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The 2015 Canning By-Election


The Speaker of the House of Representatives has announced a by-election for the federal seat of Canning, in Western Australia, following the death of the sitting member, Mr Don Randall, on 21 July 2015. The by-election will be held on 19 September 2015.

The most recent by-election was for the seat of Griffith in Queensland on 8 February 2014. There have been 147 by-elections since 1901; the Canning by-election will take the total to 148. The Canning by-election will be the first where a government is defending one of the seats it holds since the Aston by-election in 2001. The Aston by-election was also caused by the death of the sitting member, Mr Peter Nugent.

By-elections due to the death of a sitting member are now rare, but were much more common in the past. According to a June 2014 Parliamentary Library publication on by-elections:

  • From 1901 to 1970, 63.3 per cent of all by-elections were brought about by death
  • by contrast, since 1971, 87.8 per cent of all by-elections have been brought about by resignation.

The Constitution (section 33) confers on the Speaker of the House of Representatives the power to issue a writ for the election of a new member. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 specifies that the election (polling day) must be held between 33 and 68 days from the date the writ is issued.

The AEC has published the key dates for the by-election:

Announcement of election Monday 17 August 2015
Issue of writ Monday 17 August 2015
Close of rolls 8pm AWST Monday 24 August 2015
Close of nominations 12 midday AWST Thursday 27 August 2015
Declaration of nominations 12 midday AWST Friday 28 August 2015
Election day Saturday 19 September 2015
Return of writs on or before Wednesday 25 November 2015

There is no requirement for a by-election to be held within a certain period after a seat becomes vacant, and the maximum period has been 82 days for the Moreton by-election in 1983. In 20 vacancies the Speaker has declined to issue the writ for a by-election due to a pending general election; the longest time a seat has gone without a member is 128 days in the case of Hindmarsh in 1909–10. The 60 days between Mr Randall’s death and the Canning by-election is slightly higher than the average time of 51.7 days for by-elections between 1949 and 2014, although shorter than the 81 days for the 2001 Aston by-election (the longest since 2000).

Voting at by-elections is compulsory for electors enrolled in relevant divisions. In general, by-elections tend to exhibit lower levels of turnout than general elections, with an average turnout of 87.5 per cent for by-elections since the introduction of compulsory voting (1924) compared to an average turnout of 94.5 per cent for general elections.

Although Western Australia is currently undergoing a redistribution of electoral district boundaries, the by-election will be held on the same boundaries as the 2013 federal election.

The results for the seat of Canning at the past four general elections are as follows:

Election Candidate Party TPP % Candidate Party TPP % Swing (%)
2013 RANDALL, Don Liberal 61.81 DEAN, Joanne Carol ALP 38.19 9.62
2010 RANDALL, Don Liberal 52.19 MacTIERNAN, Alannah ALP 47.81 -2.16
2007 RANDALL, Don Liberal 55.58 HUGHES, John ALP 44.42 -3.96
2004 RANDALL, Don Liberal 59.54 HALLAHAN, Kay ALP 40.46 9.16

Don Randall held the seat at the 2013 election with a two-party preferred margin of 11.8 per cent; analysis of past by-elections suggests that by-elections caused by the death of a sitting member evince only small swings. However, media reports state that Randall was well-known in the electorate and had a strong personal vote, which could be a factor in the vote at the upcoming by-election. It is likely that the by-election will be strongly contested by the major political parties.

Average swings against government in by-elections over 1949–2014 are set out below:

 

First preference
per cent
Two-party preferred
per cent
All by-elections 5.7 4.0
Government held seats 6.6 5.0
LP/NP Governments 4.8 3.3
ALP Governments 8.2 5.5
By-elections caused by death 3.6 2.5
By-elections caused by resignation 7.2 4.9

More detailed information on the by-election, the history of the seat, and the candidates is available on Antony Green’s ABC election site. Additional analysis of the seat is available at the Tally Room blog.

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