Are the good burghers of Griffith poised to make history? – House of Representatives by-elections 1901–2014

The Australian Electoral Commission has announced the candidates who have nominated to fill the vacancy caused by Kevin Rudd's resignation. Early voting has begun so it’s a good time to review some of the history of by-elections for the House of Representatives.

The Griffith by-election is due to be held on 8 February 2014, 1526 days since the previous by-election, a period exceeded only by Balaclava (Vic) and Macquarie (NSW) in 1951 (1946 days) and Fremantle (WA) in 1945 (1547 days).

Here we draw on Stephen Barber, Christopher Lawley, Scott Bennett and Gerard Newman's paper from 2009 (House of Representatives by-elections 1901-2009), which is still current as there have been no by-elections held since Bradfield and Higgins on 5 December 2009. Once the result from the Griffith by-election is known, we will update this paper to reflect the current situation.

In their paper, Barber et al. make the following observations:

  • there have been 146 by-elections, an average of 3.5 per parliament
  • the number of nominations has grown over time from 2.2 per by-election in the 24 occurrences to 1918 to 11.5 per by-election since 2000
  • in four cases a by-election was contested by a single candidate
  • there has been an increasing tendency for governments to avoid contesting by-elections in their opponents’ safe seats
  • in only seven cases has the opposition party failed to contest a by-election
  • 67 of the by-elections followed the death of the member, 73 members resigned, there have been five voided elections, and one MP was expelled from the House
  • since 1949 most by-elections have been caused by resignation of the sitting member and have occurred in safe seats
  • on 35 occasions the party complexion of a seat has altered at a by-election
  • five of the losses have been by the opposition of the day
  • the average two-party preferred swing against the government of the day has been 4.0 per cent and
  • since 1949 the largest two-party swing against a government occurred in Canberra in 1995. The largest swing to a government occurred in McPherson in 1981.

Of particular interest here is that, of the 146 by-elections, only 35 (24%) have resulted in a seat changing hands, of which only five have been lost by the Opposition of the day (3.4%), and only one has been won from the Opposition by the Government, being Kalgoorlie in 1920. The four other opposition party losses were Riverina 1904 (to the Protectionist Party), Maranoa 1921 (to the Country Party), Cunningham 2002 (to the Green Party), Lyne 2008 (to an independent candidate).

On the 1920 Kalgoorlie by-election

On 7 November 1920 Hugh Mahon chaired a public meeting in Melbourne sponsored by the Irish Ireland League and, in a speech attacking the British presence in Ireland, spoke of ‘this bloody and accursed Empire’. He was expelled from the House of Representatives four days later for his ‘seditious and disloyal utterances’ after the House found him ‘guilty of conduct unfitting him to remain a member of this House’. Mahon's is the only expulsion to have occurred from the Parliament, and it forced a by-election (Kalgoorlie 1920) which he contested but ultimately lost. The House of Representatives lost the power to expel members with the passage of the Parliamentary Privileges Act 1987.

Other sources of information:

The 43rd Parliamentary Handbook
The Australian Electoral Commission
Antony Green’s blog
Adam Carr's (Psephos) website

