ID 0763

Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election

Election of 9 May 1953


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General election for the Senate
Commonwealth of Australia
Date of election
9 May 1953
Type of Senate election
Half Senate without 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
Liberal Party
Government majority in Senate at date of election
Yes
Change of government
No
Government majority in new Senate
Yes
If coalition, coalition partner(s)
Country Party

Senate enrolment and voting

Total number of voters on the roll
5,356,464
Total ballots cast (may differ from number of votes in multiple voting systems)
4,810,964
Turnout (rate of voting in contested seats)
94.93%
Total valid votes
4,591,589
Rate of informal (invalid) voting
4.56%

Electoral composition of the Senate for this election

Total number of seats in the Senate
60
Total number of seats for each state
10
Number of seats for each territory
Seats to be filled at this Senate election
32
Casual vacancies/additional seats included in seats to be filled
2
Electoral System
Adult franchise at 21 years; multimember districts; proportional representation by the single transferable vote method (STV); compulsory preferences; compulsory voting

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

Display Chart

Election held on 9 May 1953
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 %
Australian Labor Party   2,323,968  50.61  +4.74  17  53.13  17  53.13  29  48.33 
Liberal Party - Country Party (joint ticket)  1,214,285  26.45  -17.08  25.00         
Liberal Party  825,653  17.98  +11.81  21.88  13  40.63  26  43.33 
Communist Party   140,073  3.05  +0.94           
Country Party            6.25  8.33 
Votes for other than listed parties 87,610 1.91 -0.40             
Totals 4,591,589  100.00    32  100.00  32  100.00  60  100.00 


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Notes

This election in 1953 was a regular election for half the members of the Senate but, unlike previous Senate elections, it was not held at the same time as a general election for the House of Representatives. As a consequence of the April 1951 double dissolution elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives, the three and six year fixed terms for senators were calculated from the 1 July preceding the double dissolution elections (see terms of senators). This meant that the next Senate election had to be held before 30 June 1953. The Menzies government decided not to hold an early election for the the House of Representatives to ensure Senate and House of Representatives elections were held at the same time (see Senate elections without House of Representatives).

A separate House of Representatives election was held in May 1954 (see House of Representatives election without the Senate); the result of the 1954 election can bee seen here.

At this Senate election in 1953, two additional senators had to be elected to fill casual vacancies in Tasmania and Western Australia; 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: The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1948 (No.17 of 1948) had changed the electoral system for the Senate from preferential block voting to proportional representation by the single transferable vote (STV) method for Senate elections from 1949 (for the details and context of this change, see the notes for the 1949 Senate election).

Ballot design: The move to proportional representation for Senate elections from 1949 did not require any change in the design of ballot papers. Both the previous preferential block voting and the newly adopted proportional representation by the single transferable vote (STV) method required a voter to rank the individual candidates on the ballot in the order of the voter's choice. The electoral systems differed only in the way the ranked order of candidates on each ballot was counted.

This meant that changes made to Senate ballot papers in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1940 (No.19 of 1940) continued to apply. Section 7 of the 1940 Electoral Act enabled candidates who ran in a party grouping on the ballot paper to agree on the order in which their names would be ranked in the group rather than an alphabetical listing (although no party labels were attached to the groups). Those candidates who ran as Independents were listed in an unmarked group at the end of the ballot paper.

Similarly, 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.

Voting continued to be compulsory and voters were required to rank all candidates on the ballot paper for their votes to be valid. The membership of the Senate had been increased from 36 to 60 for the 1949 and subsequent elections, with 5 seats to be elected from each state at half Senate elections (for details and context, see the notes to the 1949 Senate election). The increase in the number of candidates on the ballot paper in each state -- an average of more than a dozen at this Senate election in 1953 -- coupled with the absence of party labels for the party groupings on the ballot, presented voters with a challenging task. Political parties aimed to remedy this by issuing how-to-vote cards to aid their supporters to vote for their chosen party and to encourage them to rank party candidates in the party preferred order.

Liberal Party and Country Party: The Menzies Liberal Party and Country Party coalition government appeared to have little interest in the 1953 Senate election other than as an indication of popular support for the government: the Senate election was seen to lack '... the concentration of policy and interest that a general election [for the House of Representatives] would have involved ...' A W Martin, Robert Menzies: A Life, Volume 2, 1944-1978. p.230, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999, ISBN 0522848648). Senate elections had not yet acquired the importance they were to gain once smaller parties and independents won representation.

Joint tickets: Three states, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, combined Liberal Party and Country Party candidates on joint tickets with the Liberal Party gaining six seats from these tickets but the Country Party only two. When the new senators took their seats on 1 July 1953, the government had had its Senate majority reduced to two (see terms of senators).

Australian Labor Party: In the context of the Korean War, the rise of Communism and the emergence of the Cold War, attempts by the Menzies government to ban the Communist Party in 1951 had exacerbated tensions within the Labor Party between a strongly anti-Communist right wing and a left wing that saw attacks on the Communist Party as a way of weakening trade unions and the Labor Party. These tensions caused organizational problems for the Party in 1953 but did not lead to a formal split until the following year (see Murray in 'References', below).

References: A brief account of this election in 1953 can be found in Robert Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties, pp 144-145, (Melbourne: Cheshire, 1970, ISBN 0701516755); this book also provides an authoritative account of Labor Party politics in the 1950s. For general context on the Liberal Party during this period, see Graeme Starr, The Liberal Party of Australia: A Documentary History, pp 164-166, 188-189, (Richmond, Victoria: Drummond/Heinemann, 1980 ISBN 0858592231), and Scott Prasser, J R Nethercote and John Warhurst (editors), The Menzies Era, (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1995 ISBN 0868066541).

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 Stanley Bach, Platypus and Parliament: The Australian Senate in Theory and Practice (Canberra: Department of the Senate, 2003), online here [accessed 21 May 2020].

Sources

Colin A Hughes and B D Graham, A Handbook of Australian Government and Politics 1890-1964, Canberra; Australian National University Press, 1968 (SBN 708102700); Gerard Newman, Federal Election Results 1949-2001, Canberra: Commonwealth Parliament, Department of the Parliamentary Library, Information and Research Services, Research Paper 9 2001-02, 2002 (ISSN 1328 7478).



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