1931 Australian federal election

The 1931 Australian federal election was held in Australia on 19 December 1931. All 75 seats in the House of Representatives and 18 of the 36 seats in the Senate were up for election.

1931 Australian federal election

← 1929 19 December 1931 1934 →

All 75 seats of the House of Representatives
38 seats were needed for a majority in the House
18 (of the 36) seats of the Senate
  First party Second party Third party
  Joseph Lyons 1932-01 (cropped).jpg Earle Page 1931 (cropped).jpg Portrait of James H. Scullin (cropped).jpg
Leader Joseph Lyons Earle Page James Scullin
Party United Australia Country Labor
Leader since 7 May 1931 5 April 1921 26 April 1928
Leader's seat Wilmot (Tas.) Cowper (NSW) Yarra (Vic.)
Last election 14 seats 10 seats 46 seats
Seats won 39 seats[a] 16 seats 14 seats
Seat change Increase25 Increase6 Decrease32
Popular vote 1,155,809 388,544 860,260
Percentage 36.4% 12.2% 27.1%

  Fourth party Fifth party
  Transparent.png JackLang.jpg
Leader No federal leader Jack Lang
Party Emergency Committee Labor (NSW)
Leader since N/A 31 July 1923
Leader's seat N/A Did not run
Last election New party New party
Seats won 6[a] 4
Seat change Increase6 Increase4
Popular vote 174,288 335,309
Percentage 5.5% 10.6%

Australia 1931 federal election.png
Popular vote by state with graphs indicating the number of seats won. Seat totals are not determined by popular vote by state but instead via results in each electorate.

Prime Minister before election

James Scullin

Subsequent Prime Minister

Joseph Lyons
United Australia

The incumbent first-term Australian Labor Party (ALP) government led by Prime Minister James Scullin was defeated in a landslide by the United Australia Party (UAP) led by Joseph Lyons. To date, this is the last time that a sitting government at federal level has been defeated after a single term.

The election was held at a time of great social and political upheaval, coming at the peak of the Great Depression in Australia. The UAP had only been formed a few months before the election, when Lyons and a few ALP dissidents joined forces with the Nationalist Party and the Australian Party. Although it was dominated by former Nationalists, Lyons became the merged party's leader, with Nationalist leader John Latham as his deputy.

Scullin's position eroded further when five left-wing Labor MPs from New South Wales who supported NSW Premier Jack Lang broke away and moved to the crossbenches in protest of Scullin's economic policy, reducing Scullin to a minority government. Late in 1931, they supported a UAP no-confidence motion and brought down the government. The two Labor factions were decimated; massive vote-splitting left them with only 18 seats between them (14 for the official ALP and four for the Langites).

Prior to the election, it was assumed that the Country Party, led by Earle Page, would hold the balance of power, and Page tentatively agreed to support the UAP if that were the case. The two parties campaigned separately and stood candidates against each other in the House of Representatives, but ran joint tickets in Senate. However, the UAP came up four seats short of a majority. The five MPs from the Emergency Committee of South Australia, which contested the election in that state in place of the UAP and Country Party, joined the UAP party room, giving the UAP enough numbers to form a majority government by two seats. Page was still willing to form a coalition with the Country Party, but negotiations broke down and Lyons decided the UAP would govern by itself. As a result, the First Lyons Ministry was composed solely of UAP members.[1]

Labor spent the next 10 years in opposition; it did not return to power until 1941.


The election was dominated by the Great Depression in Australia, which was at its height. As the Labor Government had come to office two days before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, it was seen as being responsible for many of the economic and social problems Australia faced, which sparked the historic Australian Labor Party split of 1931 in which Lyons and four other Labor dissidents crossed the floor to the opposition, ultimately merging into the UAP. Although the UAP was seen as an upper- and middle-class conservative party, the presence of ex-Labor MPs allowed the party to project an image of national unity.

By the time the writs were issued, official Labor and Lang Labor were in open warfare, making a UAP victory all but certain. Due to the massive vote splitting brought on by a large number of three-cornered contests, Labor tallied its lowest primary vote since Federation, while the two Labor factions, official Labor and Lang Labor, won only 18 seats between them, with official Labor losing a record 32 seats on a massive 15.2% swing to the UAP.