Complete list of House of Representative by-elections

By-election dateDivision/StateMember electedPartyPrevious MemberPartyCause of by-electionDays vacant
14/09/1901Darling Downs, QldGroom, LEPROTGroom, WHPROTDied37
26/03/1902TasmaniaHartnoll, WFTPiesse, FWFTDied20
4/09/1903East Sydney, NSWReid, GHFTReid, GHFTResigned17
26/02/1904Wilmot, Tas.Cameron, DNFTBraddon, ENCFTDied24
30/03/1904Melbourne, Vic.Maloney, WRNALPMcEacharn, MDPROTElection void20
18/05/1904Riverina, NSWChanter, JMPROTBlackwood, ROFTElection void35
10/07/1907Echuca, Vic.Palmer, ACPROTPalmer, ACPROTElection void30
13/06/1908Adelaide, SARoberts, EAALPKingston, CCPROTDied33
28/08/1909Wakefield, SAFoster, RWHolder, FWDied36
24/08/1910Kooyong, Vic.Best, RWLIBKnox, WLIBResigned29
8/02/1911Batman, Vic.Brennan, FALPBeard, HEALPDied52
11/03/1911North Sydney, NSWRyrie, G de LLIBEdwards, GBLIBDied35
11/11/1911Boothby, SAGordon, DJLIBBatchelor, ELALPDied34
1/06/1912Werriwa, NSWBennett, BHALPHall, DRALPResigned61
22/12/1913Kalgoorlie, WAMahon, HALPFrazer, CEALPDied27
10/01/1914Adelaide, SAYates, GEALPRoberts, EAALPDied39
6/02/1915Bendigo, Vic.Hampson, AJALPArthur, JAALPDied59
20/02/1915Grampians, Vic.Salmon, CCLIBJolley, EFGALPDied50
6/05/1915Dalley, NSWMahony, WGALPHowe, RALPDied34
11/12/1915Wide Bay, QldCorser, EBCLIBFisher, AALPResigned46
30/06/1917Darwin, Tas.Spence, WGNATHowroyd, CRNATDied51
27/10/1917Grampians, Vic.Jowett, ENATSalmon, CCLIBDied42
11/05/1918Flinders, Vic.Bruce, SMNATIrvine, WHNATResigned36
26/10/1918Swan, WACorboy, EWALPForrest, JNATDied54
14/12/1918Corangamite, Vic.Gibson, WGFUManifold, JCNATDied52
20/09/1919Echuca, Vic.Hill, WCVFUPalmer, ACNATDied37
10/07/1920Ballaarat, Vic.McGrath, DCALPKerby, ETJNATElection void38
18/12/1920Kalgoorlie, WAFoley, GJNATMahon, HALPExpelled36
30/07/1921Maranoa, QldHunter, JAJCPPage, JALPDied57
3/09/1921West Sydney, NSWLambert, WHALPRyan, TJALPDied33
10/12/1921Parramatta, NSWPratten, HENATCook, JNATResigned29
18/02/1922Yarra, Vic.Scullin, JHALPTudor, FGALPDied39
6/03/1926Eden-Monaro, NSWPerkins, JANATChapman, ANATDied53
26/02/1927Dalley, NSWTheodore, EGALPMahony, WGALPResigned39
21/05/1927Warringah, NSWParkhill, RANATRyrie, G de LNATResigned38
16/06/1928Martin, NSWPratten, FGNATPratten, HENATDied40
3/09/1928Wide Bay, QldCorser, BHCPCorser, EBCNATDied34
3/08/1929Balaclava, Vic.White, TWNATWatt, WANATResigned29
14/12/1929Franklin, Tas.Frost, CWALPMcWilliam, WJINDDied53
31/01/1931Parkes, NSWMarr, CWCNATMcTiernan, EAALPResigned43
7/03/1931East Sydney, NSWWard, EJALPWest, JEALPDied30
6/02/1932East Sydney, NSWWard, EJLANG LABClasby, JJUAPDied22
11/11/1933Flinders, Vic.Fairbairn, JVUAPBruce, SMUAPResigned36
1/06/1935Newcastle, NSWWatkins, DOFLPWatkins, DFLPDied54
17/08/1935Fawkner, Vic.Holt, HEUAPMaxwell, GAUAPDied53
12/12/1936Kennedy, QldRiordan, WJFFLPRiordan, DFLPDied58
19/12/1936Darling Downs, QldFadden, AWCPGroom, LEUAPDied43
8/05/1937Gwydir, NSWScully, WJALPAbbott, CLACPResigned41
