Preferential Voting In Federal Elections Is One Hundred Years Old Today

Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of the Corangamite by-election, the first time preferential voting was used in the House of Representatives.

Coincidentally, yesterday was the 99th anniversary of the eighth federal election in 1919, and the first to use preferential voting in place of first-past-the-post.

As with many by-elections, including the seven that have been held in 2018, the by-election following the declaration of peace is an interesting study of politics and personality. The three main candidates went on to experience varied political careers.

Based around Colac, Camperdown, Ararat and Warrnambool, the Victorian electorate of Corangamite had been mostly conservative since 1901. The by-election was occasioned by the death of its inaugural member, Chester Manifold (shown below), who twice held the seat, from 1901-03 as a Protectionist and from 1913-18 as a Liberal and Nationalist.

Manifold
Chester Manifold

Having retired due to ill health in 1903, Manifold was persuaded to run again in 1913. He defeated the 36-year-old Labor incumbent, future prime minister James Scullin (shown below), who had held the seat since 1910. As the Great War drew to a close, Manifold died at sea from pneumonia on October 30, 1918. The Commonwealth Electoral Act was before the Parliament at the time, with preferential voting a major reform.

Scullin
James Scullin

The by-election was held a month after the Armistice. Five candidates nominated, including Scullin, who contested for the ALP again, topping the primary vote with 42.5% (10,630 votes). Scullin’s political ambitions were long-held. He contested his first election in Ballaarat in 1906, against the sitting member and prime minister Alfred Deakin.

The Nationalist candidate for the by-election was 32-year-old George Knox. A Gallipoli veteran, he polled 22.9% (5,737 votes).

However, Knox was outpolled by 49-year-old William Gibson (shown below), the Victorian Farmers Union candidate, who polled 26.4% (6,604 votes). Whilst Scullin was well ahead, he could not win, provided the Nationalists and VFU exchanged preferences. From the non-Labor perspective, the need for preferential voting to apply a tourniquet to the bleeding of the anti-Labor vote was never more clearly illustrated.

Gibson
William Gibson

In addition to Gibson, Knox and Scullin, two independent Nationalist candidates nominated. It is reasonable to suspect that their aim was tactical, to funnel votes to Knox. The tactic had mixed success. We can never know, but Knox may have won if they had not run.

Thomas Leaper, a Nationalist representing the Returned Services, polled 3.6% (895 votes). Eliminated first, 52.8% of his preferences went to Knox and 23.5% to Gibson. Gibson remained ahead but the gap had narrowed. Scullin remained in first place, having scored just 11.4% (102 votes) of Leaper’s preferences.

The other independent Nationalist, Francis Coldham, polled 4.7% (1,174) of the primary vote. 50% of Coldham’s preferences went directly to Knox, whilst Gibson garnered 47%. Scullin scored just 35 of Coldham’s preferences but remained in the lead with 43.0%.

The majority of Leaper’s and Coldham’s preferences had gone to Knox, but the leakage of preferences to the VFU maintained Gibson in second place. Gibson now had 29.6% of the vote to Scullin’s 43.0%. Knox had 27.4% and 6,855 preferences to distribute.

Knox’s preferences flowed 97.4% (6,678 votes) to Gibson, with Scullin getting just 2.6% (177 votes). From second place on the primaries, 3,349 votes behind Scullin, Gibson leap-frogged into the lead with the final distribution of preferences. With a lead of 3,152 votes and 56.3% of the two-party vote, he became the first federal member elected under preferential voting.

The full distribution of preferences in Corangamite. Source: Psephos.

Corangamite

Gibson is generally regarded as the first Country Party member of the House, even though the party had not yet officially formed. Within four years, the Country Party would win the balance of power in the House and take down prime minister Billy Hughes in February 1923.

Gibson went on to become Postmaster-General and Minister for Works and Railways in the Bruce government (1923-29). He held Corangamite until defeated in 1929, but returned for one more term in 1931. In 1934, he ran for the Senate and spent 12 years in the upper house before retiring in 1947, aged 78. He died in 1955, aged 86.

George Knox (shown below) went on to represent Upper Yarra and Scoresby in the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1927 until his death at the age of 74 in 1960. He was knighted and was Speaker for five years in the 1940s. A resident and local government councillor in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Ferntree Gully, the municipality of Knox is named after him. I happen to be in Knox as I write this.

Knox
Sir George Knox

In 1922, four years after the Corangamite by-election, Scullin returned to the House of Representatives, winning the Yarra by-election that followed the death of ALP leader Frank Tudor.

