ID 0757

Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election

Election of 23 October 1937

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

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Election held on 23 October 1937
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 %
Australian Labor Party   1,699,172  48.48  16  84.21  16  84.21  16  44.44 
United Australia Party - Country Party (joint ticket)  1,005,247  28.68  +10.44           
United Australia Party  565,161  16.13  -4.54  15.79  15.79  16  44.44 
Independents  118,768  3.39  +2.93           
Country Party  66,481  1.90  -12.41      11.11 
Social Credit  49,801  1.42  -1.36           
Votes for other than listed parties 0 0.00 0.00             
Totals 3,504,630  100.00    19  100.00  19  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 1937 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 1937 House of Representatives results can be seen here.

At this Senate election in 1937, an additional senator had to be elected for New South Wales to fill a casual vacancy; 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: 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 of the 1919 Act had introduced a form of optional preferential voting but, from this election in 1934, section 8 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1934 (No.9 of 1934) required voters to rank all candidates on the ballot paper for their votes to be valid (compulsory preferences).

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.

Australian Labor Party: At a special federal conference of the Labor Party in 1936, the breakaway State Labor organization associated with former New South Wales premier Jack Lang was accepted as the legitimate New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party. This enabled the Australian Labor Party to contest the 1937 federal elections as a united party even though factional divisions continued in New South Wales and South Australia.

The first preference vote share and seat share of the Australian Labor Party for the 1937 House of Representatives election were only slightly larger than the combined shares of votes and seats for the Federal Labor Party and the State (Lang) Labor Party at the previous election in 1934 (1937 votes 43.17 percent, seats 39.2 percent; 1934, votes 41.2 percent, seats 37.8 percent).

But, at the Senate election in 1937, the reunited Australian Labor Party increased its national first preference vote share by over 7 percent to 48.5 percent and, thanks to the vagaries of the electoral system for the Senate (see above), its seat share increased from zero to 84.2 percent, winning all the available Senate seats in five of six states. Only in South Australia where factional disputes within the Australian Labor Party prompted some former Labor members to run as Independents did the United Australia Party manage to win Senate seats.

Joint tickets: Apart from South Australia, the United Australia Party won no seats even in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia where it ran joint tickets with the Country Party.

Country Party: When the newly elected senators took their seats in July 1938 (see terms of senators), both the Labor Party and the United Australia Party held 16 seats in the Senate, the balance of power in the Senate being held by the Country Party. Strains within the United Australia Party and Country Party coalition government gave the Labor Party some opportunities to work with the Country Party to modify government legislation.

References: For a survey of party politics during 1937, see Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1929-1949, pp 97-100, (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1963, ISBN 522837328), and note 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).

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.