1903 Australian federal election

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1903 Australian federal election
Flag of Australia (1903-1908).svg
  1901 16 December 1903 (1903-12-16) 1906  

All 75 seats in the House of Representatives
38 seats were needed for a majority in the House
19 (of the 36) seats in the Senate
 First partySecond partyThird party
  Alfred Deakin crop.jpg George Reid crop.jpg ChrisWatsonBW crop.jpg
Leader Alfred Deakin George Reid Chris Watson
Party Protectionist Free Trade Labour
Leader since24 September 1903 (1903-09-24)11 May 190120 May 1901
Leader's seat Ballaarat (Vic.) East Sydney (NSW) Bland (NSW)
Last election31 seats28 seats15 seats
Seats won26 seats24 seats22 seats
Seat changeDecrease2.svg5Decrease2.svg4Increase2.svg7
Popular vote214,091247,774223,163

 Fourth party
Leader William McWilliams
Party Revenue Tariff
Leader since1903
Leader's seat Franklin (Tas.)
Last election0 seats
Seats won1 seats
Seat changeIncrease2.svg1
Popular vote3,546


Prime Minister before election

Alfred Deakin

Resulting Prime Minister

Alfred Deakin

The 1903 Australian federal election was held in Australia on 16 December 1903. All 75 seats in the House of Representatives, and 19 of the 36 seats in the Senate were up for election. The incumbent Protectionist Party minority government led by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin retained the most House of Representatives seats of the three parties and retained government with the parliamentary support of the Labour Party led by Chris Watson. The Free Trade Party led by George Reid remained in opposition.


The election outcome saw a finely balanced House of Representatives, with the three parties each holding around a third of seats − the Protectionists on 26 (−5), the Free Traders on 24 (−4) and Labour on 22 (+7). This term of parliament saw no changes in any party leadership but did see very significant and prolonged debates on contentious issues − the Protectionist minority government fell in April 1904 to Labour, while the Labour minority government fell in August 1904 to the Free Traders, while the Free Trader minority government fell in July 1905 back to the Protectionists, which continued until the 1906 election and beyond. The Free Traders remained in opposition throughout this eventful period with the exception of Labour forming the opposition for the first time during the period of the Free Trader minority government. Additionally, the Watson government was the world's first Labour Party government at a national level.

Despite a break in prime ministerships in 1904-05 and 1908–09, this is the first of three consecutive elections in which Deakin was the sitting prime minister.


The wreck of SS Petriana outside Port Phillip Bay in late November prompted the government's handling of the White Australia policy to become a campaign issue. Shipwrecked Asian sailors were denied entry to Australia and forced to stay on a crowded tugboat for several days, leading The Argus , Daily Telegraph and The Sydney Morning Herald to accuse the government of cruelty and harming Australia's international reputation. The Age and The Bulletin sided with the government. The issue was "constantly raised" at election meetings, particularly in Victoria and Tasmania. [1]


Protectionist : 26 seats
Labour: 22 seats
Free Trade: 24 seats
Independent: 2 seats
Revenue Tariff Party: 1 seat Australian House of Representatives, 1903.svg
  Protectionist : 26 seats
  Labour: 22 seats
  Free Trade: 24 seats
  Independent: 2 seats
  Revenue Tariff Party: 1 seat

House of Representatives

House of Reps 1903–06 (FPTP) — Turnout 50.27% (Non-CV) — Informal 2.50%  [2]
Australia House of Representatives 1903.svg
  Free Trade   [lower-alpha 1] 247,77434.37+4.33253
  Labour 223,16330.95+15.2022+7
  Protectionist 214,09129.707.05265
  Revenue Tariff 3,5460.49+0.491+1
  Independents/Other  [lower-alpha 2] 32,3644.4910
 Total  [lower-alpha 3] 720,938  75
 Free Trade Party244
Popular vote
Free Trade
Revenue Tariff
Parliament seats
Free Trade
Revenue Tariff


Senate 1903–06 (FPTP BV) — Turnout 46.86% (Non-CV) — Informal N/A
Australian Senate 1903.svg
PartyVotes%SwingSeats wonSeats heldChange
  Free Trade 986,03034.335.114125
  Labour 784,85927.33+13.831014+6
  Protectionist 503,58617.5327.33383
 Liberal (Qld)136,7274.76+4.76000
  Socialist Labor [6] 69,7692.43+1.41000
  Revenue Tariff 25,3100.88+0.8811+1
  Independent   [lower-alpha 4] 365,85112.7411+1
 Total2,872,132  1936


The election saw the Labour party make significant gains outside New South Wales and Victoria. As a result of Labour's gains, the numbers of the three parties in Parliament were very close to equal, leading to unstable governments. Alfred Deakin would describe it as a parliament of "three elevens" (three cricket teams). Although the Protectionists were able to retain their minority government with the qualified support of the Labour Party, the equal numbers would see a record three changes of government over the course of the Parliamentary term, with each of the three parties holding office at least once during the term of the Parliament.