Scullin would become prime minister for two chaotic and tumultuous years in 1929. His was a tragic prime ministership, culminating in a three-way split in the ALP that led to his defeat at the hands of six defectors led by Joseph Lyons and five NSW Lang Labor members in 1931. Catastrophically defeated at the 1931 election, Scullin contested one more election as ALP leader in 1934. He remained in parliament until 1949, often mentoring new members. He died in 1953.

With Australia’s federation still in its infancy, the lives of Gibson, Knox and Scullin intersected in Corangamite in 1918. The party system was still fluid and evolving. Could these men have realised that the voting system they were pioneering at the federal level would ensure the dominance of their respective political parties for another century?

Acknowledgement: The photographs on this page were taken from Psephos.


Speaker Sets July 28 As Date For Five By-Elections; Opposition Outraged

The Speaker, Tony Smith, advised the House of Representatives this afternoon that he had set July 28 as the date for the five by-elections caused by recent resignations relating to dual citizenship.

Smith

Smith told the House that because of new regulations to refine the nomination process and because of imminent schools holidays, July 28 was the “optimal” date for the by-elections in Longman, Braddon, Mayo, Fremantle and Perth.

The ALP opposition accused the Speaker of inordinate delay and said the by-elections coincided with the ALP National Conference in Adelaide.

  • Listen to Speaker’s statement to the House (21m)
  • Watch the House proceedings (21m)

Hansard transcript of House of Representatives proceedings relating to the calling of five by-elections on July 28.

The SPEAKER (15:12): If members could cease interjecting, could I please have the attention of the House on this important matter: I’d like to read a fairly lengthy statement, and then I’ll be tabling some documents. Earlier in the week, I advised the House I would provide an update on possible dates for by-elections in the seats of Braddon, Fremantle, Longman, Mayo and Perth. This update follows further consultation with the Australian Electoral Commissioner and party leaders. Under the Constitution, it is my responsibility alone to issue a writ for a by-election when a vacancy occurs, and generally it has not been the practice to provide an explanation for the exercise of this responsibility. I have varied from the usual practice because of the quite unusual—quite unique—circumstances surrounding these by-elections. [Read more…]


1911 Was The Last Time A Government Won A Seat From The Opposition. Oh, Really?

On numerous occasions last week, I heard journalists and media commentators say that no government has won a by-election from the opposition since 1911.

It was repeated over and over. It was asserted again on Insiders yesterday and on Sky News last night.

The context, of course, is the batch of four by-elections – in Mayo, Longman, Braddon and Fremantle – that are about to take place following the resignations flowing from the High Court’s Section 44 decision on former Senator Katy Gallagher. A fifth by-election will take place due to the resignation for personal reasons of the ALP’s Tim Hammond in Perth.

The Liberal Party has decided not to contest Perth or Fremantle, so these seats should now be easily retained by the ALP.

The Liberals are favoured to retake their traditional stronghold of Mayo, especially given the Xenophon implosion.

So attention centres on Longman, in Queensland, and Braddon, in Tasmania. Can the ALP hang on to these two seats it won back last time? Could the government take one or two seats off the opposition?

A swing of just 0.8% would see Longman return to the government. Braddon needs 1.5%. It’s do-able but it’s tricky. Afterall, it hasn’t happened since 1911…

Well, no… [Read more…]


Who’s Left – The Surviving Members Of Every House Of Representatives Since 1949

*** CLICK HERE FOR THE LATEST UPDATED VERSION OF THIS PAGE ***

Detailed information on the surviving members of the House of Representatives since 1949 is now available on this site. They include the members’ seats, parties, terms, dates of birth, ages and deaths.

All members of parliament who served in the first 18 parliaments from 1901 until the end of 1949 are now deceased.

There are two surviving members of the 19th Parliament that was elected on December 10, 1949. Both “forty-niners” are in their late 90s. One, Henry Pearce, will turn 100 in September this year.

Just four members of the House during the 1950s are still living.

For the entire Menzies era (1949-1972), there are 29 surviving members. All but four of them served together in the 27th Parliament between 1969 and 1972.

The table below provides a summary of how many members have served in the 19th to 45th parliaments. It shows how many are still living and what parties they belong to. There are links to more detailed information on each parliament since 1972.

Note: The data is structured around the parliaments since 1949. The numbers cannot be aggregated. Most surviving members served in more than one parliament.

Disclaimer: I am confident that the data shown here is correct. However, I rely on media reports and announcements in parliament for information on deaths of former members. I sincerely hope I haven’t killed or resurrected anyone. I am happy to receive corrections from readers.

