1919 Australian federal election

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1919 Australian federal election
Flag of Australia (converted).svg
  1917 13 December 1919 (1919-12-13) 1922  

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 party
  Billy Hughes 1919.jpg Frank Tudor (cropped b&w).jpg
Leader Billy Hughes Frank Tudor
Party Nationalist Labor
Leader since14 November 191614 November 1916
Leader's seat Bendigo (Vic.) Yarra (Vic.)
Last election53 seats22 seats
Seats won37 seats26 seats
Seat changeDecrease2.svg16Increase2.svg4
Popular vote860,519811,244

Australia 1919 federal election.png
Popular vote by state with graphs indicating the number of seats won. As this is an IRV election, seat totals are not determined by popular vote by state but instead via results in each electorate.

Prime Minister before election

Billy Hughes

Subsequent Prime Minister

Billy Hughes

The 1919 Australian federal election was held on 13 December 1919 to elect members to the Parliament of Australia. All 75 seats in the House of Representatives and 19 of the 36 seats in the Senate were up for election. The incumbent Nationalist Party government won re-election, with Prime Minister Billy Hughes continuing in office.


The 1919 election was the first held since the passage of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 , which introduced preferential voting for both houses of parliament – instant-runoff voting for the House of Representatives and preferential block voting for the Senate. It was held several months earlier than constitutionally required, so that the government could capitalise on the popularity of Hughes after his return from the Paris Peace Conference. The Nationalists campaigned on the government's war record and appealed to return soldiers. The Australian Labor Party (ALP), in opposition since the 1916 party split, contested a second election under the leadership of Frank Tudor. However, T. J. Ryan was the party's national campaign director and played a key role in the campaign.

The Nationalists won 37 out of the 75 seats in the House of Representatives, including the seat of Ballaarat by a single vote. Labor won 26 seats, a net gain of four. The Nationalists also swept the Senate for a second consecutive election, leaving the ALP with just a single senator, Albert Gardiner. The election was notable for the emergence of the Country Party as a national political force. A referendum was held simultaneous to the election, at which the government unsuccessfully sought approval to amend the constitution for increased government powers over commerce.


Hughes being carried through George Street, Sydney, upon his return from the Paris Peace Conference in 1919; he was at the height of his popularity during that time Hughes Welcomehome Parispeaceconference.jpg
Hughes being carried through George Street, Sydney, upon his return from the Paris Peace Conference in 1919; he was at the height of his popularity during that time

The Nationalist Party, formed after the 1916 Labor Party split, won a large majority at the 1917 federal election. In April 1918, Prime Minister Billy Hughes left Australia to attend the Imperial War Cabinet. He was overseas for sixteen months, which saw the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918 and the Paris Peace Conference. He was at the height of his popularity during this time, and was widely feted when he returned to Australia in August 1919. [1] According to Robert Garran, who was both Solicitor-General of Australia and Hughes' personal secretary at the conference, there were three main problems that confronted him upon his return – profiteering, high prices, and industrial unrest. [2]

At the ALP Federal Conference in early October 1919, a resolution was passed calling on T. J. Ryan, premier of Queensland, to enter federal politics. He agreed to do so, and was appointed to the new position of "national campaign director". [3] Con Wallace, MP for West Sydney, agreed to give up the ALP nomination to allow Ryan to win a safe seat. [4] Opposition Leader Frank Tudor remained the party's formal leader, but Ryan had a higher public profile and led the ALP's campaign. [3] According to King O'Malley, who met with him in Hobart a few weeks before the election, Ryan believed that he would become prime minister if Labor won the election. [5]

