2001 Federal Election

November 10, 2001

Leaders
The 2001 Federal election occurred in the centenary of Federation and was the 40th election for the House of Representatives since 1901. For the first time, the House was increased in size to 150 seats, exactly twice the number elected in 1901.

The election saw the return of the coalition Liberal and National Party government led by John Howard. In winning a third term, Howard confounded his critics and opponents, setting himself on the path to becoming Australia’s third longest-serving Prime Minister.

The election campaign was fought in the context of a tide of support for the Australian Labor Party over the preceding three years. The ALP had won office in Tasmania in 1998, won a majority of the votes in the 1998 federal election (although not a majority of the seats), was re-elected in NSW in 1999, snatched government from the coalition in Victoria in 1999, was re-elected in a landslide in Queensland in February 2001, and won office in Western Australia, also in February 2001. Subsequently, the ALP won a traditional Liberal Party electorate, Ryan in Queensland, in a by-election. Whilst retaining the Victorian electorate of Aston in a July 2001 by-election, the coalition suffered a 4% swing against it. In August 2001, the ALP unexpectedly won office for the first time ever in the Northern Territory. During the federal campaign, the ALP won office in the Australian Capital Territory.

Two events stand out as being vital to the outcome. The first of these was the controversy over refugees and asylum-seekers. The rescue of distressed asylum-seekers by the Norwegian cargo ship, the Tampa, in late August 2001, fuelled a frenzy of debate over refugee policy, led to a parliamentary confrontation between the Government and the Opposition, and remained the dominant campaign issue right up until the day of the election. The centrepiece of the coalition campaign was an emphasis on the leadership of John Howard and the assertion that “We will decide who comes to this country and under what circumstances”.

The second event was the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the United States on September 11, 2001. Throughout the campaign, the US-led attacks on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan dominated the news and was often linked to the refugee issue.

Some people argue that the ALP had no hope of winning this election because of the international events, whereas others argue that the ALP lost because of its strategy of making itself a “small target” in the preceding years.

The outcome of the election was a 2% two-party-preferred swing to the coalition and an increase in its parliamentary majority. The ALP recorded its lowest primary vote since 1934. The Australian Greens recorded a big increase in their vote and Senate representation.

Kim Beazley resigned the Labor leadership on election night and was replaced by Simon Crean. Rumblings in the Australian Democrats highlighted ongoing divisions caused by Senator Natasha Stott Despoja’s ousting of Senator Meg Lees as leader at Easter 2001. The National Party lost two seats to independents and another to the Liberal Party and had its representation in the Howard ministry reduced.

State of the Parties

This table shows the final state of the parties following the election.

House of Representatives Elections 2001
ALP LIB NPA IND Total
NSW
20
21
7
2
50
VIC
20
15
2
37
QLD
7
15
4
1
27
WA
7
8
15
SA
3
9
12
TAS
5
5
ACT
2
2
NT
1
1
2
Total
65
69
13
3
150

 

Election Statistics

Election Mechanics

Policy Speeches

Election Features

  • Pressure Group Campaigns – Aside from the political parties, a host of pressure groups conducted campaigns on particular issues or campaigned for or against parties and candidates.
  • Quotes – A collection of quotes from the election campaign.
  • The Sharp End – Ari Sharp, the Australian Democrats candidate for Kooyong in Victoria, wrote a weekly column sharing his experiences on the campaign trail.
  • Paraphernalia – A selection of campaign leaflets, letters and how-to-vote cards.
  • Editorial Opinions – Aside from The Age and Sunday Telegraph, most Australian newspapers supported the return of the coalition.
  • Commentary – Commentary on the election before and after.
  • Predictions – Compare the actual results with the predictions of some of Australia’s journalists and political operatives.

Election Analysis

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