ID 0755

Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election

Election of 19 December 1931

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

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Election held on 19 December 1931
Criteria for the inclusion of parties in this table are set out in the Glossary under 'listed party'

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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)  945,741  30.16  33.33         
Federal Labor Party  917,218  29.25  16.67  16.67  22.22 
United Australia Party  791,870  25.26  50.00  12  66.67  21  58.33 
State (Lang) Labor Party  379,870  12.12        5.56 
Independents  71,181  2.27  +1.68           
Communist Party   29,443  0.94           
Country Party      -11.18      16.67  13.89 
Votes for other than listed parties 0 0.00 0.00             
Totals 3,135,323  100.00    18  100.00  18  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 1931 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 1931 House of Representatives results can be seen here.

Note that there had been an intervening general election for the House of Representatives alone in October 1929 prompted by the defeat of the Bruce-Page coalition ministry in the House of Representatives over the Maritime Industries bill on 10 September 1929. At the 1929 election, the government was defeated and Prime Minister Bruce lost his seat (see Hughes and Graham, p.15 in 'Sources' below; for more details and context, see Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1901-1929, pp 308-312, (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1956, ISBN 0522840337). From October 1929, Prime Minister Scullin led an Australian Labor Party government until this election late in 1931.

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 the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1919 (No.31 of 1919) with each state being a multimember district. Section 7 provided that, for a valid ballot paper, voters had to rank at least one more than twice as many candidates as there were vacancies to be filled, and could rank more if they wished. This was a form of optional preferential voting; or this half-Senate election in 1931, it meant each voter had to rank at least 7 candidates.

Ballot design: Important changes were made to Senate ballot papers by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1922 (No.14 of 1922). The previous single list of candidates had made it hard for voters to vote for a party ticket unless they knew the surnames of the relevant candidates. In the 1922 Electoral Act, section 4 permitted candidates to be grouped, implicitly by party, although the basis of the grouping was not specified. Candidates within each group were listed alphabetically. Those candidates who ran as Independents were in a separate, unmarked, group at the bottom of the ballot paper.

Section 11 of the 1922 Act stipulated that the groups were to be printed in the order of the average alphabetical value of the surnames in each group (see section 11(c)(i)-(iii) for the method of calculation). The groups were then printed on the ballot paper as groups A, B, C, ... so that the ballot paper looked like the model set out in section 28 Form E. Again, there was no explicit reference to party names so that voters had to rely on election publicity and party how-to-vote cards to find out the party affiliation of the groups.

Parties: The period 1929-1931 was one of internal turmoil for parties across Australia driven, in large part, by disputes over government responses to the Depression. The Australian Labor Party had won a comfortable majority at the 1929 House of Representatives election but was divided over economic policy and hampered by its lack of control of the Senate.

Australian Labor Party: By the time of this election in 1931, the Labor Party had suffered major defections of its parliamentary membership to support the Nationalist Party opposition and bring down the government. In addition, the Labor Party had split with a breakaway group forming the State (Lang) Labor Party who supported the more radical populist policies of Premier Jack Lang of New South Wales. Those who remained loyal to the existing Labor organization campaigned as the Federal Labor Party; note Nick Dyrenfurth and Frank Bongiorno, A Little History of the Australian Labor Party, pp 76-90, (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2011, ISBN 978174223284).

These two organizations competed for the Labor vote at this 1931 federal election with Federal Labor gaining more than double the vote of State (Lang) Labor in both houses of Parliament, and winning the only new Labor seats in the Senate (from Queensland). Of the ten continuing senators who had been elected for the Australian Labor Party in 1928, eight remained with the Federal Labor Party, with two (James Dunn and Arthur Rae) becoming members of the State (Lang) Labor Party.

The United Australia Party: The United Australia Party was formed as the successor to the Nationalist Party under the leadership of Joseph Lyons, a former cabinet minister in the Scullin Labor government, and was successful in mobilizing broad support for a conservative, deflationary, economic response to the Depression. In 1931 the House of Representatives election, the United Australia Party and the Country Party won two-thirds of the of House seats and formed a coalition government led by Lyons. For details and context, see, 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).

Joint tickets: For the Senate election in 1931, the United Australia Party made formal arrangements with the Country Party to run joint tickets in four states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia), winning seats for both parties, two to the UAP and one to the Country Party, in each of three of these states (the three Senate seats in Queensland were won by the Labor Party). With the three Senate seats won by the United Australia Party in Victoria, the coalition government maintained its control of a majority in the Senate.

References: For a survey of the period 1929-1931 in federal politics, see see Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1929-1949, pp 5-31, (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1963, ISBN 522837328).

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.