Electoral reform

The 1919 federal election was the first to use preferential voting. [6] The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 replaced the previous first-past-the-post system used in the House of Representatives, and also re-introduced postal voting. It was amended the following year to also allow preferential voting for the Senate. [7] The new act repealed the existing Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 , but did not alter the terms of the Commonwealth Electoral (War-time) Act 1917, under which naturalised British subjects born in enemy countries were disqualified from voting. This provision mainly affected German-Australians. [8] There was a long history of support for preferential voting in Australia, but the immediate trigger for the new legislation was the decision of farmers' organisations to run candidates of their own in opposition to the Nationalist Party. The Swan by-election in October 1918 saw an ALP candidate elected with just over one-third of the vote, after the Nationalist candidate split the vote with a candidate from the Country Party of Western Australia. [9] The Corangamite by-election in December was the first held under the new system, and resulted in the Victorian Farmers' Union candidate winning from Nationalist preferences. [10]


T. J. Ryan, who resigned as premier of Queensland to enter federal politics. He served as the Labor Party's national campaign director at the 1919 election. T. J. Ryan 1916.jpg
T. J. Ryan, who resigned as premier of Queensland to enter federal politics. He served as the Labor Party's national campaign director at the 1919 election.

Constitutionally, a new election was not due until early 1920, but the Nationalists wished to hold an early election to capitalise on Hughes' popularity. [11] On 30 September, the party caucus approved an election for 13 December. [12] The writs were formally issued on 3 November, with the close of nominations on 14 November. [13] [14] However, the campaign had begun in earnest after the last sitting day of federal parliament on 24 October. [15]

Party platforms


Hughes and the Nationalists sought re-election largely on the basis of their record in government. The prime minister's 90-minute policy speech, delivered in Bendigo on 30 November, was "stronger on generalities than on concrete proposals". Hughes promised to appoint royal commissions on profiteering, the living wage, and taxation, and to call a constitutional convention for 1920. He planned to overhaul industrial relations by setting up a system of industrial councils with a Commonwealth Industrial Court at their apex. [16] The Nationalists also promised government support of industry, primary producers, and immigration. [17]


The ALP was ill-prepared for the election – six weeks before the polling date, it had no party manifesto, had preselected few candidates, and the state branches in Victoria and New South Wales were "virtually bankrupt". [18] The party eventually released its manifesto on 4 November, which was signed by Tudor, Ryan, and Jack Holloway. It "showed much of Ryan's hand in its language and political style", and ended with a quote from Abraham Lincoln. [19] Tudor's policy speech was delivered in Melbourne the following day. The party promised an expansion of the welfare system, including the introduction of widows' pensions, child endowment for orphans and children of invalids, and a significant increase in old-age and disability pensions. It also promised to establish a national shipping line, national insurance office, and national medical service, which were to be funded through a wealth tax. [20]


The campaign primarily focused on Hughes and Ryan and their respective records. The Round Table observed that "the prominence given to them made genuine political discussion impossible". The Nationalists accused Ryan of disloyalty to the war effort and fostering left-wing extremism, while Labor accused Hughes of mismanaging the war and failing to deal with profiteering. [21] Tudor was "barely considered" in the campaign due to poor health, [22] and twice had to withdraw from campaigning due to "attacks of hemorrhage". [23] The Nationalists claimed Hughes had safeguarded the White Australia policy at the Paris Peace Conference, while the ALP said he had endangered it by failing to stop the Japanese from acquiring the South Pacific Mandate. [17] Issues relating to returned soldiers were also prominent, and the 1919 election has been classed as a wartime or "khaki" election, despite it taking place over a year after the Armistice. [24] [25]

Returned soldiers

Both parties were keen to secure the votes of returned soldiers, and Hughes in particular cultivated them as a new political base. [lower-alpha 1] In 1919, there were about 270,000 returned soldiers out of a total enrolment of 2.85 million; they were viewed as a "vital political constituency". [27] While Hughes was already popular with the armed forces, he sought an explicit endorsement from the main lobby group for returned soldiers, the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA). Its newly elected president was Gilbert Dyett, a 28-year-old junior officer who was protective of the organisation's independence and political neutrality. [28] In the lead-up to the election Hughes had five separate meetings with Dyett and other officials. [29] He was willing to make concessions on repatriation policy and other related issues, but repeatedly stressed that the RSSILA's agenda could only be enacted if the Nationalists won, for which a formal endorsement was necessary. [30] Dyett was unwilling to compromise his neutrality, and consequently the RSSILA "gained almost every concession they sought, yet maintained their independence by holding out to Hughes the prospect of returned soldier support while never granting it". [31]


