Due to a credit squeeze, the economy had gone into a brief recession in 1961. This combined with initial enthusiasm for the new Opposition Leader, Arthur Calwell, was enough to see a swing against the Menzies Government.
For a long time, the 1961 election remained the closest Federal election in Australian history, with the Coalition being reduced to a one-seat majority. The election was decided in the seats of Bruce near Melbourne and Moreton near Brisbane.
In Bruce, Labor's Keith Ewert led Liberal Billy Snedden on the first count, but on the second count more than two-thirds of the DLP's preferences flowed to Snedden, enough to give him the victory.
However, the Coalition was not ensured of a sixth term in government until Jim Killen won Moreton by only 130 votes after receiving 93 vital Communist preferences.  Labor actually won 62 seats, the same as the Coalition. However, without Bruce, the best Labor could hope for was a hung parliament, since two of its seats were in ACT and Northern Territory. At the time, territorial MPs had limited voting rights and were not counted for the purpose of determining who was to form government. The record for the closest election in Australia's history was eventually beaten by the 2010 election, which was a 72-72 seat draw.
The most notable casualty was Earle Page, the second-longest serving MP in Australia's history. He had been the member for Cowper since 1919. Although he was 81 years old and gravely ill with lung cancer, he decided to fight his 17th general election. His Labor opponent, Frank McGuren, needed a seemingly daunting 11-point swing to win the seat, but managed to win by a slim three-point margin on the second count. Page, who had been too sick to actively campaign, died 11 days after the election without ever knowing he had been defeated.
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.