2010 Federal Election

Rob Lundie, Politics and Public Administration Section

The 2010 Federal Election was held on Saturday 21 August and resulted in a hung parliament – the first federally since 1940. The election was called by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on 17 July. She had successfully challenged Kevin Rudd for the leadership of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) on 24 June following a marked decline in support for the ALP in the polls. Her opponent was Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott who had defeated Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership on 1 December 2009. The House was dissolved and the Senate prorogued on 19 July when the writs were also issued.

The 14 088 260 people enrolled to vote included 57 732 who were added to the roll following the High Court’s decision on 6 August to extend the period for enrolling to 26 July. There were 1198 candidates (1421 in 2007): 849 for the 150 House of Representatives seats and 349 for the 40 Senate vacancies. There were 353 female candidates and 845 males.


Prior to the election, redistributions had been held in NSW, Qld, WA, Tasmania and the NT. As a result Qld gained one seat (Wright) taking its tally to 30. NSW lost a seat reducing its representation to 48.

The campaign

The campaign featured a single formal leaders’ debate on 25 July at the National Press Club in Canberra where they faced questions from a panel of journalists. There were two community forums on 11 August in western Sydney and on 18 August in Brisbane where the leaders faced questions from an audience of voters.

Both leaders campaigned extensively in Queensland and NSW where most of the marginal seats were located and where it was expected the election would be won or lost. WA was also an important state where Labor’s proposed mining tax was a significant issue.

Gillard began her campaign revealing that she was ‘moving forward’ although she was often forced to look back when answering questions about her ‘removal’ of Kevin Rudd. Disquiet over the way he was removed, even amongst those who supported Gillard, and particularly amongst Queensland voters in Rudd’s home state, threatened to interfere with her desire to portray a new beginning for Labor.

Her campaign also received a setback when it was leaked that she had questioned pension increases and aspects of a parental leave scheme when they were discussed in Cabinet. Parental leave was an area in which both parties put schemes to the electorate.

While Gillard was dealing with the Rudd factor and the leaks, Abbott was trying to distance himself from Work Choices, even signing a declaration that it was ‘dead, buried and cremated’.

Abbott campaigned on the slogan ‘real action’ to take advantage of his popular image as a man with physical energy and stamina. This theme was highlighted when he campaigned throughout the night on the last day of the campaign.

Both leaders were keen to portray themselves as economically responsible and declared that they were not going to make big spending promises during the campaign. Parental leave and a national broadband network were two main areas of policy difference.

The Coalition stopped submitting its policies to Treasury for costing after a document was leaked which allegedly revealed an $840 million hole. It then commissioned its own costings report by a private firm late in the campaign.

The result

Opinion polls throughout the campaign revealed that a hung parliament was a real possibility, and so it turned out to be. Labor won 72 seats, the Coalition 73, the Greens one and there were four independents.

There was a swing against Labor of 2.6 per cent but it won the two party preferred vote 50.1 per cent to the Coalition’s 49.9 per cent. The seats won by the parties and the change from the 2007 election are shown in the table below. These figures are based on votes counted to 15 September and could change.

Both major parties began negotiations with the Greens and independent members in an attempt to gain their support in the House to form stable government: in effect ensuring they would have the numbers to pass supply and to defeat any no confidence motions. In return for their support, the major parties responded to lists of demands which, among other things, sought a greater policy focus on regional Australia, a series of parliamentary reforms, and an assurance that whichever party formed government, it would serve a full term and provide stability. Prime Minister Gillard was soon able to secure the support of Andrew Wilkie (independent, Denison, Tas) and Adam Bandt (Greens, Melbourne, Vic). The three ‘country independents’ (and former Nationals) worked together in their dealings with the parties but came to their own separate decisions as to who they would support. Bob Katter (independent, Kennedy, Qld) chose to support the Coalition while Tony Windsor (independent, New England, NSW) and Rob Oakeshott (independent, Lyne, NSW) went with the ALP. So, the Gillard Government was granted a second term, securing the smallest possible majority of 76 to 74 to pass the Budget and survive no confidence motions. The independents and the Greens member reserved the right to vote differently on other matters.

Voter turnout nationally was 93.2 per cent down 1.5 per cent from the last election. The informal vote nationally was 5.55 per cent in the House of Representatives, an increase of 1.6 per cent. In the Senate, the informal vote was 3.75 per cent, an increase of 1.2 per cent.


Labor lost one senator, the Coalition three and the Greens gained four senators. From 1 July 2011 the Greens, with nine senators, will have the balance of power. This fact played a part in the independents’ decision to support Labor in the House of Representatives thus increasing the likelihood of a longer period of stable government.

Members of the Australian Parliament
Party House of Representatives Senate
Pre-election Post-election Before
July 2011
July 2011
Total 150 150 76 76
Australian Labor Party 83 72 32 31
Coalition 63 73 37 34
Liberal Party of Australia 54 44 32 25
The Nationals/Country Liberal 9 8 5 3
Liberal National Party - 21 - 6
Australian Greens - 1 5 9
Independent 4 4 1 1
Family First - - 1 -
Democratic Labor Party - - - 1

Library publications and key documents

Australian Electoral Commission Virtual Tally Room as at 15 September 2010 with 93.21 per cent of the primary vote, and 90.76 per cent of the two party preferred vote, counted, http://vtr.www.aec.gov.au/