The PLP was formed in November 1996, when approximately 100 delegates from many parts of the country assembled in Newcastle to form a new political party. It was described as a "chance for the left to unite around a commonly agreed, democratically decided program". As a result, a new chapter opened in Australian political history.
At the Founding Conference, major objectives were identified and an initial Political Program issued. It stated that the new party aimed at the "development of policies that are democratic, egalitarian and sustainable".
Furthermore, that party programs shall promote "fairness and equality regarding gender, race, cultural identity, sexual preference and age". The new party will "actively seek to eventually be part of a broader electoral Alliance of progressive groups and parties that could act as a counter-balance to the economic rationalist policies of both major parties.
The party felt it was important to keep such an Alliance focussed on class and structural issues and towards progressive change rather than simply a defence against the powerful New Right culture.
By the end of 1997 the Progressive Labour Party had over 500 members and successfully applied for federal registration under that name. Initially the PLP had intended to register under the name "New Labour Party" similar to that chosen by a Left wing formation in New Zealand, but the Australian Labor Party pre-empted this possibility by claiming that name first as an "abbreviation" for its ACT Branch. The new party then decided to opt for "Progressive Labour Party" which was acceptable to the AEC and encountered little opposition.
Since being founded, the Party has held Annual Conferences in Melbourne, Canberra (twice), Brisbane, Sydney and Newcastle (twice).
By the year 2000, the PLP had formulated the majority of its planned policies. This allowed the party to then focus on broadening its idea of political relationships to include the concept of a progressive coalition designed to develop a countervailing force in Australian political life that could swing the political debate away from the Right and towards the Left and provide the possibility for a genuine Left leaning alternative government in Australia.
Such an alternative government could be based on a Common Programme of voluntary Coalition partners aimed at, among other things, ending economic rationalist policies and privatisation of public agencies.
Apart from the web site, the PLP has branch newsletters, regional and national broadsheets, a national newspaper called Progressive Labour, as well as occasional leaflets on specific issues.