1974 Australian federal election

The 1974 Australian federal election was held in Australia on 18 May 1974. All 127 seats in the House of Representatives and all 60 seats in the Senate were up for election, due to a double dissolution. The incumbent Labor Party led by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam defeated the opposition Liberal–Country coalition led by Billy Snedden. This marked the first time that a Labor leader won two consecutive elections.

1974 Australian federal election

← 1972 18 May 1974 1975 →

All 127 seats of the House of Representatives
64 seats were needed for a majority in the House
All 60 seats of the Senate
Registered7,897,506 Increase 11.64%
Turnout7,535,768 (95.42%)
(Increase0.04 pp)
  First party Second party
Leader Gough Whitlam Billy Snedden
Party Labor Liberal/Country coalition
Leader since 8 February 1967 5 December 1972
Leader's seat Werriwa (NSW) Bruce (Vic.)
Last election 67 seats 58 seats
Seats won 66 seats 61 seats
Seat change Decrease1 Increase3
Popular vote 3,644,110 3,379,545
Percentage 49.30% 45.73%
Swing Decrease0.29 Increase4.25
TPP 51.70% 48.30%
TPP swing Decrease1.00 Increase1.00

Results by division for the House of Representatives, shaded by winning party's margin of victory.

Prime Minister before election

Gough Whitlam

Subsequent Prime Minister

Gough Whitlam

Prior to the election the voting age had been reduced from 21 to 18 years. The election was held in conjunction with four referendum questions, none of which were carried.

Future Prime Minister John Howard entered parliament at this election. Snedden became the first Liberal Leader not to serve as prime minister.

Background and issues


Gough Whitlam had been an active prime minister since his party's victory in the 1972 election, and his government had pursued many socially progressive reforms and policies over its first term. However, it suffered through the 1973 oil crisis and the 1973–75 recession and received a hostile reception from the coalition/DLP-controlled Senate, with the last Senate election held in 1970.

Following an attempt by Whitlam to create an extra Senate vacancy in Queensland by appointing former Democratic Labor Party (DLP) Leader, Senator Vince Gair, as Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, Snedden announced that the opposition would block the Government's supply bills in the Senate. After a great deal of legalistic argumentation in both houses about the Gair Affair, and justified by the failure of six (non-supply) bills to pass the Senate, Whitlam requested and was granted by Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck a double dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution. The already-announced election date of 18 May was kept. The election focused on Whitlam's first 1+12 years in office and whether the Australian public was willing to continue with his reform agenda.

Electoral system


Members of the House of Representatives were elected one per division (electoral district) using full-preferential instant-runoff voting.

Senators were elected by single transferable vote and proportional representation. In states senators are elected from state-wide six-member districts, and in territories from territory-wide two-member districts. All candidates have to be ranked or the vote is rejected.



House of Representatives results

Government (66)
  Labor (66)

Opposition (61)
  Liberal (40)
  Country (21)
House of Reps (IRV) – 1974–75 – Turnout 95.42% (CV) – Informal 1.92%
Party Votes % Swing Seats Change
  Labor 3,644,110 49.30 −0.29 66 −1
  Liberal–Country coalition 3,379,545 45.73 +4.25 61 +3
  Liberal 2,582,968 34.95 +2.91 40 +2
  Country 736,252 9.96 +0.52 21 +1
  National Alliance  60,325 0.82 +0.82 0 -2
  Australia 172,176 2.33 −0.09 0 0
  Democratic Labor 104,974 1.42 −3.83 0 0
  Liberal Movement 57,817 0.78 +0.78 0 0
  Socialist 1,132 0.02 +0.00 0 0
  Republican 934 0.01 +0.01 0 0
  Communist 539 0.01 –0.11 0 0
  Independents 29,779 0.40 –0.56 0 0
  Total 7,391,006     127 +2
Two-party-preferred (estimated)
  Labor Win 51.70 −1.00 66 −1
  Liberal–Country coalition   48.30 +1.00 61 +3

  • The National Alliance was an electoral alliance of the Country Party and the Democratic Labor Party in Western Australia. It defended two seats that had elected the Country Party in 1972 but lost them both.
Popular vote
Two-party-preferred vote
Parliament seats

Senate results

Government (29)
  Labor (29)

Opposition (29)
  Liberal (23)
  Country (6)

Crossbench (2)
  Liberal Movement (1)
  Independent (1)
Senate (STV) – 1974–75 – Turnout 95.50% (CV) – Informal 10.77%
Party Votes % Swing Seats won Seats held Change
  Labor 3,127,197 47.29 +5.08 29 29 +3
  Liberal–Country coalition 2,901,454 43.88 +5.70 29 29 +3
  Liberal–Country joint ticket 2,298,816 34.77 +15.26 16 * *
  Liberal 516,919 7.82 −9.79 12 23 +2
  National Alliance 55,301 0.84 +0.84 1 * *
  Country 30,418 0.46 –0.60 0 6 +1
  Democratic Labor 235,343 3.56 −7.55 0 0 –5
  Australia 92,107 1.39 −1.51 0 0 0
  Liberal Movement 63,032 0.95 +0.95 1 1 +1
  National Liberal 23,965 0.36 +0.36 0 0 0
  Communist 20,583 0.31 +0.31 0 0 0
  United Christian 3,977 0.06 +0.06 0 0 0
  United Tasmania 2,051 0.03 +0.03 0 0 0
  National Socialist 1,810 0.03 –0.40 0 0 0
  Republican 484 0.01 +0.01 0 0 0
  Social Credit 379 0.01 +0.01 0 0 0
  Independents 140,003 2.12 +0.41 1 1 –2
  Total 6,612,385     60 60
  • The Country Party (CP) contested the elections in Western Australia as the National Alliance (NA), which was a merger of the CP and the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) in that state. The NA won a single Senate seat in WA, its elected representative being Tom Drake-Brockman, who sat with the CP on election to parliament.
  • Independent: Michael Townley (Liberal Party from Feb 1975)

