Zippers: former prime ministers leaving parliament

Portrait photos of Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd
Of Australia’s 28 Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd has become only the fourth former prime minister to have lost an election or the leadership of his party and resigned from parliament shortly afterwards, bringing about a by-election.

Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister from the dismissal of the Whitlam Government on 11 November 1975 until the ALP’s victory at the March 1983 election. On election night Mr Fraser stood down as leader of the Liberal Party and resigned from Parliament on 31 March 1983, 26 days later. The Wannon by-election was held on 7 May 1983 and was retained by the Liberal Party by Mr David Hawker who remained in the House of Representatives until he retired in 2010.

Bob Hawke became Prime Minister at the March 1983 election, only 30 days after becoming leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. He became Labor’s longest-serving Prime Minister until he was defeated in a Caucus ballot by Paul Keating on 19 December 1991. Despite early speculation that he would remain in Parliament, he announced his resignation on A Current Affair on 20 February, and formally resigned that day, 63 days after his defeat in the party room. The Wills by-election was held on 11 April and was won by Phil Cleary, an independent.

Paul Keating lost the March 1996 election to the Liberal Party led by John Howard. On 19 March, at the first Caucus meeting after the election he resigned as Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party. On 23 April he resigned from Parliament, in a letter to the Governor-General, a week before the opening of the 38th Parliament and 52 days since election day. The by-election for Blaxland was held on 15 May 1996 and was retained by the ALP by Michael Hatton.

Of the other 24 prime ministers:
  • Three died in office (Lyons, Curtin, Holt) 
  • Two lost their seats (Bruce, Howard) 
  • Three left office voluntarily resulting in a by-election: Barton ̶ to take up High Court position; Fisher ‒ to become High Commissioner in London; and Menzies ‒ to retire. 
The remainder stayed on in parliament for varying periods, ranging from 17 years (Scullin and Fadden) to two months (Gillard); two former prime ministers died while still in parliament (Hughes, 28 years after ceasing to be prime minister; and Chifley).

*Authors: Janet Wilson, Rob Lundie, Deirdre McKeown


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