The two Labor factions would not reunite until 1936.


House of RepresentativesEdit

(IRV) — 1931–34 —Turnout 95.04% (CV) — Informal 3.48%
Leader Party Votes Seats
Total %
Joseph Lyons United Australia Party UAP 1,155,809 36.4 34[a]
Earle Page Country CP 388,544 12.2 16
James Scullin Labor ALP 860,260 27.1 15
N/A Emergency Committee ECSA 174,288 5.5 6[a]
Jack Lang Labor (NSW) L(NSW) 335,309 10.6 4
Jack Miles Communist CPA 8,511 0.3 0
N/A Independent 260,786 6 1
N/A Other 136,150 4.3 1
Total 3,287,992 100.00 76
Valid votes 3,173,515 96.52
Informal ballots 114,477 3.5
Turnout 3,287,992 90
Registered voters 3,652,196


Senate (P BV) — 1931–34—Turnout 95.02% (CV) — Informal 9.60%
Party Votes % Swing Seats won Seats held Change
  UAP/Country (Joint Ticket) 945,741 30.16 * 6
  Australian Labor Party 917,218 29.25 −19.70 3 10 +3
  United Australia Party 791,870 25.26 −14.02 9 21 −3
  Australian Labor Party (NSW) 379,870 12.12 * 0 0 0
  Communist Party of Australia 29,443 0.94 * 0 0 0
  Country Party * * −11.18 0 5 0
  Independents 71,181 2.27 +1.68 0 0 0
  Total 3,135,323     18 36

Results by constituencyEdit

Constituency Total
Seats won
New South Wales 3 2 1
Victoria 3 3
Queensland 3 3
Western Australia 3 2 1
South Australia 3 2 1
Tasmania 3 3
Total 18 12 3 3

