ID 0750

Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election

Election of 5 May 1917

Show only vote and seat summary details

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General election for the Senate
Commonwealth of Australia
Date of election
5 May 1917
Type of Senate election
Half Senate with House of Representatives

Government in office at Senate election

Prime Minister in office at date of Senate election. (check notes to Senate national summary table to see if change of Prime Minister since previous election)
Prime Minister's party affiliation
Nationalist Party
Government majority in Senate at date of election
Change of government
Government majority in new Senate
If coalition, coalition partner(s)

Senate enrolment and voting

Total number of voters on the roll
Total ballots cast (may differ from number of votes in multiple voting systems)
Turnout (rate of voting in contested seats)
Total valid votes
Rate of informal (invalid) voting
Not applicable

Electoral composition of the Senate for this election

Total number of seats in the Senate
Total number of seats for each state
Number of seats for each territory
Seats to be filled at this Senate election
Casual vacancies/additional seats included in seats to be filled
Electoral System
Adult franchise at 21 years; multimember districts; first past the post (plurality) voting with multiple votes (block voting)

Senate votes and seats won, and seats held, national summary

Display Chart

Election held on 5 May 1917
Criteria for the inclusion of parties in this table are set out in the Glossary under 'listed party'

* to view table drag left or right.
Party Name First preference vote n First preference vote share % Change from previous election % Seats won by ticket n Seats won by ticket % Seats won by party n Seats won by party % Seats held by party n Seats held by party %
Nationalist Party (Nationalists)  3,516,354  55.37  18  100.00  18  100.00  24  66.67 
Australian Labor Party   2,776,648  43.72  -8.44        12  33.33 
Socialist Party (NSW)  32,692  0.51           
Independents  24,676  0.39  +0.33           
Votes for other than listed parties 0 0.00 0.00             
Totals 6,350,370  100.00    18  100.00  18  100.00  36  100.00 

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* Party did not contest previous election or did not meet criteria for listing, or contested previous election under a different party name.


This election in 1917 was a regular election for half the members of the Senate held at the same time as a general election for the House of Representatives; see terms of senators. The 1917 House of Representatives results can be seen here.

As a wartime measure, the government had attempted to extend the life of parliament. When this failed to pass the Senate and to ensure that House and Senate elections occurred at the same time, the government called this general election for the House of Representatives and a half-Senate election (note section 13 (amended) of the Constitution, and see terms of senators).

In the table above, see the Glossary distinctions between Seats won by ticket and Seats won by party, and between Seats won by party and Seats held by party.

Electoral system: The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902 (No.19 of 1902) provided for plurality (first past the post) voting in each state as a multimember electoral district for the selection of senators. Section 150 provided that each voter was required to cast as many votes as there were vacancies to be filled (block voting), selecting three candidates for half Senate elections (more if there were casual vacancies). The multiple voting system for the election of of senators from 1903 to 1917 meant that the number of valid votes was much larger than the number of ballot papers cast. This voting system precludes the usual calculation of the informal (invalid) vote for these elections in the table above.

Ballot design: The design of the Senate ballot paper for the election of senators from each state was set out in Form O of the Electoral Act (Section 131). Candidates were ranked in a single list in alphabetical order of surname; no party affiliation or additional information about candidates was provided unless there were two candidates with the same name and then a geographical location was provided to distinguish them.

Parties: The issue of conscripting soldiers for service overseas divided the country and led to bitter divisions within the governing Australia Labor Party. The government of Prime Minister Hughes, who had become prime minister in October 1915, held referendums in 1916 and 1917 seeking popular endorsement for conscription, both of which narrowly failed to win national majority support. During this period, the parliamentary Labor Party split, with Prime Minister Hughes and those members who supported conscription leaving the Labor Party and Hughes being maintained in office as prime minister with Liberal Party support.

Nationalist Party: By the time of this election in 1917, Hughes and his supporters had joined with Liberal Party members to form a new party grouping, the Nationalist Party.

References: An extended coverage of government and politics in this period can be found in Ernest Scott, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, volume XI, Australia during the War, (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1936), chapter X, online here [accessed 30 May 2020].

For general reference on the Senate, see: J.R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, 5th edition (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1976); a more recent version is online here [accessed 20 May 2020]; and note Stanley Bach, Platypus and Parliament: The Australian Senate in Theory and Practice (Canberra: Department of the Senate, 2003), online here [accessed 21 May 2020].


Colin A Hughes and B D Graham, A Handbook of Australian Government and Politics 1890-1964, (Canberra; Australian National University Press, 1968 SBN 708112700); Commonwealth Parliament, Department of the Senate.