The three parties that contested the 1901 election also contested the 1903 election, with only the Protectionists changing leaders to Alfred Deakin as a result of Edmund Barton's appointment as an inaugural judge of the newly constituted High Court of Australia. The Free Trade Party was again led by George Reid. The only significant difference in policy between these parties was on trade issues.[ dubious ] The Protectionists sought to protect Australian industry and agriculture by placing tariffs on imports. The Free Traders downgraded the view they had last election of having no tariffs to campaigning on minimal tariffs. The other major party contesting the election was the Labour Party.

This election also saw a minor party, the Tasmanian Revenue Tariff Party gain an MHR and one Senator. Prior to the 1901 election, the Free Trade Party had been known as the Revenue Tariff Party in some states. However, in 1903 a separate Revenue Tariff Party competed against the FTP in Tasmania. Nevertheless, both of the Revenue Tariff Party members elected joined the Free Trade Party, when the new parliament began sitting.

Like the 1901 election, voting was voluntary and candidates were elected by the first-past-the-post system. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 gave women the vote and the right to stand for federal Parliament, leading to a significant increase in the number of votes cast in the 1903 federal election. Four women stood at the 1903 election – Selina Anderson (Dalley) in the House of Representatives and Vida Goldstein (Victoria), Nellie Martel (New South Wales), and Mary Moore-Bentley (New South Wales) in the Senate. [7] All four stood as independents and all were unsuccessful.


Candidates were contesting all 75 House of Representatives and 19 of the 36 Senate seats, a number unchanged from the 1901 election. The House of Representative seats were determined by the population of each state, giving 26 seats to New South Wales, 23 to Victoria, nine to Queensland, seven to South Australia and five to both Western Australia and Tasmania. In 1901, the South Australian and Tasmanian colonial parliaments had not legislated for single member electorates, so their House of Representative members were elected from a single statewide electorate. This had since changed and there were now single member electorates in both states. The newly created seats were Adelaide, Angas, Barker, Boothby, Grey, Hindmarsh and Wakefield (South Australia) and Bass, Darwin, Denison, Franklin and Wilmot (Tasmania).

Each state elected six Senators regardless of population. The Senate was elected by bloc voting rather than the current single transferable vote system. Half the Senators retired as their terms expired, and there was one casual vacancy.

Seats changing hands

Adelaide, SA new division100.0 Charles Kingston Protectionist 
Angas, SA new division100.0 Paddy Glynn Free Trade 
Barker, SA new division100.0 Langdon Bonython Protectionist 
Bass, Tas new division6.7 David Storrer Protectionist 
Boothby, SA new division100.0 Lee Batchelor Labour 
Brisbane, Qld  Protectionist Thomas Macdonald-Paterson Millice Culpin Labour 
Capricornia, Qld  Independent Alexander Paterson David Thomson Labour 
Corangamite, VIC  Protectionist Chester Manifold Gratton Wilson Free Trade 
Cowper, NSW  Protectionist Francis Clarke 2.415.413.0 Henry Lee Free Trade 
Darwin, Tas new division0.7 King O'Malley Labour 
Denison, Tas new division0.2 Philip Fysh Protectionist 
Franklin, Tas new division4.6 William McWilliams Revenue Tariff 
Fremantle, WA  Free Trade Elias Solomon 10.321.611.3 William Carpenter Labour 
Grey, SA new division100.0 Alexander Poynton Labour 
Gwydir, NSW  Protectionist George Cruickshank 12,924.311.4 William Webster Labour 
Hindmarsh, SA new division16.7 James Hutchison Labour 
Hunter, NSW  Protectionist Edmund Barton 100.059.313.3 Frank Liddell Free Trade 
Kalgoorlie, WA  Free Trade John Kirwan 14.130.726.6 Charlie Frazer Labour 
New England, NSW  Protectionist William Sawers Edmund Lonsdale Free Trade 
Riverina, NSW  Protectionist John Chanter Robert Blackwood Free Trade 
Wakefield, SA new division100.0 Frederick Holder   [lower-alpha 1] Free Trade 
Wilmot, Tas new division4.9 Edward Braddon Free Trade 