The NSW portion of this vote was telling of the disadvantages of requiring the marking of preferences for all the candidates. NSW voters faced a list of 73 candidate for the state's 12 seats. Twelve percent of Labour voters cast improper votes that were rejected. The final seat was taken by a candidate that received only about one percent of the vote. The result across the country was 29 Liberal/National, 29 Labour and two others holding the balance of power.[1]

Seats changing hands

Seat Pre-1974 Swing Post-1974
Party Member Margin Margin Member Party
Canning, WA   National Alliance John Hallett N/A 26.1 14.3 Mel Bungey Liberal  
Henty, Vic   Liberal Max Fox 0.3 1.8 1.5 Joan Child Labor  
Hume, NSW   Labor Frank Olley 1.9 2.6 0.7 Stephen Lusher Country  
Isaacs, Vic   Liberal David Hamer 1.1 1.7 0.6 Gareth Clayton Labor  
Lilley, Qld   Labor Frank Doyle 0.0 1.0 1.0 Kevin Cairns Liberal  
Mitchell, NSW   Labor Alfred Ashley-Brown 1.2 2.7 1.5 Alan Cadman Liberal  
Moore, WA   National Alliance Don Maisey N/A 1.4 10.5 John Hyde Liberal  
Riverina, NSW   Labor Al Grassby 6.9 7.7 0.8 John Sullivan Country  
Wide Bay, Qld   Labor Brendan Hansen 3.3 6.8 3.5 Clarrie Millar Country  



Election result


The Whitlam government had been re-elected with their majority in the House of Representatives reduced from 9 to 5 seats, while they gained 5 seats in the Senate. The ALP and the coalition each won 29 seats in the 60 member Senate, with the balance of power held by Steele Hall of the Liberal Movement, and Michael Townley, a conservative independent. The Democratic Labor Party, which had been rendered obsolete by the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, lost all five of its Senate seats.[2]

Al Grassby, who was Minister for Immigration in the Labor Whitlam government, lost his seat. Grassby's actions as immigration minister attracted criticism from anti-immigration groups, led by the Immigration Control Association, which targeted his electorate in a campaign at the May 1974 election. Partly as a result, Grassby was defeated by the National Party candidate, John Sullivan, by just 792 votes. Grassby and his supporters accused these groups of mounting a smear campaign against him.[3]

Joint sitting


The re-elected Whitlam government's failure again to gain a majority in the Senate led to the 1974 joint sitting, Australia's only joint sitting, pursuant to section 57 of the Constitution. It was approved by the new governor-general Sir John Kerr after the bills were presented to the new parliament and were rejected a third time. It was held three months after the election, on 6–7 August, and it enabled the six bills that had been thrice rejected by the Senate to be passed. The Health Insurance bills were both passed on party lines, 95–92, the Petroleum and Minerals Authority legislation also passed on party lines, though with one Liberal Party member absent. Liberal Movement Senator Steele Hall supported the three Electoral bills, citing his experience as Liberal Premier of South Australia, where he had fought his own party in an effort to improve unequal electoral arrangements dubbed the Playmander. Northern Territory Country Party MP Sam Calder supported the Territory Senators legislation, though he opposed the ACT being given added representation.[4]

Subsequent changes


In February 1975, the independent senator Michael Townley joined the Liberal party. This gave the Coalition 30 out of 60 Senators, with 29 Labor and 1 Liberal Movement (Steele Hall).

Later in 1975, two Coalition premiers would break longstanding convention in the replacement of two ALP senators. Lionel Murphy, who had resigned to take up an appointment to the High Court, was replaced by independent Cleaver Bunton; and Bertie Milliner, who had died, was replaced by Albert Field, an ALP member who was opposed to Whitlam. Bunton (along with Hall) refused to vote against supply, but Field was prepared to. Field took his seat in the Senate as an Independent on 9 September. Due to a High Court challenge to his appointment, he was on leave from the Senate, unable to exercise a vote, from 1 October 1975, which reduced the number of sitting senators to 59. This gave the Coalition an effective majority, holding 30 of the 59, allowing them to block supply in the Senate to pave the way for the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.

See also



  1. ^ Bowler and Grofman, Elections in Australia, Ireland and Malta, p. 44
  2. ^ Fred Daly, From Curtin to Kerr, 1977, Sun Books, Sydney.
  3. ^ "Whitlam government minister Al Grassby dies". The Sydney Morning Herald. 23 April 2005. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  4. ^ "The 1974 joint sitting of Parliament: Thirty years on". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2007.