10/12/1938Wakefield, SAMcHugh, SALPHawker, CASUAPDied46
20/05/1939Griffith, QldConelan, WPALPBaker, FMJFLPDied53
27/05/1939Wilmot, Tas.Spurr, LTALPLyons, JAUAPDied50
2/03/1940Corio, Vic.Dedman, JJALPCasey, RGUAPResigned32
16/11/1940Kalgoorlie, WAJohnson, HVALPGreen, AEALPDied45
21/12/1940Swan, WAMarwick, TWCPGregory, HCPDied36
24/05/1941Boothby, SAPrice, AGUAPPrice, JLUAPDied31
18/08/1945Fremantle, WABeazley, KEALPCurtin, JALPDied44
9/02/1946Wimmera, Vic.Turnbull, WGCPWilson, ACPResigned40
30/03/1946Henty, Vic.Gullett, HBLIBColes, AWINDResigned47
28/07/1951Balaclava, Vic.Joske, PELIBWhite, TWLIBResigned38
28/07/1951Macquarie, NSWLuchetti, ASALPChifley, JBALPDied45
22/03/1952Lyne, NSWLucock, PECPEggins, EJCPDied54
18/10/1952Flinders, Vic.Ewert, KWWALPRyan, RSLIBDied53
29/11/1952Werriwa, NSWWhitlam, EGALPLazzarini, HPALPDied59
20/12/1952Bradfield, NSWTurner, HBLIBHughes, WMLIBDied53
9/05/1953Dalley, NSWGreenup, AEALPRosevear, JSALPDied49
29/08/1953Corangamite, Vic.MacKinnon, EDLIBMcDonald, AMLIBDied80
29/08/1953Lang, NSWStewart, FEALPMulcahy, DALPDied47
19/12/1953Gwydir, NSWAllan, AICPTreloar, TJCPDied34
21/05/1955Cook, NSWCope, JFALPSheehan, TALPDied56
11/04/1956Cunningham, NSWKearney, VDALPDavies, WALPDied54
13/10/1956Barker, SAForbes, AJLIBCameron, AGLIBDied65
8/12/1956Wentworth, NSWBury, LHELIBHarrison, EJLIBResigned52
14/09/1957Richmond, NSWAnthony, JDCPAnthony, HLCPDied64
8/03/1958Parramatta, NSWBarwick, GEJLIBBeale, OHLIBResigned26
9/04/1960Hunter, NSWJames, AWALPEvatt, HVALPResigned59
9/04/1960La Trobe, Vic.Jess, JDLIBCasey, RGLIBResigned59
16/07/1960Balaclava, Vic.Whittorn, RHLIBJoske, PELIBResigned44
16/07/1960Bendigo, Vic.Beaton, NLALPClarey, PJALPDied60
5/11/1960Calare, NSWEngland, JACPHowse, JBLIBResigned38
10/12/1960Higinbotham, Vic.Chipp, DLLIBTimson, TFLIBDied55
1/09/1962Batman, Vic.Benson, SJALPBird, ACALPDied42
1/06/1963Grey, SAMortimer, JALPRussell, EHDALPDied62
28/09/1963East Sydney, NSWDevine, LTALPWard, EJALPDied59
15/02/1964Denison, Tas.Gibson, ALIBTownley, AGLIBDied53
20/06/1964Angas, SAGiles, GOLIBDowner, ARJLIBResigned58
20/06/1964Parramatta, NSWBowen, NHLIBBarwick, GELIBResigned57
5/12/1964Robertson, NSWBridges-Maxwell, CWLIBDean, RLLIBResigned66
27/02/1965Riverina, NSWArmstrong, AACPRoberton, HSCPResigned37
26/02/1966Dawson, QldPatterson, RAALPShaw, GWCPDied48
2/04/1966Kooyong, Vic.Peacock, ASLIBMenzies, RGLIBResigned44
22/07/1967Corio, Vic.Scholes, GGDALPOpperman, HFLIBResigned42
30/09/1967Capricornia, QldEveringham, DNALPGray, GHALPDied59
24/02/1968Higgins, Vic.Gorton, JGLIBHolt, HELIBDied67
19/04/1969Curtin, WAGarland, RVLIBHasluck, PMCLIBResigned68
7/06/1969Bendigo, Vic.Kennedy, ADALPBeaton, NLALPResigned59
7/06/1969Gwydir, NSWHunt, RJDCPAllan, AICPResigned38
30/05/1970ACTEnderby, KEALPFraser, JRALPDied59
19/09/1970Chisholm, Vic.Staley, AALIBKent Hughes, WSLIBDied50
20/03/1971Murray, Vic.Lloyd, BCPMcEwen, JCPResigned47
