On Elections

How people elect parliaments

Australia

House of Representatives

Background

The Australian Constitution provides for the Commonwealth Parliament to determine by legislation the number of Senators for the Parliament. The number of Senators must be the same for each original state. The six current Australian states are all original states.

The total number of senators was originally 36 (6 for each state) in 1901, and was increased to 60 (10 for each state) in 1949 and then to 72 (12 for each state) in 1984.

After determining the number of Senators, the Parliament may legislate to determine the number of members in the House of Representatives, provided that the size of the House is to be “as near as practicable twice the number of Senators”.

In accordance with this linkage, the House had around 75 members for elections during the period 1901 to 1946, around 125 members for elections from 1949 to 1983, and has had the current size of around 150 members for elections since 1984.

A proportional allotment of the provisional total number of seats is made to each of the 6 Australian states on the basis of each state’s total population using standard rounding (ie: up or down to nearest integer).

There is also a proviso that no state is to have less than 5 seats. This rule leads to a minor degree of malapportionment in relation to one state: at present (and for the foreseeable future) the proviso lifts the allotment of the state of Tasmania (which would normally be either 3 or 4 seats) to 5 seats.

The application of normal rounding to the state quotas of seats results in slight variations around the provisional total number of seats; for example since 1984 the House has varied in total size between 148 and 151 members.

Current legislation provides that the state allotment calculations are refreshed after each election.

Commonwealth legislation also provides for a minimum of two additional House seats to be elected by voters in each of the two significant federal territories (the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory).

The Constitution does not prescribe a specific voting system for the House of Representatives seats. For the first election in 1901 state legislation provided for in the use of various voting methods:

  • single-member divisions with plurality voting in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia
  • single-member divisions with the contingent vote in Queensland
  • the block vote system in South Australia, voting as one division
  • the SNTV system in Tasmania, voting as one division

In 1903 overriding federal legislation implemented a uniform system of single-member division plurality voting for all seats in all the states.

The legislation was revised in 1918 to provide that the voting method would be preferential rather than the plurality method, and this voting system has continued to the present.

From 1900 to the late 1970s boundary reviews were irregular and while prepared by non-partisan officials were always adopted as legislation by Parliament (and thus were subject to the interests of the prevailing parliamentary majority).

Under 1984 revisions to the legislation, the boundary reviews are now determined by an independent non-partisan commission process.

Since the major 1984 revisions to electoral legislation, divisional boundaries within the states and territories have been reviewed whenever the number of seats allocated to a jurisdiction is altered, or at least every 7 years in any case. As a result almost every modern House election features some boundary changes from the previous one.

There are no unreasonable barriers to candidate nomination for election to the House, other than the rule (adopted in the 1990s) that no more than one candidate may be nominated in the name of each political party.

Essays

Preview of the 2016 Australian federal elections of 2 July 2016 (March 2016)

Recent reforms to Australian electoral methods (April 2014, updated to November 2016)

Australian Judicial Decisions relating to Representative Government (April 2014, revised February 2016)

Representative and Responsible Government in Australia (April 2014, revised February 2016)

Representation and electoral system design in Australia (April 2014, revised February 2016)

Elections

Overview 1901-2016

[Inequality of influence by number of enrolments, House of Representatives 1901 to 2013]

[nomination openness – party configurations]

Since 1910 the basis of electoral competition in Australia has been a two party configuration between the Labor Party (founded in 1891) and a liberal-conservative party (under various party names 1910-1946, and currently the Liberal Party, founded in 1946). The National Party (formerly the Country Party, founded in 1918) is a continuing alliance partner (under the title the Coalition) of the Liberal Party, and the two parties almost entirely avoid situations where both parties nominate a candidate in any given seat. As of 2009 the conservative parties are merged in the state of Queensland as the Liberal National Party.

At various times this basic two-party configuration has been altered by the existence of a series of significant minor parties (those which regularly achieve 5% or more of the national vote) including the Democratic Labor Party (1955-1974), the Australian Democrats (1977-2004), The Greens (1990-present) and One Nation (1998-2001). The Palmer United Party’s debut in 2013 also places it in this category.