Sectarianism between Catholics and Protestants became an issue in the campaign. In early November, Ryan chaired an Irish Race Convention in Melbourne, which had been organised by Catholic archbishop Daniel Mannix in order to support Irish home rule. [20] Mannix tacitly endorsed Ryan as prime minister, stating that "Ireland and Irish Australia have no reason to be ashamed of him, either as Premier of Queensland or as the prospective Prime Minister of the Commonwealth". [32] Additionally, the Catholic press in Melbourne and Sydney "unashamedly support[ed] Ryan and his party". [33] In response, Protestant organisations ran advertisements claiming a Labor government would see Australia controlled by the Catholic Church. [32]

McDougall incident

One issue in the campaign was the anti-war poem "The White Man's Burden", written by John Keith McDougall in 1900 during the Boer War. It contained lines critical of soldiers, describing them as "sordid killers who murder for a fee", "hog-souled and dirty-handed", and "fools and flunkeys". The poem was republished on a number of occasions during World War I – in January 1915 by the Labor Call, the official ALP newspaper in Victoria, and later by McDougall's opponents at the 1915 Grampians by-election and 1917 federal election. [34] On 13 November 1919, Melbourne Punch re-published excerpts from the poem, contrasting them with the ALP's election manifesto which praised soldiers. [35] Pro-government newspapers did likewise, particularly The Argus , and a leaflet containing the poem was widely circulated. [36] Hughes frequently quoted the poem in his campaign speeches, stating that returned soldiers faced a choice between "those who stood by you, or those who spoke contemptuously of you as 'sordid killers'". Pro-opposition newspapers noted that Hughes had in fact campaigned for McDougall four years later, when he was still a member of the ALP. [37] The outcry over the poem was directed at the ALP rather than its author, who was often not identified. However, a week before the election, a group of about 20 ex-soldiers kidnapped McDougall from his property in Ararat, before tarring and feathering him and dumping him in the street, bound and blindfolded. [38] In February 1920, six of the men were convicted of assault and fined £5 each, while receiving sympathy from the magistrate and much of the press. [39]


House of Representatives

Out of the 75 seats in the House of Representatives, 37 were won by the Nationalists and 26 by the Labor Party. In Melbourne Ports and Newcastle, the ALP candidate was elected unopposed. Eleven of the remaining twelve seats were won by candidates endorsed by or aligned with the farmers' organisations in each state; they subsequently formed the Country Party. [40] The remaining seat was won by Frederick Francis, who stood as an "independent Nationalist" in the Melbourne seat of Henty and defeated the sitting Nationalist member. [41]

Government ministers Paddy Glynn and William Webster were among those who lost their seats. The closest margin of victory was in Ballaarat, where Nationalist Edwin Kerby defeated the sitting Labor member Charles McGrath by a single vote. The result was successfully challenged in the Court of Disputed Returns, with Justice Isaac Isaacs criticising the "almost incredible carelessness" of the electoral officers. McGrath won the seat back at the resulting by-election. [42] Mary Grant was the only woman to stand for the House of Representatives, polling 18.1 percent of the vote in Kooyong. [43]

House of Reps (IRV) — 1919–1922—Turnout 71.59% (Non-CV) — Informal 3.47%
  Nationalist 860,51945.07−9.1537−16
  Labor 811,24442.49−1.4526+4
  Country [lower-alpha 2] 176,8849.26+9.2611+11
  Industrial Socialist Labor 3,6370.19+0.1900
  Independents 56,9472.98+1.131+1
 Total1,909,231  75
Popular Vote
Parliament Seats


In the Senate, the Nationalists won 18 out of the 19 seats up for election. [lower-alpha 3] [45] The party had previously won all 18 seats at the 1917 election, leaving them with "an absurdly large majority" – after 1 July 1920, when the new senators began their term, Albert Gardiner was the only non-government senator and the sole representative of the Labor Party in the chamber. The country parties failed to win any seats, but some Nationalist senators were sympathetic to their views. [47] Mary McMahon was the only woman to stand for the Senate, polling 0.3 percent of the statewide vote in New South Wales. [43]

