Very quickly the mechanism of party became the established gatekeeper of political activity: the parties monopolized politics by controlling entrance to parliament itself and by controlling the behaviour of politicians once they had arrived there. Ever since, the policy options of the Australian politics have been in the hands of the major parties and attempts to break this monopoly have been quite unsuccessful.
(Aitkin and Castles 1989: 219)
Placed in a comparative perspective, the hallmark of Australian politics is the dominance of party. The vast majority of voters identify with and vote for one of the major political parties; gaining election at the federal level is next to impossible without the benefit of one of three party labels—Liberal, National, or Labor; and minor parties have played little part in shaping the development of the party system. Within the legislature, party government operates in every sense of the word. The parties determine the legislative agenda and enforce rigid discipline among their members; conscience votes are rare and cross-party voting all but unknown. Australia is, then, a party-based polity par excellence. Perhaps more interestingly from a comparative perspective, it has seen little decline in the strength of the major parties in recent years, in contrast to Britain, the United States, or many of the other advanced democracies.
The explanation for the continuing strength of political parties in Australia can be traced to the origins and development of the country's political culture. Hartz (1964) has argued that the cultural development of Anglo-American colonial societies is determined by the values and beliefs that were dominant during the period in which they 'split' from the host society, Britain. In each case, the new society bears the imprint of the values and beliefs of Britain at the time that the colonial 'fragment' was established as an independent entity. In the United States the split from Britain occurred in the late eighteenth century and the fragment that took root was characterized by the libertarian ideals of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. By contrast, Australia's split occurred in the nineteenth century so