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Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia

Home | Elections | Referendums and Plebiscites

Elections

Introduction
Senate Election Results 2004
Commonwealth State and Territory summary
State and Territory candidate details
House of Representatives Election Results 2004
Commonwealth State and Territory summary
Electoral divisions and candidate details
Election dates
Senate vacancies
By-elections
Double dissolutions
Electoral divisions
Members since 1901
Number at elections
Comparative size: area
Comparative size: enrolment
Electoral redistributions
Origins of names

The electoral system

The conduct of Commonwealth elections is determined by the Constitution and by various Acts of the Parliament, in particular the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) administers the legislation governing elections and referendums and conducts Commonwealth parliamentary elections and referendums. Other functions of the AEC include:

  • the administration and maintenance of the electoral rolls
  • enforcement of compulsory enrolment and voting
  • administration of the public funding and disclosure provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, including the registration of candidates and parties, and
  • the provision of advice, information and education on electoral matters.

The AEC site can be found at: www.aec.gov.au

The franchise

Voting in national elections is open to Australian citizens (and British subjects on the electoral roll prior to 25 January 1984) who are aged 18 or over. Registration of eligible voters and voting are both compulsory (Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, ss. 101, 245).

Voting methods

The Alternative Vote (known as Preferential Voting in Australia) is used for House of Representatives elections. The Single Transferable Vote variant of proportional representation is used for Senate elections. For an AEC description of these voting methods, see: www.aec.gov.au/_content/What/voting/voting-hor.htm (House) and www.aec.gov.au/_content/What/voting/voting-senate.htm (Senate).

House of Representatives electorates

The number of electorates in each State and Territory is determined by population. The parliamentary entitlement of a State or Territory is established by the Electoral Commissioner dividing the number of the people of the Commonwealth (that is, of the six States) by twice the number of State Senators. The population of each State and Territory is then divided by this quota to determine the number of members to which each State and Territory is entitled. All original States are guaranteed at least five members, and the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are both guaranteed at least one member.

House of Representatives redistributions

To ensure equality of representation within each State and Territory, the boundaries of these electorates must be redrawn periodically. A redistribution for a State or Territory is necessary when:

  • a State or Territory's parliamentary entitlement has changed due to a change in its population, or
  • in three consecutive months, the number of electors in more than one-third of the electorates in a State (or one of the electorates in a Territory) deviates from the average monthly enrolment by over 10 per cent, or
  • a period of seven years has elapsed since the previous redistribution in a State or Territory.

The drawing of new boundaries for a State or Territory is undertaken by a Redistribution Committee after the striking of an enrolment quota for the State or Territory. Boundaries are drawn so that, as far as practicable, three and a half years after the redistribution, the enrolment in each electoral division does not vary from the State average by more than 3.5 per cent. There were 150 electorates contested in the 2004 election, with the entitlement for each State and Territory as follows:

NSW

Vic.

Qld

WA

SA

Tas.

ACT

NT

50

37

28

15

11

5

2

2

Since 1984 the number of electorates in each of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia has fallen, while the number of electorates in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory has risen.

Qualifications for election to Parliament

Section 163 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 specifies the qualifications for election to the Commonwealth Parliament. It requires candidates to be Australian citizens, aged at least 18 years, and to be an elector entitled to vote, or qualified to become an elector. However, sitting members of either House may not be chosen or sit as a member of the other House. Sitting members of State or Territory parliaments must resign from their respective parliaments if they wish to stand for the Commonwealth Parliament.

Disqualifications for membership of Parliament

Section 44 of the Constitution disqualifies certain people from being chosen or from sitting as a Member or a Senator. These include persons who:

  • are under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power, or a citizen entitled to the rights or privileges of citizens of a foreign power
  • are attainted of treason, those convicted and under sentence or subject to be sentenced for any Commonwealth or State law punishable by imprisonment for one year or longer
  • are undischarged bankrupts or insolvents
  • hold an office of profit under the Crown
  • have direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth.

In recent years there have been a number of challenges to election results on the basis of section 44 (Sykes v. Cleary 1992, Free v. Kelly 1996, Sue v. Hill 1999). To be eligible for nomination as a candidate for the Commonwealth Parliament, a naturalised Australian must not hold dual citizenship, or, if dual citizenship does exist, such a person must renounce the foreign citizenship.