Senate (P BV) — 1919–22—Turnout 71.33% (Non-CV) — Informal 8.61%
PartyVotes%SwingSeats WonSeats HeldChange
  Nationalist 861,99046.40−8.971835+11
  Labor 795,85842.84−0.8911−11
  Country [lower-alpha 2] 163,2938.79+8.79000
  Socialist Labor 10,5080.57+0.06000
  Independent 26,3741.42+1.03000
 Total 1,857,823  1936

Seats changing hands

Adelaide, SA  Labor George Edwin Yates Reginald Blundell Nationalist 
Angas, SA  Nationalist Paddy Glynn Moses Gabb Labor 
Ballaarat, Vic  Labor Charles McGrath Edwin Kerby Nationalist 
Brisbane, Qld  Labor William Finlayson Donald Cameron Nationalist 
Calare, NSW  Nationalist Henry Pigott Thomas Lavelle Labor 
Cowper, NSW  Nationalist John Thomson 100.071.621.6 Earle Page Farmers & Settlers 
Grampians, Vic  Nationalist Edmund Jowett 4.8N/A8.2 Edmund Jowett Victorian Farmers 
Gwydir, NSW  Nationalist William Webster Lou Cunningham Labor 
Henty, Vic  Nationalist James Boyd 20.623.22.9 Frederick Francis Independent 
Hindmarsh, SA  Nationalist William Archibald Norman Makin Labor 
Hume, NSW  Nationalist Franc Falkiner Parker Moloney Labor 
Indi, Vic  Nationalist John Leckie 6.26.412.6 Robert Cook Victorian Farmers 
Kalgoorlie, WA  Nationalist Edward Heitmann Hugh Mahon Labor 
Swan, WA  Labor Edwin Corboy 1.5N/A8.0 John Prowse Farmers & Settlers 
Werriwa, NSW  Nationalist John Lynch Bert Lazzarini Labor 
Wimmera, Vic  Nationalist Sydney Sampson Percy Stewart Victorian Farmers 