22/09/1973Parramatta, NSWRuddock, PMLIBBowen, NHLIBResigned73
28/06/1975Bass, Tas.Newman, KELIBBarnard, LHALPResigned26
15/10/1977Cunningham, NSWWest, SJALPConnor, RFXALPDied54
23/09/1978Werriwa, NSWKerin, JCALPWhitlam, EGALPResigned54
23/06/1979Grayndler, NSWMcLeay, LBALPStewart, FEALPDied68
21/02/1981Boothby, SAHall, RSLIBMcLeay, JELIBResigned30
21/02/1981Curtin, WARocher, ACLIBGarland, RVLIBResigned30
21/02/1981McPherson, QldWhite, PNDLIBRobinson, ELLIBDied45
11/04/1981Wentworth, NSWColeman, WPLIBEllicott, RJLIBResigned53
13/03/1982Lowe, NSWMaher, MJALPMcMahon, WLIBResigned68
4/12/1982Flinders, Vic.Reith, PKLIBLynch, PRLIBResigned43
7/05/1983Wannon, Vic.Hawker, DPMLIBFraser, JMLIBResigned37
28/05/1983Bruce, Vic.Aldred, KJLIBSnedden, BMLIBResigned37
5/11/1983Moreton, QldCameron, DMLIBKillen, DJLIBResigned82
18/02/1984Corangamite, Vic.McArthur, FSLIBStreet, AALIBResigned31
18/02/1984Hughes, NSWTickner, REALPJohnson, LRALPResigned61
18/02/1984Richmond, NSWBlunt, CWNPAAnthony, JDNPAResigned31
8/02/1986Scullin, Vic.Jenkins, HAALPJenkins, Dr HAALPResigned50
6/02/1988Adelaide, SAPratt, MPLIBHurford, CJALPResigned37
26/03/1988Port Adelaide, SASawford, RWALPYoung, MJALPResigned47
9/04/1988Groom, QldTaylor, WLLIBMcVeigh, DTNPAResigned40
8/10/1988Oxley, QldScott, LJALPHayden, WGALPResigned52
15/04/1989Gwydir, NSWAnderson, JDNPAHunt, RJDNPAResigned50
11/05/1991Menzies, Vic.Andrews, KJLIBBrown, NALIBResigned75
11/04/1992Wills, Vic.Cleary, PRINDHawke, RJLALPResigned51
29/01/1994Werriwa, NSWLatham, MWALPKerin, JCALPResigned38
12/03/1994Fremantle, WALawrence, CMALPDawkins, JSALPResigned36
19/03/1994Bonython, SAEvans, MJALPBlewett, NALPResigned36
26/03/1994Mackellar, NSWBishop, BKLIBCarlton, JJLIBResigned71
26/03/1994Warringah, NSWAbbott, AJLIBMacKellar, MJRLIBResigned36
19/11/1994Kooyong, Vic.Georgiou, PLIBPeacock, ASLIBResigned63
25/03/1995Canberra, ACTSmyth, BMLIBKelly, RJALPResigned54
8/04/1995Wentworth, NSWThomson, APLIBHewson, JRLIBResigned39
15/06/1996Blaxland, NSWHatton, MJALPKeating, PJALPResigned53
19/10/1996Lindsay, NSWKelly, JMLIBKelly, JMLIBElection void38
1/02/1997Fraser, ACTDargavel, SJALPLangmore, JVALPResigned57
6/11/1999Holt, Vic.Byrne, AMALPEvans, GJALPResigned37
12/08/2000Isaacs, Vic.Corcoran, AKALPWilton, GSALPDied59
17/03/2001Ryan, QldShort, LMALPMoore, JCLIBResigned40
14/07/2001Aston, Vic.Pearce, CJLIBNugent, PELIBDied81
19/10/2002Cunningham, NSWOrgan, MKGRNMartin, SPALPResigned64
19/03/2005Werriwa, NSWHayes, CPALPLatham, MWALPResigned57
28/06/2008Gippsland, Vic.Chester, DJNPMcGauran, PJNPResigned80
6/09/2008Lyne, NSWOakeshott, RJMINDVaile, MAJNPResigned38
6/09/2008Mayo, SABriggs, JELIBDowner, AJGLIBResigned54
5/12/2009Bradfield, NSWFletcher, PWLIBNelson, BJLIBResigned47
5/12/2009Higgins, Vic.O'Dwyer, KMLIBCostello, PHLIBResigned47
8/02/2014Griffith, QldTBARudd, KMALPResigned78



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