Post-election pendulum

Protectionist/Labour Coalition
Denison (Tas) Philip Fysh PROT00.2 vs FT
Melbourne (Vic) Malcolm McEacharn PROT00.2 vs LAB
Darwin (Tas) King O'Malley LAB00.7 vs PROT
Wimmera (Vic) Pharez Phillips PROT01.0 vs FT
Bendigo (Vic) John Quick PROT01.1 vs LAB
Bourke (Vic) James Hume Cook PROT01.8 vs LAB
Brisbane (Qld) Millice Culpin LAB02.1 vs PROT
Southern Melbourne (Vic) James Ronald LAB02.1 vs IND
Oxley (Qld) Richard Edwards PROT02.3 vs LAB
Moira (Vic) Thomas Kennedy PROT04.0 vs FT
Corio (Vic) Richard Crouch PROT04.4 vs FT
Boothby (SA) Lee Batchelor LAB04.6 vs FT
Bland (NSW) Chris Watson LAB05.4 vs FT
Fairly safe
Bass (Tas) David Storrer PROT06.7 vs FT
Melbourne Ports (Vic) Samuel Mauger PROT06.8 vs LAB
Herbert (Qld) Fred Bamford LAB07.8 vs PROT
Darling (NSW) William Spence LAB08.2 vs FT
Capricornia (Qld) David Thomson LAB09.6 vs PROT
Hume (NSW) William Lyne PROT10.0 vs FT
Wide Bay (Qld) Andrew Fisher LAB11.2 vs PROT
Fremantle (WA) William Carpenter LAB11.3 vs FT
Gwydir (NSW) William Webster LAB11.4 vs FT
Mernda (Vic) Robert Harper PROT12.1 vs FT
Newcastle (NSW) David Watkins LAB12.5 vs FT
Echuca (Vic) James McColl PROT13.3 vs FT
Kalgoorlie (WA) Charlie Frazer LAB16.6 vs FT
Hindmarsh (SA) James Hutchison LAB16.7 vs PROT
Kennedy (Qld) Charles McDonald LAB19.7 vs PROT
Yarra (Vic) Frank Tudor LAB19.7 vs PROT
West Sydney (NSW) Billy Hughes LAB19.9 vs FT
Very safe
Northern Melbourne (Vic) H. B. Higgins PROT20.3 vs LAB
Richmond (NSW) Thomas Ewing PROT22.6 vs FT
Perth (WA) James Fowler LAB22.8 vs FT
Laanecoorie (Vic) Carty Salmon PROT24.6 vs FT
Maranoa (Qld) Jim Page LAB25.0 vs PROT
Barrier (NSW) Josiah Thomas LAB32.0 vs IND
Adelaide (SA) Charles Kingston PROTunopposed
Balaclava (Vic) George Turner PROTunopposed
Ballaarat (Vic) Alfred Deakin PROTunopposed
Barker (SA) Langdon Bonython PROTunopposed
Canobolas (NSW) Thomas Brown LABunopposed
Coolgardie (WA) Hugh Mahon LABunopposed
Corinella (Vic) James McCay PROTunopposed
Darling Downs (Qld) Littleton Groom PROTunopposed
Eden-Monaro (NSW) Austin Chapman PROTunopposed
Gippsland (Vic) Allan McLean PROTunopposed
Grey (SA) Alexander Poynton LABunopposed
Indi (Vic) Isaac Isaacs PROTunopposed
Swan (WA) John Forrest PROTunopposed
Free Trade Party
Riverina (NSW) Robert Blackwood FT00.0 vs PROT
New England (NSW) Edmund Lonsdale FT01.9 vs PROT
Corangamite (Vic) Gratton Wilson FT02.2 vs PROT
Grampians (Vic) Thomas Skene FT02.6 vs PROT
Kooyong (Vic) William Knox FT02.8 vs PROT
Wannon (Vic) Arthur Robinson FT02.9 vs PROT
Macquarie (NSW) Sydney Smith FT04.0 vs PROT
Flinders (Vic) James Gibb FT04.5 vs PROT
Wilmot (Tas) Edward Braddon FT04.9 vs PROT
Fairly safe
South Sydney (NSW) George Edwards FT06.0 vs LAB
Lang (NSW) Elliot Johnson FT12.0 vs IND
Cowper (NSW) Henry Lee FT13.0 vs PROT
Hunter (NSW) Frank Liddell FT13.3 vs IND
Robertson (NSW) Henry Willis FT13.5 vs IND
East Sydney (NSW) George Reid FT14.4 vs LAB
Werriwa (NSW) Alfred Conroy FT18.7 vs LAB
Very safe
Wentworth (NSW) Willie Kelly FT21.8 vs PROT
Parkes (NSW) Bruce Smith FT27.8 vs PROT
Dalley (NSW) William Wilks FT28.6 vs IND
Parramatta (NSW) Joseph Cook FT30.1 vs IND
Angas (SA) Paddy Glynn FTunopposed
Illawarra (NSW) George Fuller FTunopposed
North Sydney (NSW) Dugald Thomson FTunopposed
Wakefield (SA) Frederick Holder   [lower-alpha 1] SPEAKERunopposed
Franklin (Tas) William McWilliams REV TAR04.6 vs FT
Moreton (Qld) James Wilkinson IND LAB05.8 vs PROT

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Free Trade party figures for the House of Representatives include Frederick Holder (Wakefield, SA) who had been elected as a member of the party in 1901, [3] however he was the Speaker for his entire parliamentary career and did not take part in party activities. [4]
  2. The independent was James Wilkinson (Moreton, Qld) who was elected as an independent labour candidate and joined the Labour caucus in 1904. [5]
  3. Seventeen members were elected unopposed – eleven Protectionist, four Free Trade, and two Labour.
  4. The independent senator was William Trenwith (Vic)

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