ID 0766

Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election

Election of 9 December 1961

Show only vote and seat summary details

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General election for the Senate
Commonwealth of Australia
Date of election
9 December 1961
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
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; 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 December 1961
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   2,151,339  44.71  +1.93  14  45.16  14  45.16  28  46.67 
Liberal Party - Country Party (joint ticket)  1,595,696  33.16  +9.79  25.81         
Democratic Labor Party  472,578  9.82  +1.40        1.67 
Liberal Party  398,292  8.28  -12.41  22.58  12  38.71  24  40.00 
Communist Party   78,188  1.62  -1.29           
Independents  46,499  0.97  +0.54  3.23  3.23  1.67 
Country Party  31,090  0.65  -0.50  3.23  12.90  10.00 
Votes for other than listed parties 38,581 0.80 +0.53             
Totals 4,812,263  100.00    31  100.00  31  100.00  60  100.00 

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This election in 1961 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 1961 House of Representatives results can be seen here.

At this Senate election in 1961, an additional senator had to be elected to fill casual a vacancy in South 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) 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 method (STV) 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.

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 17 at this Senate election in 1961 -- 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 all the candidates was too much for many voters and contributed to a high rate of informal (invalid) voting, more than 10 percent of ballots cast at this election in 1961.

Election results: While the Menzies Liberal Party and Country Party coalition government was returned to office, its majority in the House of Representatives after providing the Speaker, was reduced to one seat. This 'surprising' result (see Rawson in 'References', below) cost the coalition parties 15 seats or 20 percent of the support they had had in the previous House.

The result in the Senate election also entailed losses for the Menzies government; the two additional seats won by the Australian Labor Party (one being the casual vacancy), coupled with the election of a Democratic Labor Party and an Independent senator, deprived the governing parties of the Senate majority they had won back at the previous Senate election in 1958. When the new senators took their seats on 1 July 1962 (see terms of senators), there were only 30 senators from the coalition parties of a Senate membership of 60. For government motions to pass, the support of at least one of the minor party or Independent senators was required (see note, below).

Liberal Party, Country Party and 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. In Western Australia, the Country Party continued to run its own ticket, electing one senator.

In the two states without branches of the Country Party, the South Australian Liberal Party won three seats (one filling a vacancy), with the Australian Labor Party's increased electoral support resulting in three seats; in Tasmania the fifth seat was won by an Independent (see note,below).

Democratic Labor Party and Independents: The Democratic Labor Party first preference vote increased to 10 percent at this Senate election but the Party failed to gain any additional senators and lost Senator Frank McManus who was defeated in Victoria. This left Tasmanian Senator George Cole as the Party's only representative in Canberra. For a study of the Democratic Labor Party's performance at Senate elections from 1955 to 1970, see Reynolds, pp 52-56, in 'References', below.

At this Senate election in 1961, R J (Reg) Turnbull was elected as an Independent Senator from Tasmania after a career that included a period as Minister of Health in Tasmanian Labor Party government; for details, see Senate biography [accessed 24 November 2020].

When the new senators took their seats on 1 July 1962 (see terms of senators), these two Tasmanian senators, when voting with the Australian Labor Party senators, could block government legislation in the Senate (see voting in the Senate).

References: A concise account of the 1961 federal election can be found in D W Rawson, 'Commonwealth', Australian Political Chronicle, July-December 1961, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 8 (1) May 1962: 102-106 (this publication can be viewed online through Wiley-Blackwell Journals at subscribing libraries).

Although concerned with a by-election in 1960, Creighton Burns, Parties and People: A Survey Based on the La Trobe Electorate, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1961), provides extensive information on political attitudes in the year before the 1961 Commonwealth general election.

The context of this election from the perspective of developments in the Labor movement is provided by Robert Murray, The Split: Australian Labor in the Fifties, especially pp 351-352, (Melbourne: Cheshire, 1970, ISBN 0701516755); note also P L Reynolds, The Democratic Labor Party, (Milton, Queensland: Jacaranda Press, 1974 ISBN 0701607033), and Keith Richmond, 'Minor Parties in Australia', in Graeme Starr, Keith Richmond and Graham Maddox (editors), Political Parties in Australia, pp 317-374, especially pp 335-344 (Richmond, Victoria: Heinemann, 1978 ISBN 0858591782).

General information on the Liberal Party during this period can be found in Graeme Starr, The Liberal Party of Australia: A Documentary History, 177-182, (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].


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.