ID 0766

Commonwealth Parliament, Senate election

Election of 9 December 1961

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

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Election held on 9 December 1961
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   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 tan 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.

Elections 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 results in the Senate election also entailed losses for the Menzies government; the two additional seats won by the Australian Labor Party 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.


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.