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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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 in 1931 at the hands of six defectors led by Joseph Lyons, and five NSW Lang Labor members informally led by Jack Beasley. 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.

The First Morrison Ministry – Statistical Analysis

This page provides statistical data on the first Morrison Ministry, as announced on August 26, 2018, by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.

The 42-member executive includes 23 Cabinet ministers, 7 members of the Outer Ministry, and 12 Assistant Ministers/Parliamentary Secretaries. These numbers have not changed from the final Turnbull ministry. The Liberal Party has 33 members (79%) of the executive, whilst the Nationals have 9 members (21%).

There is movement in state representation. Whereas NSW had 13 members under Turnbull, it will now have 9, whilst Victoria has 10.

Many members of the Turnbull ministry retain their positions under Morrison. Just one cabinet minister, Michael Keenan, has been demoted from cabinet to the outer ministry.

Following the retirement of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Morrison has promoted two women straight into Cabinet from parliamentary secretary positions. Melissa Price takes the Environment portfolio, which has been split from Energy, whilst Karen Andrews becomes Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. The total number of women in the ministry has increased from ten to eleven and the Cabinet from five to six. Women comprise 26% of the executive, up from 24%.

Angus Taylor is also promoted from the outer ministry to take up the Cabinet post of Energy. Paul Fletcher moves into Cabinet as the Minister for Families and Social Services.

The Foreign Minister will be Senator Marise Payne, who moves from Defence. Christopher Pyne moves up to Defence, whilst retaining his post as Leader of the House. [Read more…]

No, William McWilliams Wasn’t The Last Country Party Member From Tasmania

The man shown here is Llewellyn Atkinson. He was the Country Party member for Wilmot (Tas) from 1921 until 1928.

He’s been dead since 1945 and now not even Nationals leader Michael McCormack knows that he was the last Country Party member from Tasmania.

Llewellyn Atkinson; Photo credit: Psephos

Yesterday, Tasmanian Senator Steve Martin joined The Nationals. Elected in a recount of Jacqui Lambie Network votes a few months back, Martin briefly sat as an independent before signing up to the former Country Party.

Martin was welcomed into the party room yesterday as the first-ever Country Party/Nationals senator from Tasmania.

According to an ABC report, McCormack told the media: “The last National Party member in parliament (from Tasmania) was William McWilliams, a former Country Party leader all the way back in 1927.”

Umm, no. McWilliams left the Country Party in 1922 and only returned to Parliament in 1928 as an independent.

The misinformation was dutifully repeated by Guardian Australia and The Australian.

The Land also repeated the fake history and then made it worse by suggesting that McWilliams had been the Country Party’s “inaugural leader in 1903”, at least fifteen years before the party was formed.

In a variation on the theme, The Conversation told us there had been no Country Party representation in Tasmania “since the early 1920s, when William McWilliams was briefly leader of the Country Party”.

Again, no. There were two lower house Country Party members – in Braddon and Wilmot – between 1921 and 1928. [Read more…]

The Second Turnbull Ministry Reshuffled – Statistical Analysis

This page provides statistical data on the revised Second Turnbull Ministry, as announced on December 19, 2017.

The 42-member executive includes 23 Cabinet ministers (up from 22), 7 members of the Outer Ministry (down from 8) and 12 Assistant Ministers/Parliamentary Secretaries.

There are five new Cabinet members, three of whom – Sen. Bridget McKenzie, John McVeigh and David Littleproud – have moved directly from the backbench. Two members of the outer ministry – Michael Keenan and Dan Tehan – have moved into Cabinet.

One Cabinet minister, Darren Chester, and one assistant minister, Keith Pitt, have been dumped to the backbench.

Other features of the reshuffle:

  • The Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, has been appointed High Commissioner to the UK. Brandis will resign from the Senate in the new year. Christian Porter becomes Attorney-General, a post he previously held in the Western Australian state government. Senator Mathias Cormann becomes Leader of the Government in the Senate.
  • The National Party’s deputy leader, Senator Fiona Nash, resigned due to dual citizenship. Her replacement as deputy leader, Senator Bridget McKenzie, moves from the backbench into Cabinet, displacing fellow Victorian Darren Chester.
  • Following the resignation of Senator Stephen Parry, due to dual citizenship, his position as President of the Senate was taken by Senator Scott Ryan. Ryan’s duties as Special Minister of State will be taken on by Senator Cormann.
  • Senator Arthur Sinodinos removed himself from consideration for the ministry, due to his cancer treatment. He has indicated he will be able to resume duties in mid-2018.
  • Craig Laundy has been promoted from Assistant Minister to the Outer Ministry.
  • There are three new assistant ministers: David Coleman, Damian Drum and Melissa Price. Drum served as a minister in the Victorian Napthine government in 2014.
  • Peter Dutton has become Minister for Home Affairs, the enlarged portfolio dealing with immigration, security, border control and law enforcement. Dutton will oversee the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
  • Sen. Michaelia Cash takes on the enlarged portfolio of Jobs and Innovation. Industrial Relations moves from the cabinet level to Craig Laundy’s outer ministry.