While the preferences of the voters supporting each of these minor parties have had significant influence on many specific seat victories, these parties have only achieved three wins in House seats at general elections (the Greens in the division of Melbourne in 2010 and 2013, and the Palmer United Party in the division of Fairfax in 2013). (The Greens had one further victory in a by-election in 2002 in the division of Cunningham.)

More common has been the reasonably regular election of independent members, with up to five elected at any one time.

[summary of results – inequality by divisions – inequality by margins]

Specific elections

1901 – 1903 – 1906 – 1910 – 1913 – 1914 – 1917 – 1919 – 1922 – 1925 – 1928 – 1931 – 1934 – 1937 – 1940 – 1943 – 1946 – 1949 – 1951 – 1954 – 1955 – 1958 – 1961 – 1963 – 1966 – 1969 – 1972 – 1974 – 1975 – 1977 – 1980 – 1983 – 1984 – 1987 – 1990 – 1993 – 1996 – 1998 – 2001 – 2004 – 2007 – 2010 – 2013 – 2016

Data

Sources

Original official data for election results has been published by the Commonwealth electoral authorities responsible for national elections, namely the Department of Home Affairs (1902-1973), the Australian Electoral Office (1973-1984) and the Australian Electoral Commission (“AEC”) (1984-present).

The AEC has published official results in printed form for elections from 1984 onwards. In addition, the Commission has published CDs of data for the 1993, 1996 and 1998 elections, and has published official results on its website for elections since 2001 and for by-elections since January 1994.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Library (“CPL”) has since 1915 published Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbooks which present national and state summary results for all Commonwealth elections. According to the CPL website:

“In a report to the Parliament in 1915, the Joint Library Committee requested the publication of ‘a Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook, giving a short political biography of all Members of both Houses since the initiation of Federation, with … particulars of every election in the same period ….’ The first edition of the Handbook, published later that year, had the title Biographical Handbook and Record of Elections for the Parliament of the Commonwealth. Since then a new edition has usually been published with each new Parliament. … Since 1999, the full text of the Handbook has been available electronically, and updated regularly, on the Parliament’s website at http://www.aph.gov.au and through Parlinfo Search.”

The Handbooks present specific election results data for each House of Representatives electoral division and for the election of state and territory Senators. State and national summaries of enrolment, vote and party vote totals for the House are also included.

The titles and publishers of the various Handbook editions have varied over 6 time periods, as follows:

  • 1915 – 1932: Biographical Handbook and Record of Elections for the Parliament of the Commonwealth, Library Committee of the Commonwealth
  • 1935 – 1953: Parliamentary Handbook and Record of Elections for the Commonwealth of Australia, Commonwealth Government Printer
  • 1956 – 1971: Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library
  • 1973 – 1975: Australian Parliamentary Handbook, Australian Government Publishing Service
  • 1978 – 1997: Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, Australian Government Publishing Service
  • 1999 – 2011:  Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library (printed edition and website)

The authoritative Handbook of Australian Government and Politics by Colin Hughes – later the first Australian Electoral Commissioner (1984-1989) – presents national and state summaries of enrolment, vote and party vote totals for all Commonwealth election results from 1901 to 2001. There are 4 volumes as follows:

  • A Handbook of Australian Government and Politics 1890-1964, Colin Hughes and BD Graham, 1968
  • A Handbook of Australian Government and Politics 1965-74, Colin Hughes, 1977
  • A Handbook of Australian Government and Politics 1975-1984, Colin Hughes, 1986
  • A Handbook of Australian Government and Politics 1985-1999, Colin Hughes, 2002

See also:

  • Voting for the Australian House of Representatives 1901-1964, Colin Hughes and BD Graham, 1974

A succession of researchers at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, beginning with Gerard Newman, drew on the official results publications and the Parliamentary Handbooks to produce a series of research papers summarising federal election results, including the following:

  • Federal Election Results 1949-1998, Gerard Newman, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Research Brief No. 8 of 1998-99, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, 1999
  • Federal Election Results 1949-2001, Gerard Newman, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Research Brief No. 9 of 2001-02, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, 2002
  • Federal Election Results 1949-2004, Gerard Newman, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Research Brief No. 11 of 2004-05, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, 2005
  • Federal Election Results 1901–2007, Stephen Barber, C Lawley, Scott Bennett and Gerard Newman, Research Paper No. 17 of 2008-09, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, 2008
  • Federal Election Results 1901–2010, Stephen Barber, Research Paper No. 6 of 2011-12, Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, 2012

Finally, the website Psephos, authored by Adam Carr, presents national and state summaries of enrolment, vote and party vote totals, as well as individual divisional results data for each House of Representatives electoral division and for the state and territory elections of Senators for all general elections, and also for all by-elections, from 1901 onward.

Psephos is the only online source of data for individual division results prior to the AEC data from 2001. Carr does not cite his data sources, but the only primary sources (which are not available online) are the AEC Election Statistics and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library’s Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia mentioned above.

The data sources for individual divisional results are as follows:

  • for general elections from 1901 to 1969, and for by-elections prior to 1994 – the Psephos website
  • for general elections from 1972 to 1990 – the relevant editions of the Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia
  • for general elections from 1993 to present and for by-elections from 1994 to present – the Australian Electoral Commission official results in electronic form (CD for 1993, 1996 and 1998 elections; website for general elections 2001-present and for by-elections 1994-present)

Dataset

[Datasets are not yet published]

  • HoR Election Data 1901-1917
  • HoR Election Data 1919-1946
  • HoR Election Data 1949-1983
  • HoR Election Data 1984-2007
  • HoR Election Data 2001-2016

This dataset includes candidate-level election results for all general elections and all by-elections for seats in the House of Representatives from 1901 to 2016.

The dataset contains the following raw data for each electoral division:

  • the number of persons enrolled
  • the number of persons who voted
  • the number of formal votes cast
  • the number of votes for each significant political party (defined as one with a vote share consistently above 5% in a significant number of divisions at the election or at elections closely preceding or following), and for all independents winning 5% or more of the first preference vote in their division
  • the first preference rank of the candidate winning the seat and (if identifiable) of the runner-up candidate
  • whether a preference distribution was carried out, and if so whether it was a partial distribution (ie: one terminated when a winner was declared) or a full distribution; also (post 1984) whether a special preference distribution between two major party candidates was carried out, even though that distribution was not used in determining the winner of the seat
  • the final vote total for the winner and (if known) the runner-up in each division after any distribution of preferences
  •  the number of candidates who exceeded a tally of 20% of formal votes at any stage in the distribution of preferences
  • the party affiliation of the winner and runner-up.

The information which can be derived from the above data includes the following:

  • the average enrolment for all divisions*
  • the variance in the enrolment for each division from the mean enrolment*
  • the total and formal voter participation rates in each division*
  • the informal vote total and rate in each division*
  • the percentage share of the total formal vote of each party and significant independent in each division*
  • the percentage share of total enrolment represented by the vote for each party and significant  independent in each division*
  • the number of candidates who exceeded 10% of the formal vote at the first preference count in each division
  • whether the result in each division was a winner being declared at the first preference count
  • the final vote share for the winner and (if known) the runner up in each division after any distribution of preferences
  • the proportion of the total enrolment that is represented by the winner of the seat on the basis of that candidate’s first preference vote
  • the proportion of the total enrolment that is represented by the winner of the seat on the basis of that candidate’s final vote after any distribution of preferences
  • (* also allowing state and /or national averages to be calculated)

[data completeness – anomalous contests – augmentation]

Alternative analysis

Alternative election result scenarios can be projected using this data, include the following:

  • Plurality voting, either in single- or multi-member divisions
  • STV in regional divisions (optionally, using pre-determined state total seat numbers for those states with two or more divisions, for example as would be required by the current Australian Constitution)
  • STV on a national basis (ie: without divisions) using a common pre-determined quota.

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