1949 Australian federal election

The 1949 Australian federal election was held in Australia on 10 December 1949. All 121 seats in the House of Representatives and 42 of the 60 seats in the Senate were up for election. The incumbent Labor Party, led by Prime Minister Ben Chifley, was defeated by the opposition Liberal–Country coalition under Robert Menzies. Menzies became prime minister for a second time, his first period having ended in 1941. This election marked the end of the 8-year Curtin-Chifley Labor Government that had been in power since 1941 and started the 23-year Liberal/Country Coalition Government. This was the first time the Liberal party won government at the federal level.

1949 Australian federal election

← 1946 10 December 1949 1951 →

All 121 seats of the House of Representatives
61 seats were needed for a majority in the House
42 (of the 60) seats of the Senate
Opinion polls
Registered4,910,789 Increase 3.5%
Turnout4,344,542 (88.7%)
(Increase6 pp)
  First party Second party
  Portrait Menzies 1950s.jpg Benchifley.jpg
Leader Robert Menzies Ben Chifley
Party Liberal (Coalition) Labor
Leader since 21 February 1945 13 July 1945
Leader's seat Kooyong (Vic.) Macquarie (NSW)
Last election 26 seats 43 seats
Seats won 74 seats 47 seats
Seat change Increase48 Increase4
Popular vote 2,314,143 2,117,088
Percentage 51.0% 49.0%
Swing Increase5.10% Decrease5.10%

Australia 1949 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

Ben Chifley

Subsequent Prime Minister

Robert Menzies
Liberal/Country coalition

The number of MPs in both houses had been increased at the election, and single transferable vote under a proportional voting system had been introduced in the Senate. Though Labor lost government, Labor retained a Senate majority at the election. However, this ended at the 1951 election. With the Senate changes in place, Labor has not held a Senate majority since.

Future Prime Ministers William McMahon and John Gorton both entered parliament at this election.


The election hinged on the policies of the Federal Labor Government, especially bank nationalisation. Prime Minister Chifley intended to bring all of the banks under Government control, a socialist policy which the Coalition argued was not in the country's interest. The Coalition promised to end unpopular wartime rationing. The election took place against the background of the 1949 Australian coal strike, the developing Cold War and growing fears of communism.

Robert Menzies broke new ground in using the radio as his primary method of reaching voters.[1]

Electoral reformEdit

As of this election, single transferable vote with proportional representation became the method for electing the Senate. This was to try to prevent the Senate from being dominated by one party, which had often occurred previously. For example, coming into this election the ALP held 33 of the 36 Senate seats, whilst the conservatives at the 1919 election held 35 of the 36 Senate seats. In addition, the House of Representatives was enlarged from 74 to 121 seats and the Senate from 36 to 60 members. All 121 lower house seats, and 42 of the 60 upper house seats, were up for election.

Opinion pollingEdit

Primary vote[a]


House of RepresentativesEdit

  Labor: 47 seats
  Liberal Party: 55 seats
  Country: 19 seats
House of Reps (IRV) — 1949–51—Turnout 95.97% (CV) — Informal 1.99%
Party Votes % Swing Seats Change
  Liberal–Country coalition 2,314,143 50.26 +6.61 74 +45
  Liberal  1,813,794 39.39 +6.44 55 +37
  Country  500,349 10.87 +0.17 19 +8
  Labor 2,117,088 45.98 –3.73 47 +4
  Communist 40,941 0.89 –0.60 0 0
  Lang Labor 32,870 0.71 –0.88 0 –1
  Independents 99,368 2.16 +0.34 0 –1
  Total 4,604,410     121 +47
Two-party-preferred (estimated)
  Liberal–Country coalition Win 51.00 +5.10 74 +45
  Labor 49.00 −5.10 47 +4


Senate (STV) — 1949–51—Turnout 95.97% (CV) — Informal 10.76%
Party Votes % Swing Seats won Seats held Change
  Liberal–Country coalition 2,113,447 50.41 +7.08 23 26 +23
  Liberal–Country joint ticket 1,871,849 44.65 +6.53 16 N/A N/A
  Liberal 241,598 5.76 +0.55 7 21 +19
  Country N/A N/A N/A 0 5 +4
  Labor 1,881,956 44.89 –7.17 19 34 +1
  Communist 87,958 2.10 +2.10 0 0 0
  Protestant People's 37,441 0.89 –2.13 0 0 0
  Independents / ungrouped 71,723 1.71 +1.03 0 0 0
  Total 4,192,525     42 60 +24

