ID 0758

Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election

Election of 21 September 1940

Show only vote and seat summary details

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General election for the Senate
Commonwealth of Australia
Date of election
21 September 1940
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
United Australia Party
Government majority in Senate at date of election
Change of government
Government majority in new Senate
If coalition, coalition partner(s)
Country Party

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

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; preferential voting (AV); compulsory preferences; compulsory voting

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

Display Chart

Election held on 21 September 1940
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 %
United Australia Party - Country Party (joint ticket)  1,587,541  43.70  +15.02  10  52.63         
Australian Labor Party   1,363,072  37.52  -10.96  15.79  15.79  17  47.22 
Non-Communist Labor Party (NSW)  274,861  7.57           
United Australia Party  243,597  6.71  -9.42  31.58  13  68.42  15  41.67 
Independents  71,760  1.98  -1.41           
State Labor Party (NSW)  70,091  1.93           
Country Party      -1.90      15.79  11.11 
Votes for other than listed parties 21,895 0.60 +0.60             
Totals 3,632,817  100.00    19  100.00  19  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 1940 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 1940 House of Representatives results can be seen here.

At this Senate election in 1940, an additional senator had to be elected for Victoria to fill a casual vacancy; note Narelle Miragliotta & Campbell Sharman, 'Managing Midterm Vacancies: Institutional Design and Partisan Strategy in the Australian Parliament 1901–2013', Australian Journal of Political Science, 52(3) 2017: 351-366.

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: A preferental voting system had been adopted for Senate elections since 1919 under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1919 (No.31 of 1919) with each state being a multimember district with a form of optional preferential voting. From the 1934 Senate election, section 8 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1934 (No.9 of 1934) required voters to rank all candidates on the ballot paper for their votes to be valid (compulsory preferences).

Ballot design: Two important changes were made to Senate ballot papers in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1940 (No.19 of 1940). Since the 1922 Electoral Act, candidates had already been grouped by party on Senate ballot papers (although no party labels were attached to the groups) but the order of names within each group was by alphabetical order of surname. Section 7 of the 1940 Electoral Act enabled the candidates within a party group to agree on the order in which their names would be ranked in the group. Those candidates who ran as Independents would continue to be listed in an unmarked group at the end of the ballot paper.

The second change dealt with the placing of the party groups on the Senate ballot paper which, under the 1922 Electoral Act (section 11), had been ranked on the ballot by an alphabetically based formula. Under section 17(b) of the 1940 Act, the placing of the groups was decided by lot organized by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer in each state. Section 17(c) applied the same process to decide the order of any Independent candidates within their unmarked group.

In addition, the groups of candidates were arranged horizontally on the ballot paper rather than vertically so that the ballot followed the model set out in Form E in the Act. This general ballot paper format continued to be used for all the Senate elections that follow in this Database.

Both these changes to the design of Senate ballot papers were consistent with the aim of party organizations to make it easier for voters to vote for their preferred party under an electoral system that required the voter to rank a large number of names without the benefit of the candidates having party labels. At the same time, the ability to rank candidates within party groups enabled party organizations to give their preferred candidates the best chance of being elected.

United Australia Party and Country Party: Prime Minister Lyons died on 7 April 1939 and, after a three week interim government led by Country Party leader Earle Page, Robert Menzies was chosen as leader of the United Australia Party and commissioned as Prime Minister on 26 April 1939. Tensions within and between the coalition government led the Country Party to withdraw from the coalition, leaving Menzies as Prime Minister of a United Australian Party minority government.

Five months later in September 1939, Australia declared war on Germany. By March 1940, a change in the leadership of the Country Party contributed to a renewed coalition agreement and, on 14 March 1940, Menzies was commissioned as Prime Minister of a United Australia Party and Country Party coalition government. The mobilization of Australia to support of the British war effort became the major focus of the government during the campaign for the September 1940 election.

At the 1940 House of Representatives election, neither the governing coalition parties led by Menzies, nor the Australian Labor Party led by John Curtin won a majority of seats. Menzies remained in office as leader of a minority coalition government with the support of two independent minded MHAs; Arthur Coles elected as an Independent from the electoral district of Henty, and Alexander Wilson elected as a member of the breakaway Victorian United Country Party from the electoral district of Wimmera.

Joint tickets: In the Senate, the United Australia Party ran joint tickets with the Country Party in four states (New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia). The coalition parties won 50 percent of the national first preference Senate vote and won Senate seats from all states except New South Wales (see following note). In the other three states with joint tickets, the successful candidates were divided two to the United Australia Party and one to the Country Party in Queensland and Western Australia, and three to one in Victoria where an additional Senate seat was required to fill a vacancy.

Australian Labor Party: The Labor Party continued to suffer from electoral competition from dissident left-wing groups at the 1940 House of Representatives election. This was particularly the case in New South Wales where the Non-Communist Labor Party (an organization involved with former New South Wales Premier Lang) gained a substantial share of the state's the first preference votes. But, under the preferential voting system for the Senate (see notes above), the flow of preferences from these groups favoured the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales rather than the coalition parties and the Labor Party managed to win the state's three Senate seas.

References: For a survey of party politics during the period 1939-1940, see Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1929-1949, pp 102-104, 123-127, (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1963, ISBN 522837328), and Paul Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939-1941, paticularly pp 203-210, 264-279, 491-523, (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1952) also online here [accessed 1 July 2020]. Note also Clem Lloyd, 'The Rise and Fall of the United Australia Party', in J R Nethercote (editor), Liberalism and the Australian Federation, pp 134-162, (Sydney: Federation Press, 2001, ISBN 1862874026).

For general Senate reference, 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.