seven years from 1975 to 1983 under Malcolm Fraser. In 1996, the Australian people again re-elected the Liberal Party in Coalition with the National Party of Australia, to govern Australia. In 1998, 2001 and 2004 the Howard government was re-elected, and governed until 2007. In 2013, the Federal Liberal National Government took office.

federal liberal parliamentarians from the act

Senator John Knight - Liberal Senator for the ACT - 1975 to 1981
John Haslem MP - Federal Member for Canberra - 1975 to 1980
Brendan Smyth MP - Federal Member for Fraser - 1995 to 1996
Senator the Hon. Margaret Reid - Liberal Senator for the ACT - 1981 to 2003
Senator Gary Humphries - Liberal Senator for the ACT - 2003 to 2013
Senator the Hon. Zed Seselja - Liberal Senator for the ACT - 2013 to ongoing

act liberal leaders

Trevor Kaine - 1989 to 1993
Kate Carnell - 1993 to 2000
Gary Humphries - 1991; 2000 to 2002
Brendan Smyth - 2002 to 2006
Bill Stefaniak - 2006 to 2007
Zed Seselja - 2007 to 2013
Jeremy Hanson - 2013 to 2016
Alistair Coe - 2016 to 2020
Elizabeth Lee - 2020 to ongoing

act presidents

Canberra Branch Presidents

Malcolm Moir1949

ACT Electoral Conference Presidents

Mary Stevenson 1955
John Murray 1961
Roy Rowe 1963-64
George Hohnen 1966
James Leedman 1966-68
Greg Cornwell 1968-70
Robert Maher 1970-71
Arthur Kenyon 1971-72
Peter Hughes 1972-74

ACT Council Chairmen

Tony Selmes 1974-75
Margaret Reid 1972-74

ACT Division President

Margaret Reid 1976-81
Howard Grant 1981-82
John Haslem 1982-83
John Louttit 1983-86
Ziv Gavrilovich 1986-87
Gary Humphries 1987-89
Jim Leedman 1989-92
Gwen Wilcox 1992-94
Brian Nye 1994-2000
Gary Kent 2000-07
Winnifred Rosser 2007-10
Tio Faulkner 2010-13
Peter Collins 2013-15
Arthur Potter 2013-17
John Cziesla 2017-present

SENIOR PROFESSIONAL OFFICERS

HONORARY GENERAL SECRETARY

ACT DIRECTOR

John Knight 1974
Elizabeth Carpenter 1975-76
Chris Miles 1976
Deborah Hamilton 1976-77
Judy Turbayne 1978
Hazel Medbury 1978-79
Bert Roberts 1979
Mrs H. Burnett 1979
Margaret Pearson 1983-84
Victoria Taylor 2011-13
Greg Cornwell 2014-17
Robert Gunning 2017-18
Steve Pratt 2018-present
Kathleen Casey 1988
Nicole Cantrill 1989-90
Gwen Wilcox 1990-94
Dawn Crosby 1994-96
John Ryan 1996-01
Daniel Clode 2002-04
Greg Lawrence 2004
Andrew Wilsmore 2004-07
Andrew Heath 2007-09
Sandy Tanner 2010-11
David Connolly 2013-14
Zac Lombardo 2017-18
Kay Gilchrist 2018-20
Josh Manuatu 2020-21
Ian Hagan 2021
Josh Manuatu 2021
Kieran Douglas 2021-ongoing