Seats changing handsEdit

Seat Pre-1931 Swing Post-1931
Party Member Margin Margin Member Party
Adelaide, SA   Labor George Edwin Yates 11.4 21.0 9.6 Fred Stacey Emergency Committee  
Angas, SA   Labor Moses Gabb 4.7 31.5 26.8 Moses Gabb Ind. Emergency Committee[a]  
Ballaarat, Vic   Labor Charles McGrath 7.4 20.7 13.3 Charles McGrath United Australia  
Barton, NSW   Labor James Tully 17.6 20.8 3.2 Albert Lane United Australia  
Bass, Tas   Labor Allan Guy 10.4 24.9 14.5 Allan Guy United Australia  
Batman, Vic   Labor Frank Brennan 25.8 26.6 0.8 Samuel Dennis United Australia  
Bendigo, Vic   Labor Richard Keane 5.1 14.6 9.5 Eric Harrison United Australia  
Boothby, SA   Labor John Price 5.6 29.6 24.0 John Price Emergency Committee  
Brisbane, Qld   United Australia Donald Charles Cameron 2.4 3.1 0.7 George Lawson Labor  
Calare, NSW   Labor George Gibbons 1.6 11.7 10.1 Harold Thorby Country  
Corangamite, Vic   Labor Richard Crouch 2.1 15.0 12.9 William Gibson Country  
Corio, Vic   Labor Arthur Lewis 6.0 16.6 10.6 Richard Casey United Australia  
Dalley, NSW   Labor Ted Theodore N/A 8.9 14.0 Sol Rosevear Labor (NSW)  
Darling Downs, Qld   United Australia Arthur Morgan N/A 17.7 9.8 Littleton Groom Independent  
Denison, Tas   Labor Charles Culley 9.2 14.2 5.0 Arthur Hutchin United Australia  
East Sydney, NSW   Labor (NSW) Eddie Ward 5.7 11.7 1.7 John Clasby United Australia  
Eden-Monaro, NSW   Labor John Cusack 0.1 13.7 13.6 John Perkins United Australia  
Fawkner, Vic   Independent Nationalist George Maxwell N/A 21.7 20.3 George Maxwell United Australia  
Flinders, Vic   Labor Jack Holloway 0.2 18.5 18.3 Stanley Bruce United Australia  
Franklin, Tas   Labor Charles Frost 1.9 13.0 17.9 Archibald Blacklow United Australia  
Fremantle, WA   Labor John Curtin 7.0 13.5 5.5 William Watson United Australia  
Grey, SA   Labor Andrew Lacey 9.6 17.1 7.5 Philip McBride Emergency Committee  
Gwydir, NSW   Labor Lou Cunningham 3.7 13.5 9.8 Aubrey Abbott Country  
Hume, NSW   Labor Parker Moloney 6.6 14.1 7.5 Thomas Collins Country  
Hunter, NSW   Labor Rowley James 100.0 57.2 7.2 Rowley James Labor (NSW)  
Indi, Vic   Labor Paul Jones 1.4 14.4 13.0 William Hutchinson United Australia  
Lang, NSW   Labor William Long 16.2 20.4 4.2 Dick Dein United Australia  
Macquarie, NSW   Labor Ben Chifley 15.6 16.2 0.6 John Lawson United Australia  
Maribyrnong, Vic   Labor James Fenton 23.2 23.6 0.4 James Fenton United Australia  
Martin, NSW   Labor John Eldridge 6.4 22.7 16.3 William Holman United Australia  
North Sydney, NSW   Independent Nationalist Billy Hughes 16.1 23.6 7.5 Billy Hughes United Australia  
Oxley, Qld   United Australia James Bayley 0.1 5.9 5.8 Francis Baker Labor  
Parramatta, NSW   Labor Albert Rowe 3.3 19.5 16.2 Frederick Stewart United Australia  
Reid, NSW   Labor Percy Coleman N/A 55.3 5.3 Joe Gander Labor (NSW)  
South Sydney, NSW   Labor Edward Riley 16.3 21.4 5.1 John Jennings United Australia  
Wannon, Vic   Labor John McNeill 2.0 14.3 12.3 Thomas Scholfield United Australia  
Wentworth, NSW   Independent Nationalist Walter Marks 8.3 58.3 15.8 Eric Harrison United Australia  
Werriwa, NSW   Labor Bert Lazzarini 15.4 17.1 1.7 Walter McNicoll Country  
West Sydney, NSW   Labor Jack Beasley 36.5 11.4 15.1 Jack Beasley Labor (NSW)  
Wimmera, Vic   Country Progressive Percy Stewart N/A 21.8 11.8 Hugh McClelland Country  
Wilmot, Tas   Labor Joseph Lyons 2.9 25.0 22.1 Joseph Lyons United Australia  
  • Members listed in italics did not contest their seat at this election.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c d e Labor-turned-Independent MP Moses Gabb was endorsed in the Division of Angas by the Emergency Committee of South Australia (formed by the state UAP for this election) who did not run their own candidate in Angas. Though Gabb is often listed as Emergency Committee, he remained an Independent and did not help form or sit with the government and as such has been removed from government tallies, meaning that though six MPs are listed elected as Emergency Committee candidates, there were only five Emergency Committee MPs.


Further readingEdit

  • Cook, Peter. "Labor and the Premiers' Plan." Labour History (1969): 97–110. in JSTOR
  • Denning, Warren, and Alan Douglas Reid. Caucus crisis: the rise & fall of the Scullin government (Hale & Iremonger, 1982)
  • Head, Brian. "Economic crisis and political legitimacy: the 1931 federal election." Journal of Australian Studies (1978) 2#3 pp: 14-29. online
  • Richardson, Nick. "The 1931 Australian Federal Election—Radio Makes History." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television (2010) 30#3 pp: 377-389. DOI:10.1080/01439685.2010.505037
  • Roberts, Stephen H. "The Crisis in Australia: September, 1930-January, 1932." Pacific Affairs (1932) 5#4 pp: 319-332. in JSTOR
  • Robinson, Geoff. "The Australian class structure and Australian politics 1931-40." APSA 2008: Australasian Political Science Association 2008 Conference. Australasian Political Science Association, 2008. online
  • Robertson, J. R. "Scullin as Prime Minister: seven critical decisions." Labour History (1969): 27–36. in JSTOR
  • Robertson, John. J.H. Scullin: A political biography (University of Western Australia Press, 1974)