The first table shows the ministry by party, age, sex, state and parliamentary chamber.

The second table lists each member of the executive and gives their birthdays, ages, electorates, states, date when first elected to parliament, and portfolio. The lists are ordered by age. [Read more…]

Senate Refers Nash And Xenophon To High Court; Hinch And Gallagher Safe; Hanson Audit Motion Defeated

The Senate today voted to refer Senators Fiona Nash and Nick Xenophon to the High Court. The court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, will rule on their eligibility to nominate at the 2016 election.

The government leader, Senator George Brandis, moved that Senator Nash be referred, in order to determine whether she was a British dual citizen in breach of Section 44(i) of the Constitution.

Senator Xenophon moved to refer himself to the High Court. He delivered a statement explaining that he was born in Australia to Greek and Cypriot parents. He said that “out of an abundance of caution” he had renounced any rights to Greek or Cypriot citizenship but had been advised that he might hold British “overseas citizenship” on account of his father having been a British subject before he migrated to Australia.

The Senate heard a statement from Senator Derryn Hinch (DHJP-Vic). Hinch explained the circumstances in which he was eligible to receive a United States government pension. The government and the ALP have agreed that Hinch’s circumstances do not warrant a referral to the High Court.

The Senate also heard a statement from Senator Katy Gallagher (ALP-ACT). She explained the circumstances which gave rise to the possibility of her holding Ecuadorian and British citizenship. No attempt was made to refer Gallagher to the court.

Senator Pauline Hanson (One Nation-Qld) moved to establish an audit of all members of parliament to clarify their eligibility. The government and the ALP both opposed the motion and it was defeated by 43 votes to 13.

The High Court will hear the dual citizenship cases next month. In addition to Nash and Xenophon, it will hear the cases concerning Scott Ludlam, Larissa Waters, Matthew Canavan, Malcolm Roberts and Barnaby Joyce.

  • Watch the Senate proceedings (39m)
  • Listen to the Senate proceedings (39m)

Hansard transcript of Senate proceedings to refer members to the High Court.

Senator BRANDIS (Queensland—Attorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (10:07): by leave—I move:

That pursuant to section 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the Senate refers to the Court of Disputed Returns the following questions— [Read more…]

Barnaby Joyce May Have New Zealand Dual Citizenship; Deputy PM Refers Himself To High Court

The Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has announced that he may have dual citizenship with New Zealand and therefore be in breach of Section 44(i) of the Constitution.

Joyce has agreed that the government will refer his case to the High Court. He will not resign from his NSW seat of New England and will remain in the Cabinet as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources.

The announcement was made in a brief statement by Joyce to the House of Representatives this morning. The Nationals leader entered the Senate in 2005 and transferred to the House of Representatives in 2013.

Joyce is the fifth MP to be ensnared by Section 44 in recent weeks. Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters have both resigned from the Senate, whilst Senators Matt Canavan (LNP) and Malcolm Roberts (One Nation) have been referred to the High Court. The Nationals member for Lyne, David Gillespie, faces a challenge on the office of profit provision of Section 44.

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has written to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, asking him to nominate Labor members who should also be referred to the High Court.

  • Listen to Joyce (2m)
  • Watch Joyce (2m)

Letter from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Hansard transcript of statement to the House of Representatives by Barnaby Joyce. [Read more…]

Women In The 45th Australian Parliament

Women make up one-third of the 45th Parliament of Australia.

There are now 75 women in both houses, representing 33.18% of the combined total of 226 members. It was 30.97% at the end of the 44th Parliament.

There are 43 women (28.66%) in the 150-member House of Representatives, and 32 (42.10%) in the 76-member Senate.

With 43 members in both chambers, the ALP has the largest number of women (45.26%) in the parliament. The Liberal Party and Nationals combined have 21 members (20%).

The Greens (10 members in both houses) and the Nick Xenophon Team (4 members in both houses) each have 50-50 male-female representation.

At the 2016 double dissolution election, 30 women were elected to the Senate. Following the resignation of the ALP’s Stephen Conroy, the Victorian casual vacancy was filled by Kimberley Kitching. Following the resignation of Family First’s Bob Day, the South Australian casual vacancy was filled by Lucy Gichuhi, who sits as an independent. [Read more…]