ID 0764

Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election

Election of 10 December 1955


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General election for the Senate
Commonwealth of Australia
Date of election
10 December 1955
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
Liberal Party
Government majority in Senate at date of election
Yes
Change of government
No
Government majority in new Senate
No
If coalition, coalition partner(s)
Country Party

Senate enrolment and voting

Total number of voters on the roll
5,581,093
Total ballots cast (may differ from number of votes in multiple voting systems)
4,914,094
Turnout (rate of voting in contested seats)
95.01%
Total valid votes
4,441,025
Rate of informal (invalid) voting
9.63%

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
30
Casual vacancies/additional seats included in seats to be filled
0
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 10 December 1955
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   1,803,335  40.61  -10.01  12  40.00  12  40.00  28  46.67 
Liberal Party - Country Party (joint ticket)  1,748,878  39.38  +12.93  26.67         
Liberal Party  384,732  8.66  -9.32  26.67  13  43.33  24  40.00 
Anti-Communist Labor Party (Democratic Labor Party from 1958)  271,067  6.10  3.33  3.33  3.33 
Communist Party   161,869  3.64  +0.59           
Independents  38,715  0.87  +0.42           
Country Party  27,850  0.63  3.33  13.33  10.00 
Votes for other than listed parties 4,579 0.10 -1.35             
Totals 4,441,025  100.00    30  100.00  30  100.00  60  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.

Notes

This election in 1955 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 1955 House of Representatives results can be seen here.

As a consequence of the April 1951 double dissolution elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Menzies government had chosen to hold a separate half-Senate election in May 1953, and a separate general election for the House of Representatives in May 1954 (see see the notes for the 1953 Senate election). An early election for the House of Representatives in 1955 was called by Menzies '... ostensibly to bring House and Senate elections back on to the same day, to secure a mandate for the Government's economic policies, and to prevent the federal election clashing with several State elections which were likely in mid-1956.' (Hughes and Graham, p.397 in 'Sources', below).

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) 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 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 number of candidates on the ballot paper in each state -- an average of more than a dozen at this Senate election in 1955 -- 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. Notwithstanding these cards, the task of ranking a dozen candidates was too much for many voters and contributed to a high rate of informal (invalid) voting.

Australian Labor Party: Tensions within the Australian Labor Party and the trade union movement over attitudes to Communism and the influence of Communist sympathizers within the Party organization came to a head in 1954, forcing a split in the Party in 1955 and the creation of the Anti-Communist Labor Party (see Murray in 'References', below). In Victoria, the split divided both the Labor Party organization and the Victorian Parliamentary Party, and Victorian members of the Labor Party in the federal parliament.

While the drop in the Labor Party first preference vote a this election in 1955 was 5 percent in the House of Representatives, it was twice this in the Senate resulting in a 13 percent fall in the Senate seats won by the Party. Even so, the seats held by the Labor Party when the new senators took their seats on 1 July 1956 at 28 was only one short of its previous total (see terms of senators).

Anti-Communist Labor Party (Democratic Labor Party from 1958): In addition to fielding candidates in Victoria at these elections in 1955, Anti-Communist Labor candidates ran '... in South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia where similar parties were formed without inducing splits in the local Labor Parties.' (Hughes and Graham, p.397, in 'Sources', below). None of the Party's candidates was elected to the House of Representatives and all the sitting members of the Labor Party in the House who had defected to the Anti-Communist Labor Party lost their seats.

In the Senate, however, the Party ended up with two seats: Frank McManus won a Victorian Senate seat at this Senate election in 1955 for the Anti-Communist Labor Party, and George Cole had been elected to the Senate at the 1953 Senate election with a six year term as a member of the Australian Labor Party from Tasmania, and had defected to the Anti-Communist Labor Party in 1955.