Seats changing handsEdit

Seat Pre-1949 Swing Post-1949
Party Member Margin Margin Member Party
Australian Capital Territory, ACT new division 3.8 Lewis Nott Independent  
Ballaarat, Vic   Labor Reg Pollard 3.1 3.1 0.4 Alan Pittard Liberal  
Bass, Tas   Labor Claude Barnard 7.0 6.8 0.6 Bruce Kekwick Liberal  
Blaxland, NSW   Lang Labor notional - new seat N/A 53.4 3.4 Jim Harrison Labor  
Bowman, Qld   Labor notional - new seat N/A 1.4 3.8 Malcolm McColm Liberal  
Corio, Vic   Labor John Dedman 7.2 6.7 0.3 Hubert Opperman Liberal  
Curtin, WA   Labor notional - new seat N/A 13.8 11.2 Paul Hasluck Liberal  
Darling Downs, Qld   Country Arthur Fadden N/A 1.9 12.5 Reginald Swartz Liberal  
Dawson, Qld   Labor notional - new seat N/A 9.8 8.6 Charles Davidson Country  
Denison, Tas   Labor Frank Gaha 7.0 10.9 5.1 Athol Townley Liberal  
Farrer, NSW   Country notional - new seat N/A 58.8 8.8 David Fairbairn Liberal  
Forrest, WA   Labor Nelson Lemmon 2.3 4.4 2.8 Gordon Freeth Liberal  
Gwydir, NSW   Labor William Scully 1.2 9.2 5.1 Thomas Treloar Country  
Hume, NSW   Labor Arthur Fuller 4.2 5.9 1.0 Charles Anderson Country  
Indi, Vic   Country John McEwen N/A 59.7 9.7 William Bostock Liberal  
Kingston, SA   Labor notional - new seat N/A 8.4 1.6 Jim Handby Liberal  
Lawson, NSW   Labor notional - new seat N/A 7.6 5.8 Laurie Failes Country  
Leichhardt, Qld   Labor notional - new seat N/A 9.2 1.7 Tom Gilmore Country  
Lowe, NSW   Labor notional - new seat N/A 9.0 8.5 William McMahon Liberal  
McMillan, Vic   Country notional - new seat N/A 6.1 6.9 Geoffrey Brown Liberal  
McPherson, Qld   Liberal notional - new seat N/A 5.1 24.2 Arthur Fadden Country  
Mitchell, NSW   Labor notional - new seat N/A 12.8 6.9 Roy Wheeler Liberal  
Northern Territory, NT   Independent Adair Blain N/A 8.6 2.7 Jock Nelson Labor  
Paterson, NSW   Labor notional - new seat N/A 8.6 8.5 Allen Fairhall Liberal  
Riverina, NSW   Labor Joe Langtry 0.6 3.8 3.5 Hugh Roberton Country  
Robertson, NSW   Labor Thomas Williams 3.8 11.5 4.2 Roger Dean Liberal  
St George, NSW   Labor notional - new seat N/A 16.2 2.0 Bill Graham Liberal  
Sturt, SA   Labor notional - new seat N/A 8.9 2.8 Keith Wilson Liberal  
Swan, WA   Labor notional N/A 10.2 2.4 Bill Grayden Liberal  
Wannon, Vic   Labor Don McLeod 1.2 3.8 0.8 Dan Mackinnon Liberal  
Wimmera, Vic   Country Winton Turnbull N/A 5.6 14.9 William Lawrence Liberal  
  • Members listed in italics did not contest their seat at this election.


The Chifley Government was defeated, ending the longest period of Labor Federal Government in Australian history up to that date (1941–49). Labor would not return to office until 1972. Robert Menzies became Prime Minister for the second time, and the Liberal Party of Australia won government federally for the first time.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Most of the gallup polls were adjusted to proportion the polls based around the two major party groups (Liberal/Country, Labor). Furthermore, the Country Party was not polled as an individual option but as apart of the Liberal/Country Coalition.


  1. ^ Ian Ward, "The early use of radio for political communication in Australia and Canada: John Henry Austral, Mr Sage and the Man from Mars," Australian Journal of Politics & History (1999) 45#3 pp 311–30. online


  • "Commonwealth Parliament, House of Representatives election 1949". University of Western Australia Australian Politics and Elections Database. Retrieved 13 October 2010.
  • University of WA Archived 18 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine election results in Australia since 1890
  • AEC 2PP vote
  • Prior to 1984 the AEC did not undertake a full distribution of preferences for statistical purposes. The stored ballot papers for the 1983 election were put through this process prior to their destruction. Therefore, the figures from 1983 onwards show the actual result based on full distribution of preferences.
  • Two-party-preferred vote since 1940