Post-election pendulum

Nationalist Party
Ballaarat (Vic) Edwin Kerby NAT00.0
Adelaide (SA) Reginald Blundell NAT00.8
Brisbane (Qld) Donald Cameron NAT01.0
Eden-Monaro (NSW) Austin Chapman NAT01.2
Riverina (NSW) John Chanter NAT01.3
Fawkner (Vic) George Maxwell NAT01.5
Grey (SA) Alexander Poynton NAT01.8
Herbert (Qld) Fred Bamford NAT02.4
Illawarra (NSW) Hector Lamond NAT03.1
Robertson (NSW) William Fleming NAT03.5
Oxley (Qld) James Bayley NAT03.8
Denison (Tas) William Laird Smith NAT03.9
Darwin (Tas) George Bell NAT04.0
Wannon (Vic) Arthur Rodgers NAT04.1
Wide Bay (Qld) Edward Corser NAT04.3
Bendigo (Vic) Billy Hughes NAT05.0
Gippsland (Vic) George Wise NAT05.2 v VFU
Moreton (Qld) Arnold Wienholt NAT05.2
Bass (Tas) Syd Jackson NAT05.8
Fairly safe
Nepean (NSW) Eric Bowden NAT07.1
New England (NSW) Alexander Hay NAT07.3
Lang (NSW) Elliot Johnson NAT07.3
Corio (Vic) John Lister NAT07.5
Darling Downs (Qld) Littleton Groom NAT07.7
Wakefield (SA) Richard Foster NAT08.4
Wilmot (Tas) Llewellyn Atkinson NAT10.2 v NAT
Fremantle (WA) Reginald Burchell NAT10.8
Perth (WA) James Fowler NAT11.0
Parkes (NSW) Walter Marks NAT11.5
Franklin (Tas) William McWilliams NAT12.1 v NAT
Lilley (Qld) George Mackay NAT13.3
Wentworth (NSW) Charles Marr NAT13.6
Barker (SA) John Livingston NAT14.1
Kooyong (Vic) Robert Best NAT14.3 v IND
Dampier (WA) Henry Gregory NAT14.6
Balaclava (Vic) William Watt NAT14.9
Flinders (Vic) Stanley Bruce NAT15.5
Boothby (SA) William Story NAT16.6
Very safe
Richmond (NSW) Walter Massy-Greene NAT22.5
Parramatta (NSW) Joseph Cook NAT22.6
North Sydney (NSW) Granville Ryrie NAT25.5
Australian Labor Party and Country Party
Angas (SA) Moses Gabb ALP00.7
Werriwa (NSW) Bert Lazzarini ALP01.0
Hindmarsh (SA) Norman Makin ALP01.4
Kalgoorlie (WA) Hugh Mahon ALP02.1
Maribyrnong (Vic) James Fenton ALP02.1
Calare (NSW) Thomas Lavelle ALP02.3
Maranoa (Qld) Jim Page ALP02.7 v PPU
Capricornia (Qld) William Higgs ALP02.8
Gwydir (NSW) Lou Cunningham ALP03.2
Macquarie (NSW) Samuel Nicholls ALP03.2
Bourke (Vic) Frank Anstey ALP03.2
Barrier (NSW) Michael Considine ALP03.8 v IND
Fairly safe
Batman (Vic) Frank Brennan ALP07.1
Hume (NSW) Parker Moloney ALP07.5
East Sydney (NSW) John West ALP07.8
Swan (WA) John Prowse F&SA08.0 v ALP
Grampians (Vic) Edmund Jowett VFU08.2 v ALP
Hunter (NSW) Matthew Charlton ALP08.9
Wimmera (Vic) Percy Stewart VFU09.5 v NAT
Dalley (NSW) William Mahony ALP09.7
Corangamite (Vic) William Gibson VFU10.4 v ALP
Kennedy (Qld) Charles McDonald ALP11.7
Darling (NSW) Arthur Blakeley ALP11.8
Indi (Vic) Robert Cook VFU12.6 v ALP
Echuca (Vic) William Hill VFU14.0 v NAT
Melbourne (Vic) William Maloney ALP15.6
Cook (NSW) James Catts ALP15.7
South Sydney (NSW) Edward Riley ALP18.3
Very safe
Yarra (Vic) Frank Tudor ALP20.3
Cowper (NSW) Earle Page F&SA21.6 v ALP
West Sydney (NSW) T. J. Ryan ALP22.2
Melbourne Ports (Vic) James Mathews ALPunopposed
Newcastle (NSW) David Watkins ALPunopposed
Henty (Vic) Frederick Francis IND02.9 v NAT

Aftermath and analysis

According to Hughes' biographer L. F. Fitzhardinge, "the result of the election gave no satisfaction to anyone". [21] The Nationalists were the only party capable of forming a government, but their failure to win an absolute majority weakened the position of Hughes within the party. Neither of the referendum questions carried. [48] Ryan attributed the ALP's defeat to the new voting system, [49] while James Catts, the party's campaign director in New South Wales, stated in January 1920 that "the defeat of Labor is due to Labor". [50] Senior Labor MP William Higgs publicly blamed the election result on interference from the organisational wing, and was expelled from the party in February 1920. [49] He sat as an independent for a period before joining the Nationalists later in the year. [51] It has been suggested that anti-Irish sentiment may have played a part in the ALP's failure to win more seats. The result led some within the party to question the wisdom of Archbishop Mannix involving himself in politics. [52]

