Parliamentarians who were never elected: a quick guide

4 May 2022

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Nathan Church
Politics and Public Administration


Since its establishment in 1901, 1,783 people have been chosen to sit in the Australian Federal Parliament. The vast majority (over 90%) were elected directly by their constituents. However, when a vacancy in the Senate occurs, the Constitution allows for the respective state to ‘choose a person to hold the place until the expiration of the term’.[1] This has been the case for 160 senators. Most of those selected went on to contest and win subsequent election to either the Senate or House of Representatives. Yet for 39 of them this was not the result.

This quick guide identifies those senators who were appointed to the federal parliament and subsequently left without having ever been elected. Accordingly, this does not include the eight current senators who have filled a casual vacancy.[2] It also does not include senators who filled a vacancy caused by disqualification, such as holding dual citizenship. In these instances, the Court of Disputed Returns determines the incoming senators are elected via a countback of votes, rather than being appointed.[3]

Table 1 provides details of the 39 senators who have never been elected, including their name, party affiliation, state represented, period of service, reason for leaving the Senate, and whether they had any prior experience in local or state government, or as a party official.

  • Almost two-thirds (24) were defeated at the election following their appointment, while seven did not contest. A further six resigned and two died in office, creating further casual vacancies.
  • Additionally, the data indicates that in the first 50 years after Federation, the majority (88%) of identified senators had either state or local government experience. Conversely, since 1980 approximately just a third (6 of 17) have had similar experience.
  • Instead, former party officials have become a significant demographic, with only two identified senators from this time not having served in such a role.

Table 1: List of federal senators who were never elected

Name Term Reason for leaving# Local govt. State govt. Party official
Robert Reid (Free Trade, Vic) 21/1/1903 – 31/12/1903 retired no yes no
Henry Saunders (Free Trade, WA) 20/5/1903 – 31/12/1903 defeated yes yes no
Charles Mackellar (Protectionist, NSW) 8/10/1903 – 30/11/1903 resigned no yes no
Edward Vardon (Nationalist, SA) 9/8/1921 – 15/12/1922 defeated no yes no
Henry Garling (Nationalist, NSW) 15/12/1921 – 15/12/1922 defeated yes no no
John Power (ALP, NSW) 20/11/1924 – 13/1/1925 died yes yes yes
William Gibbs (ALP, NSW) 1/4/1925 – 13/11/1925 retired no no yes
Henry Barwell (Nationalist, SA) 18/12/1925 – 22/3/1928 resigned no yes no
John Verran (Nationalist, SA) 30/8/1927 – 16/11/1928 defeated no yes no
Albert Robinson (Nationalist, SA) 18/4/1928 – 16/11/1928 defeated no yes no
Richard Abbott (Country Party, Vic) 18/12/1928 – 30/6/1929 retired yes yes no
Henry Kneebone (ALP, SA) 1/4/1931 – 18/12/1931 defeated yes yes yes
Patrick Mooney (Lang Labor, NSW) 23/12/1931 – 30/6/1932 retired yes no yes
James Arkins (UAP, NSW) 26/9/1935 – 22/10/1937 defeated no yes yes
Charles Latham (Country Party, WA) 8/10/1942 – 20/8/1943 defeated no yes yes
Alexander Fraser (Country Party, Vic) 15/5/1946 – 27/9/1946 defeated no no no
William Robinson (Country Party, WA) 30/9/1952 – 8/5/1953 defeated no no yes
George Whiteside (ALP, Qld) 9/10/1962 – 30/11/1963 defeated no no yes
Martin Cameron (Liberal, SA) 23/5/1969 – 25/10/1969 defeated no                            no no
David Reid (Country Party, WA) 16/1/1974 – 18/5/1974 defeated no yes no
Cleaver Bunton (Independent, NSW) 27/2/1975 – 11/11/1975 retired yes no no
Albert Field (Independent, Qld) 3/9/1975 – 11/11/1975 defeated no no no
Laurence Neal (Country Party, Vic) 11/3/1980 – 30/6/1981 retired no no yes
John Olsen (Liberal, SA) 7/5/1990 – 4/5/1992 resigned yes yes yes
Karin Sowada (Democrats, NSW) 29/8/1991 – 30/6/1993 defeated no no yes
Christabel Chamarette (Greens, WA) 12/3/1992 – 30/6/1996 defeated no no no
Tom Wheelwright (ALP, NSW) 24/5/1995 – 30/6/1996 defeated no no yes
Karen Synon (Liberal, Vic) 13/5/1997 – 30/6/1999 defeated no no yes
Geoff Buckland (ALP, SA) 14/9/2000 – 30/6/2005 retired no no yes
John Cherry (Democrats, Qld) 31/7/2001 – 30/6/2005 defeated no no yes
Santo Santoro (Liberal, Qld) 29/10/2002 – 11/4/2007 resigned no yes yes
Lin Thorp (ALP, Tas) 20/6/2012 – 30/6/2014 defeated no yes yes
Mehmet Tillem (ALP, Vic) 21/8/2013 – 30/6/2014 defeated no no yes
Joanna Lindgren (Liberal, Qld) 21/5/2015 – 2/7/2016 defeated no no yes
Robert Simms (Greens, SA) 22/9/2015 – 2/7/2016 defeated yes no yes
Kimberley Kitching (ALP, Vic) 25/10/2016 – 10/3/2022 died yes no yes
Kristina Keneally (ALP, NSW)* 14/2/2018 – 13/4/2022 resigned no yes no
Duncan Spender (Lib Dem, NSW) 20/3/2019 – 30/6/2019 defeated no no yes
Ben Small (Liberal, WA)* 25/11/2020 – 15/4/2022 resigned no no yes

#Where a senator left mid-way through their term, they are designated as having resigned. Where a senator left at the expiration of their term and elected not to contest the next election,
   they are designated as having retired.
*Having resigned from the Senate, Kristina Keneally and Ben Small have nominated as candidates in the upcoming federal election to be held on 21 May 2022.

[1]. Australian Constitution, section 15. Prior to the Constitution Alteration (Senate Casual Vacancies) 1977 Act, the appointment only lasted until the next federal election if the term had not yet expired. The legislative basis for filling the casual vacancies of ACT/NT senators is the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, section 44. For additional information on casual vacancy procedure see Damon Muller, ‘Casual re-employment: comings and goings due to Senate casual vacancies’, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library, 18 September 2018.

[2]. These are senators Wendy Askew, Dorinda Cox, Karen Grogan, Andrew McLachlan, Greg Mirabella, Jana Stewart, Amanda Stoker and Lidia Thorpe. Senator Jim Molan also filled a casual vacancy on 14 November 2019 but was previously elected (via countback) on 22 December 2017.

[3]. Australian Electoral Commission, Electoral Backgrounder: Constitutional disqualification and intending candidates, 4 April 2019.


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