ID 1049

Parliament of New South Wales Legislative Council election

Election of 7 October 1978

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Election for the Legislative Council
New South Wales
Date of election
7 October 1978
Type of Legislative Council election
First election for the transition to directly elected Legislative Council (see notes)
Related or previous Assembly election

Government support in Legislative Council at and after election

Government majority in Legislative Council at date of election
Government majority in new Legislative Council

Composition of the Legislative Council and seats to be filled at this election

Total number of seats in the Legislative Council
If the Legislative Council has staggered terms, the number of seats to be filled at this election
Casual vacancies (by-elections) and additional seats to be filled at this election (see notes)
Not applicable
Total seats to be filled at this election

Enrolment and voting

Total number of voters on the roll
Number of uncontested seats
If uncontested seats, number of voters on the roll in uncontested seats
Not applicable
Number of voters on the roll in contested seats
Total number of candidates
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
Informal (invalid) ballots in multiple voting system
Not applicable
Electoral system
Adult franchise (at 18 years), statewide (at large) voting with a third of the seats to be elected at each election, proportional representation by STV, optional preferences (but a minimum of 10 preferences to be indicated), compulsory voting (see notes)

New South Wales, Legislative Council votes and seats won, and seats held

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Elections held in 7 October 1978
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 Candidates n First preference vote n First preference vote share % Change from previous election % Seats won by party n Seats won by party % Seats held by party n Seats held by party %
Australian Labor Party  10  1,508,078  54.91  60.00  23  53.49 
Liberal Party - National Country Party (joint ticket)  10  996,463  36.28  40.00     
Communist Party  79,794  2.91       
Australian Democrats  10  76,369  2.78       
Family Action Movement  36,076  1.31       
Marijuana Party  25,055  0.91       
Independents  24,786  0.90       
Liberal Party              14  32.56 
National Country Party              13.95 
Totals 46  2,746,621  100.00    15  100.00  43  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.


History of the Legislative Council: The Legislative Council began as a body set up in 1824 to advise the Governor of New South Wales and to participate in the framing of legislation. When New South Wales achieved responsible government in 1856, the Council became the upper house of a bicameral legislature, the lower house being the Legislative Assembly. While the Legislative Assembly was an elected body, the Legislative Council was made of up members appointed by the governor on the advice of the premier until 1934. From 1934 until 1978, the 60 members of the Legislative Council were indirectly elected for staggered twelve year terms (a quarter of the members retiring every three years) by the members of the Legislative Assembly and the non-retiring members of the Legislative Council using a system of proportional representation. Since 1978, the members Legislative Council have been directly elected by proportional representation using the single transferable vote method at statewide elections held at the same time as general elections for the Legislative Assembly. A comprehensive study of the history and operation of the Legislative Council can be found in Clune and Griffith (see, 'References', below); for a very brief history of the composition of the Legislative Council, see Green, pp. 3-4 (see 'Sources', below).

Referendum on Legislative Council Reform: On 17 June 1978, the electors in New South Wales were asked to approve a bill for the direct election of members of the Legislative Council (members had been chosen by indirect election since 1934). The referendum passed with 2,251,336 votes in favour of the proposal and 403,313 against; see Twomey, p. 319, and Clune and Griffith, pp. 503-515, (see 'References', below). For a brief survey of the changes, see Bennett, pp. 159-161 (see 'References', below).

Electoral system: The reform proposals agreed to in 1978 stipulated that the Legislative Council was to be reduced from 60 indirectly elected members to 45 directly elected members over three elections. Under transitional arrangements, 32 of the indirectly elected members retired at the 1978 election to be replaced by 15 new elected members, making a total membership of 43 after the 1978 election; of the remaining 28 indirectly elected members, 14 would retire at the 1981 election and 14 at the 1984 election to bring the Council to its full complement of 45 members. Members were elected for three Legislative Assembly terms (a maximum of 9 years), a third of membership retiring every Legislative Council election which was to be held at the same time as general elections for the Assembly. The state was one electoral district (see at large election) and members would be elected using proportional representation by the single transferable vote method (STV) with optional preferences above a minimum of 10 ranked candidates; see Bennett, p. 159, Clune and Griffith, pp. 503-515, and Twomey, pp. 346-350, (see 'References', below), and Green (in 'Sources', below)

Parties: As this was the first election for the Legislative Council, the parties as well as the electors were adjusting to the new electoral forum and its rules. Only candidates from the two large party groupings—the Australian Labor Party and the joint ticket of the Liberal and National Country parties—won seats at the 1978 election; see Bennett, pp. 174-175, (see 'References', below).

Liberal and National County parties: As with Senate contests in New South Wales, the Liberal Party and the National Country Party ran a joint ticket for the Legislative Council election, combining candidates from both parties; see seats won by ticket, seats won by party, and seats held by party.

Communist Party: Aided by its position on top of the ballot paper, and associated with well know activitst Jack Mundey, the party won more votes than any other minor party and a larger vote share than it had won at any New South Wales Legislative Assembly general election since it had been contesting Assembly elections in 1925.

Australian Democrats: The Australian Democrats emerged as a centre party immediately preceding the 1977 federal election to capture the support of voters who were dissatisfied with both the Labor and Liberal parties; see Rodney Smith, 'The Australian Democrats in NSW Politics', pp. 213- 233, in John Warhurst (editor), Keeping the Bastards Honest: The Australian Democrats' First Twenty Years, (St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1997, ISBN 1864484209).

Family Action Movement, Call to Australia: This was the political manifestation of the officially non-partisan Festival of Light, which stressed Christian family values. This party grouping was reconstituted as 'Call to Australia' for the Legislative Council election in 1981.

Marijuana Party This party campaigned for the legalization of marijuana.

Independents: The votes for Independents at this election shown in the table above are the votes for the two Independent candidates who formed an 'Independent Team' group (14,033 votes), and the votes for 7 other candidates who ran without party or group affiliation in the ungrouped category on the ballot paper (10,753 votes).

References: A comprehensive study of the Legislative Council's history and operation can be found in David Clune and Gareth Griffith, Decision and Deliberation: The Parliament of New South Wales 1856-2003, (Sydney: Federation Press, 2006, ISBN 186287591X), and Anne Twomey, The Constitution of New South Wales, (Sydney: Federation Press, 2004, ISBN 1862875162). Note also, Ken Turner, House of Review: The New South Wales Legislative Council, 1934-68, (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1969, SBN 424059401).

A concise study of the political negotiations that led to the reform of the Legislative Council can be found in David Clune, Connecting with the People: The 1978 Reconstruction of the Legislative Council, Part Two of the Legislative Council's Oral History Project, Legislative Council of NSW History Monographs (Sydney: Parliament of New South Wales, 2017, ISBN 9781922258298), online here.

For a survey of this election and the preceding period, see Scott Bennett, '1978', in Michael Hogan and David Clune (editors), The People's Choice: Electoral Politics in 20th Century New South Wales, vol. 3 (1968-1999), pp. 147-179, and particularly pp. 159-161, (Sydney: Parliament of New South Wales and University of Sydney, 2001, ISBN 0909907412).


Antony Green, Electing the New South Wales Legislative Council 1978 to 1995: Past Results and Future Prospects, (Sydney: New South Wales Parliamentary Library, Background Paper No. 1995/2, ISSN 8017-3796; ISBN 724095686); Colin A Hughes, A Handbook of Australian Government and Politics 1975-1984, pp. 192-193, (Rushcutters Bay, NSW: Australian National University Press, 1986, ISBN 008033038X).