The new House of Representatives proved much less stable than its immediate predecessors. According to Gavin Souter, the author of an official history of parliament, the most notable result of the 1919 election was the emergence of the Country Party as a force in federal politics. [53] On 22 January 1920, nine of the crossbench MPs agreed to form a parliamentary party, which they named the Australian Country Party. Two others joined the Country Party in the month before parliament opened on 26 February, leaving it with eleven MPs out of 75. William McWilliams was elected as the party's inaugural leader. [54] Tudor moved a motion of no confidence in the government on 3 March, which was defeated by 45 votes to 22. The Country Party generally supported the government's agenda over the course of the parliament. [55]

The election greatly increased the number of returned soldiers in parliament, which rose from four to sixteen; all but two were Nationalists. [56] According to Crotty (2019), the concessions Hughes made in an attempt to gain the returned-soldier vote "ensured two of Australia's major wartime legacies: a powerful, united and well-connected veterans' organisation, and a repatriation system that was perhaps the world's most generous". [57]

See also


  1. Earlier in his career he had drawn much of his support from trade unionists, but this diminished when the ALP split over conscription and he was forced out of the labour movement. [26]
  2. 1 2 At the 1919 election, the Country Party did not yet exist as either a parliamentary party or a nationwide political organisation. For comparative purposes, the votes amassed by the various state organisations are usually tallied together. [44]
    In the House of Representatives, the total can be broken down into 79,839 votes for the Victorian Farmers' Union, 17,753 for the Country Party of Western Australia, 16,521 for the Farmers and Settlers Association (NSW), 10,885 for the Primary Producers' Union (Queensland), 2,946 for the Farmers and Settlers Association (South Australia), and 2,210 for country-aligned candidates in Tasmania, where there was no organisation. In addition, several candidates in New South Wales were cross-endorsed by the Nationalists and the FSA; they tallied 46,730 votes, which are grouped with the Country Party as all three successful cross-endorsed candidates joined that party. [40]
    In the Senate, the total can be broken down into 100,620 votes for the Farmers and Settlers Association (NSW), 50,620 for the Victorian Farmers' Union, and 11,853 for the Country Party of Western Australia. [45]
  3. In addition to the required half-Senate election, a supplementary election was held in Tasmania to fill the casual vacancy caused by the resignation of James Long. Long resigned from the Senate in December 1918, with Edward Mulcahy appointed as his replacement. [46] At the time, section 15 of the constitution mandated that casual vacancies could only be filled by an appointee until the next general election, at which point a supplementary election would be held.

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  1. Joyner 1959, pp. 20, 23.
  2. Joyner 1959, pp. 15–16.
  3. 1 2 McMullin, Ross (1991). The Light on the Hill: The Australian Labor Party 1891–1991. Oxford University Press. p. 120.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  4. Murphy 1975, p. 463.
  5. Murphy 1975, p. 472.
  6. "Events in Australian electoral history". Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  7. Brett, Judith (2019). From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting. Text Publishing. pp. 126–127.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  8. Stock, Jenny (1982). "South Australia's 'German' Vote in World War I". Australian Journal of Politics & History. 28 (2): 263.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  9. Brett 2019, p. 126.
  10. Brett 2019, p. 127.
  11. Joyner 1959, p. 23.
  12. Joyner 1959, p. 19.
  13. "Election dates (1901 to Present) – House of Representatives". Archived from the original on 17 April 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  14. "Election dates (1901 to Present) – Senate". Australian Electoral Commission. Archived from the original on 17 April 2019. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  15. Murphy 1975, p. 464.
  16. Fitzhardinge 1979, p. 427.
  17. 1 2 Fitzhardinge 1979, p. 428.
  18. Murphy 1975, p. 461.
  19. Murphy 1975, p. 467.
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  25. Stock 1982, p. 263: "Although hostilities had ended and the peace treaty with Germany had been signed in June 1919, the War Precautions Act and many of its Regulations remained in force until late 1920 and the 'state of war' was not officially declared ended until 31 August 1921. The December 1919 federal election can, therefore, be considered to be a 'wartime' election."
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  53. Souter 1988, p. 175: "Its emergence [...] was a development of great and lasting significance."
  54. Davey, Paul (2010). Ninety Not Out: The Nationals 1920–2010. UNSW Press. p. 403. ISBN   9781742231662.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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