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.

Julia Banks (Lib-Chisholm) Turns Independent

The member for the Victorian electorate of Chisholm, Julia Banks, has announced that she is resigning from the Liberal Party to sit as an independent in the House of Representatives, plunging the Morrison government further into minority status.

Banks had previously announced that she would not contest Chisholm again as a Liberal. She has suggested she might run in Chisholm, or elsewhere, as an independent.

Banks won Chisholm at the 2016 federal election. It was the only seat the Liberal Party captured from the Labor Party. The ALP’s Anna Burke had held the seat since 1998.

A redistribution means the redrawn Chisholm will be based around the suburbs of Box Hill, Blackburn, Mount Waverley and Glen Waverley. It has a notional Liberal majority of 3.4%. Last Saturday’s Victorian state election saw the seats of Box Hill and Mount Waverley lost by the Liberal Party to the ALP with swings of 7.5% and 6.0% respectively. The Blackburn-based electorate of Forest Hill, whilst retained by the Liberal Party, registered a 3.0% swing to the ALP.

Bank’s announcement in the House came at the beginning of the day’s proceedings. It coincided with a press conference by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The coalition government now holds just 74 of the 150 seats in the House, having already lost former PM Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth to Dr Kerryn Phelps, also an independent. There are now seven crossbenchers in the House. The ALP has 69 seats.

  • Listen to Banks’ statement (5m)
  • Watch Bank’s statement (5m)

Hansard transcript of statement by Julia Banks, former Liberal member for Chisholm.

Ms BANKS (Chisholm) (12:01): Mr Speaker, on indulgence, may I make a personal statement?

The SPEAKER: Yes, the member for Chisholm may proceed.

Ms BANKS: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Following the leadership coup in August, I announced my decision that I will not recontest the seat of Chisholm at the next election as a member of the Liberal Party. I’ve always put the people before the party. After being a Labor held seat for 18 years, the people of Chisholm elected me as I promised them that I would be their representative under the leadership of the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former deputy leader and foreign minister Julie Bishop—both visionary, inspiring leaders of sensible, centrist, liberal values with integrity and intellect, and with significant support from my local community, and across Australia, as leaders of our nation. [Read more…]

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 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…]

Doug Everingham Condolences

Three members of the House of Representatives offered condolences for Doug Everingham in the Federation Chamber today.

Everingham, the former ALP member for Capricornia (Qld) from 1967 to 1975 and from 1977 to 1984, died on August 24, aged 94. He was the Minister for Health in the Whitlam governments (1972-75).

Mike Freelander (ALP-Macarthur) spoke of the influence Everingham had on his medical career, particularly during the implementation of Medibank. He paid tribute to Everingham’s commitment to community health centres, mental health and his anti-smoking campaign.

The current Health Minister, Greg Hunt (Liberal-Flinders), spoke of Everingham’s contribution to Medibank and Medicare, and his work on behalf of Westmead hospital.

The current member for Everingham’s seat, Michelle Landry (LNP-Capricornia), spoke of her predecessor’s preselection at a time when Gough Whitlam was reforming the ALP and of Everingham’s commitment to spelling reform.

  • Watch the condolence speeches (15m – transcript below)
  • Listen to Mike Freelander’s speech (5m)
  • Listen to Greg Hunt’s speech (4m)
  • Listen to Michelle Landry’s speech (6m)

Hansard transcript of proceedings in the Federation Chamber.

Everingham, Hon. Douglas Nixon ‘Doug’

Consideration resumed of the motion:

That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 24 August 2017, of the Honourable Douglas Nixon Everingham, a former Minister and Member of this House for the Division of Capricornia from 1967 to 1975 and 1977 to 1984, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement. [Read more…]

Death Of John Bourchier, Former Liberal MP, Announced To House

The death of John Bourchier, a former member for Bendigo, was announced to the House of Representatives today.

BourchierThe Speaker, Tony Smith, announced that Bourchier died on August 31. He was 87.

Bourchier represented the Victorian division of Bendigo for the Liberal Party for five terms from 1972 until 1983. He was a backbencher throughout.

Bourchier’s arrival in the House coincided with the election of the Whitlam government. Bourchier defeated David Kennedy, who had held the seat for the ALP since 1969. A campaign against Kennedy over the abortion issue is widely regarded as contributing to his defeat. Whilst Kennedy topped the primary vote with 47.7% to Bourchier’s 26.7%, Bourchier was elected with the aid of Country Party (17.3%) and DLP (8.4%) preferences. He defeated Kennedy by 165 votes (50.2%). [Read more…]

Shorten Releases Proof Of Renunciation Of British Citizenship

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has provided proof that he renounced his dual British citizenship in 2006.

Making a personal explanation today, Shorten reiterated his argument that members should not have to respond to unsubstantiated allegations. Nevertheless, Shorten tabled a letter from the UK Home Office showing that he renounced his British dual citizenship before he was elected to parliament.

Shorten attacked the Turnbull government for a campaign of smear and called on Turnbull to insist that Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce stand aside until his eligibility to sit as a member of parliament is clarified.

  • Watch Shorten’s personal explanation (3m – transcript below)
  • Listen to Shorten (3m)

Hansard transcript of personal explanation by Bill Shorten.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (15:15): I wish to make a personal explanation.

The SPEAKER: Does the Leader of the Opposition claim to have been misrepresented? [Read more…]

Doug Everingham Condolences: House Remembers Whitlam Minister

The House of Representatives today offered condolences following the death of Doug Everingham, the former Labor member for Capricornia and Health minister in the Whitlam governments.

Everingham died on August 24, 2017, aged 94. He represented the Queensland electorate from 1967 to 1975 and from 1977 until 1984. He was one of the original Whitlam ministers and held the Health portfolio throughout the Whitlam period.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten paid tribute to the former doctor during a condolence motion prior to Question Time. Both acknowledged Everingham’s commitment to health issues, especially mental health, and his work in establishing Medibank, the original universal health insurance scheme.

They acknowledged Everingham’s interest in linguistics, including his devotion to Esperanto and spelling reform.

Everingham’s death leaves just three of the original Whitlam ministers still living and five overall.

Everingham was first elected at a by-election in 1967. There are now just 16 members of the 26th Parliament still living.

The death of Doug Everingham means there are now 28 House members from the Menzies era (1949-72) still living. The oldest of these is Henry Pearce, who is also a former member for Capricornia. Pearce, a Liberal, will turn 100 on September 17, 2017. He held Capricornia from 1949 until he was defeated by the ALP’s George Gray in 1961. Gray’s death in 1967 precipitated the by-election won by Everingham.

  • Watch the Turnbull and Shorten speeches (10m)
  • Listen to Turnbull and Shorten (10m)

Hansard transcript of condolence debate for Doug Everingham.

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth—Prime Minister) (14:01): I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 24 August 2017, of the Honourable Douglas Nixon Everingham, a former Minister and Member of this House for the Division of Capricornia from 1967 to 1975 and 1977 to 1984, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement. [Read more…]