House of Representatives – Members Still Living Since 1949
(Listed by Parliament No. and Years)
No. Years Size Members
Still
Living
% Oldest Surviving
Member
ALP Lib CP/
Nat
Oth
19th
1949-1951
121
2
1.65
Henry Pearce (99)
2
20th
1951-1954
131
2
1.52
Henry Pearce (99)
2
21st
1954-1955
122
1
0.81
Henry Pearce (99)
1
22nd
1955-1958
127
3
2.36
Henry Pearce (99)
2
1
23rd
1958-1961
128
3
2.34
Henry Pearce (99)
2
1
24th
1961-1963
125
5
4.00
Jim Forbes (93)
2
1
2
25th
1963-1966
129
9
6.97
Wylie Gibbs (94)
2
4
3
26th
1966-1969
130
17
13.07
Mervyn Lee (96)
5
9
3
27th
1969-1972
128
24
18.75
Doug Everingham (93)
11
9
4
28th
1972-1974
126
33
26.19
Doug Everingham (93)
17
10
6
29th
1974-1975
128
44
34.37
Doug Everingham (93)
18
17
9
30th
1975-1977
128
57
44.53
Clarrie Millar (91)
10
36
11
31st
1977-1980
126
66
52.38
Doug Everingham (93)
18
38
11
32nd
1980-1983
131
81
61.83
Doug Everingham (93)
33
35
13
33rd
1983-1984
131
90
68.70
Doug Everingham (93)
57
21
12
34th
1984-1987
149
111
74.49
Clarrie Millar (91)
64
31
16
35th
1987-1990
153
122
79.73
Clarrie Millar (91)
74
33
15
36th
1990-1993
150
131
87.33
Steele Hall (88)
72
44
13
37th
1993-1996
155
137
88.38
Steele Hall (88)
75
44
16
38th
1996-1998
150
139
92.66
Ian Sinclair (87)
49
69
18
39th
1998-2001
152
145
95.39
Garry Nehl (83)
68
61
16
40th
2001-2004
151
146
96.68
Frank Mossfield (81)
65
65
13
3
41st
2004-2007
151
147
97.35
Wilson Tuckey (81)
61
72
12
2
42nd
2007-2010
155
153
98.70
Wilson Tuckey (81)
83
56
11
3
43rd
2010-2013
150
148
98.66
Bronywyn Bishop (74)
72
59
12
5
44th
2013-2016
153
152
99.34
Bronwyn Bishop (74)
56
76
15
5
45th
2016-
150
150
100
Warren Snowdon (67)
69
60
16
5

 


New Research Paper On House By-Elections

The Parliamentary Library has released a new research paper on House of Representatives by-elections since 1901.

The paper is titled: House of Representatives by-elections: 1901-2015. It is writted by Stephen Barber of the Statistics and Mapping Section.

The paper is displayed below, in accordance with its Creative Commons licence.

The paper’s updated statistics show that the party complexion of a seat has changed on just 35 occasions out of 149 by-elections. The average two-party preferred swing against the government of the day has been 4.0 per cent.

Other data shows that that the average number of nominations for by-elections has grown from 2.2 to 11.6. [Read more…]


Don Randall, Liberal Member For Canning, Dies, 62

The Liberal member for the Western Australian electorate of Canning, Don Randall, has been found dead in his car in Boddington, south of Perth, today.

RandallRandall was first elected to Parliament in 1996 as the member for Swan. Defeated in 1998, he returned in 2001 as the member for Canning, winning re-election in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013.

Earlier this year, Randall seconded a spill motion against Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The motion was moved by fellow Western Australian MP Luke Simpkins and was defeated in the partyroom by 61 votes to 39.

A by-election will now be held in Canning. It will test whether the strength of feeling against the Abbott government is as strong as Randall said it was in February.

At the last election, Randall held the seat with 51.07% of the primary vote and 61.81% of the two-party vote. In 2010, he won the seat with 52.19%. [Read more…]


ALP Wins Queensland Stafford By-Election With 18.6% Swing

The Queensland ALP has won the Stafford by-election with a swing of 18.6%, regaining a seat lost in the LNP landslide of 2012 and propelling a Royal Brisbane Hospital surgeon into parliament.

Lynham

Dr. Anthony Lynham, a maxillofacial surgeon, will become the new member for Stafford, replacing Chris Davis, the LNP member who resigned after a series of disputes with the Newman government, which included his dismissal as Assistant Minister for Health. Davis was also a medical specialist before his election, working as the Director of Medicine at the Prince Charles Hospital.

Situated in the inner-north of Brisbane, Stafford is an electorate once-abolished and recreated in 2001. It was held by the ALP between 2001 and 2012. There was a 14.4% swing against the ALP in 2012.

The LNP’s primary vote has fallen 16.9% to 33.4%, whilst the ALP’s primary has risen 17.2% to 50.7%.

The ALP’s two-party-preferred vote is 61.5%, a swing of 18.6%. The LNP margin before the by-election was 7.1%. [Read more…]