Liberal Party: Prime Minister Menzies had made it clear that divisions within the Australia Labor Party and the emergence of the Anti-Communist Labor Party were major considerations for calling a House of Representatives election a year early together with a Senate election six months before the Senate's fixed term expired. (see Starr, pp 172-173 in 'References', below). This move enabled the Menzies Liberal Party and Country Party coalition government to increase its majority in the House of Representatives but at the cost of losing its majority control of the Senate; see 'A multiparty Senate', below.

Country Party: With support concentrated in rural areas of some states, the Country Party exerted influence through its ability to win House of Representatives seats and make it a necessary component for the formation of anti-Labor governments. In the Senate, the most effective way for the Country Party to gain representation had been through joint tickets with the Liberal Party (see note, below). All Country Party seats won at Senate elections from 1946 to 1953 had been secured in this way.

Inconsistencies between the goals of the two parties and electoral competition for federal seats often generated friction between the two parties in the four states with substantial Country Parties: New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. These inter-party strains were frequently exacerbated by political competition at the state level.

This was the case at the 1955 Senate election where the state branches of the Liberal Party and Country Party in Western Australia were unable to agree on a joint ticket, each party running its own Senate ticket. This situation had sometimes occurred in other states at previous Senate elections but without the Country Party being able to win a seat; at this election in 1955, the Country Party in Western Australia gained enough votes in Western Australian to gain a Senate seat.

Joint tickets: Three states, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, combined Liberal Party and Country Party candidates on joint tickets with the Liberal Party gaining five seats from these tickets and the Country Party three. Even with the eight Liberal seats won on Liberal Party tickets in South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia and the one seat won by the Country Party in Western Australia, the government had only 28 seats and lost its Senate majority when the new senators took their seats on 1 July 1956 (see terms of senators).

A multiparty Senate: Until 1955, the principal effect of the 1949 adoption by the Senate of proportional representation by the single transferable vote method (STV) had been to ensure that the two major party groupings -- the Australian Labor Party and the anti-Labor Liberal and Country parties -- had representation in the Senate that closely reflected their support at Senate elections. With the 1955 emergence of the Anti-Communist Labor Party -- soon to become the Democratic Labor Party -- another aspect of proportional representation came into play. A party able to gain 16.7 percent of the votes (a quota) in a state -- a combination of first preference votes and second or subsequent preferences from other candidates -- would gain a Senate seat (for details, see relevant sections in Odgers (ch. 4 in the online edition), and Bach ch. 3, in 'References', below)

With two Senate seats after the 1955 election, the voting rules in the Senate enabled the Anti-Communist Labor Party to block government legislation if the Party voted with the Australian Labor Party. Sections 17 and 23 of the Constitution established a presiding officer (the President of the Senate) who had a deliberative vote but not a casting vote. With a membership of 60, if a Senate vote was 30 for and 30 against, the motion failed. After the 1955 Senate election, the government parties had 30 seats and the Australian Labor Party 28; the Anti-Communist Labor Party's two seats gave it a potential veto over government motions.

While the Menzies government reacquired control of the Senate after the 1958 election, the example had been set for smaller parties to gain representation the the Senate and, more often than not, to hold the balance of power in the Senate.

References: For a short survey of this Senate election in 1955, see D W Rawson, 'Commonwealth', Australian Political Chronicle, July-December 1955, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 1 (2) May 1956: 245-247 (this publication can be viewed online through Wiley-Blackwell Journals at subscribing libraries).

An account of this election in 1955 can also be found in Robert Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties, pp 273-280, (Melbourne: Cheshire, 1970, ISBN 0701516755); this book provides an authoritative account of Labor Party politics in the 1950s and the emergence of the Democratic Labor Party; see also P L Reynolds, The Democratic Labor Party, pp 1-16 (Milton, Queensland: Jacaranda Press, 1974).

General information on the Liberal Party during this period can be found in Graeme Starr, The Liberal Party of Australia: A Documentary History, ch.4 (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). A study of the broader effect of the Cold War on Australian politics in this period can be found in David Lowe, Menzies and the Great World Struggle: Australia's Cold War 1948-1954, especially ch.4 (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1999 ISBN 0868405531).

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), online here.



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