Deposits on nominations

At the time of nomination candidates must pay a deposit of $700 for Senate elections and $350 for House of Representatives elections. These deposits are refunded if a candidate gains 4 per cent or more of the total first preference vote, or is in a group of Senate candidates which polls 4 per cent or more.

Election advertising

There is a three-day ban on electronic advertising prior to the election day.

Public funding and disclosure

If in a Commonwealth election a candidate or group has secured at least 4 per cent of the first preference vote in the division or State or Territory they contested, they become eligible for public funding. Political parties and candidates wishing to participate in public funding must register with the AEC. The amount to be paid is calculated by multiplying the number of primary votes received by a candidate or group by the current election funding rate.

The funding rate for the 2004 Commonwealth election was 194.397 cents per House of Representatives and Senate vote. This rate is revised every six months to keep it in line with the Consumer Price Index. The AEC is required to calculate candidates' and groups' funding entitlements on the twentieth day after polling day. The total election funding paid after the 2004 Commonwealth election was $41 926 158.91.

For a candidate or Senate group endorsed by registered parties, such payments are made directly to the party involved. All registered political parties must submit annual returns to the AEC showing amounts received and expenditure incurred during each financial year and all debts outstanding as at 30 June. Broadcasters and publishers are also required to make returns disclosing election expenditure. For more details see: www.aec.gov.au/_content/how/funding_payments/index.htm

Parliamentary scrutiny of elections

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters holds inquiries into the conduct of each election, as well as conducting inquiries into specific electoral questions from time to time. The reports of this committee, as well as the publications of the AEC, provide extensive information about the Commonwealth electoral system, elections and referendums. Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters reports can be read at: www.aec.gov.au/_content/why/committee/jscem/

2004 election

The timetable for the election was:

Issue of writs

31.08.04

Close of rolls, at 8 pm

7.09.04

Close of nominations, at 12 noon

16.09.04

Polling day

9.10.04

Due date for return of writs

8.12.04

House of Representatives

The Liberal–Nationals Coalition led by the Hon. John Howard retained office with an increased majority:

LIB

NP

CLP

ALP

IND

74

12

1

60

3

Senate

The Liberal–Nationals Government gained control of the Senate from 1 July 2005, the first time a government had achieved this since 30 June 1981. Seats won were:

Elected 2004

Full Senate from 1.7.05

Liberal Party

17

33

The Nationals

3

5

Country Liberal Party

1

1

Australian Labor Party

16

28

Australian Democrats

-

4

Australian Greens

2

4

Family First Party

1

1

Total

40

76

The first meeting of the 41st Parliament was on 16 November 2004.

Next election

The 41st Parliament expires on 15 November 2007. The next House of Representatives election must be held on a Saturday, not more than 68 days after the expiry, that is by 19 January 2008.

Although the election of Senators whose terms expire on 30 June 2008 must be held between 1 July 2007 and 30 June 2008, the requirements of counting mean that realistically the last possible date for a half-Senate election is 24 May 2008.

A simultaneous election of the Houses can be held no later than 19 January 2008.

For details, see R Lundie, Timetable for the next Australian elections, DPL Research Note 4, 2005–06 at: www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rn/2005-06/06rn04.htm

Selected election statistics

 

1990

1993

1996

1998

2001

2004

Enrolment

10 728 435

11 384 638

11 740 568

12 154 050

12 708 837

13 098 461

Senate:

Total votes

10 278 943

10 954 258

11 294 479

11 587 365

12 098 490

12 420 019

Turnout (%)

95.8

96.2

96.2

95.3

95.2

94.8

Informal (%)

3.4

2.5

3.5

3.2

3.9

3.8

House of Representatives:

Total votes

10 225 800

10 900 861

11 244 017

11 545 201

12 054 665

12 354 983

Turnout (%)

95.3

95.8

95.8

95.0

94.9

94.3

Informal (%)

3.2

3.0

3.2

3.8

4.8

5.2

Election costs:

Running cost ($m)

42.584

49.069

59.252

61.737

67.271

75.338

Public funding ($m)

12.994

14.980

32.155

33.921

38.559

41.926

Total cost ($m)

55.478

64.049

91.407

95.658

105.830

117.264

Cost per elector:

Without public funding ($)

3.97

4.31

5.05

5.08

5.29

5.79

With public
funding ($)

5.17

5.63

7.79

7.87

8.33

8.95

Source: Australian Electoral Commission

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