Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

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Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Parliament of Australia
CommencedVarious dates
Amended by
1924, 1949, 1962, 1973, 1984, 2016
Related legislation
Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is an Act of the Australian Parliament which continues to be the core legislation governing the conduct of elections in Australia, having been amended on numerous occasions since 1918.[1] The Act was introduced by the Nationalist Party of Billy Hughes, the main purpose of which was to replace first-past-the-post voting with instant-runoff voting ("preferential voting") for the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Previous legislation[edit]

The 1918 Act replaced the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, which had defined who was entitled to vote in Australian federal elections, and the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902.[2] The 1902 Franchise Act set uniform national franchise criteria, establishing the voting age at 21 years and women's suffrage at the national level, also a right to stand for election to the Parliament. That Act also disqualified from voting a number of categories of people, including Indigenous peoples from Australian, Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands (except New Zealand Maori), even if citizens of the British Empire. A plurality voting system ("first-past-the-post") was established. The 1902 Act also made it clear that no person could vote more than once at each election. The 1902 Act was amended in 1906 to allow postal voting. In 1908, a permanent electoral roll was established and in 1911 it became compulsory for eligible voters to enrol. Compulsory enrolment led to a large increase in voter turnout, even though voting was still voluntary.[1] From 1912, elections have been held on Saturdays.[3]


1918 Act[edit]

The 1918 Act replaced the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 and the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902.[2] It replaced first-past-the-post voting with instant-runoff voting ("preferential voting") for the House of Representatives and the Senate. (Preferential voting had been pioneered by Queensland in 1892.)[3] The voting system was changed by the anti-Labor Hughes after the 1918 Swan by-election, which saw the Labor candidate win with 34% of the vote due to a split in the anti-Labor vote between the Nationalist and Country Party candidates, with 29.6% and 31.4% respectively.

The Act also repeated the special jurisdiction of the High Court of Australia as the Court of Disputed Returns in federal election matters,[4] initially established by Part XVI of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902.

1921 amendment[edit]

In 1921, the Act was amended to disqualify anyone standing for federal parliament who "has resigned from the Parliament of a State and has the right, under the law of the State, if not elected to the Parliament of the Commonwealth, to be re-elected to the Parliament of the State without the holding of a poll". This amendment was made specifically to overrule an act passed by the Queensland state government, which allowed state MPs to automatically return to parliament without a by-election if they ran unsuccessfully for federal parliament. The Queensland government reportedly passed the legislation primarily for the benefit of Frank Forde, a future prime minister.[5][6]

1924 amendment[edit]

Compulsory voting at federal elections was introduced in 1924,[7][8] as a condition of the Country Party agreeing to form an alliance with the then minority Nationalist Party. Compulsory voting saw voter turnout increasing from 59.36% to 91.39% at the 1925 federal election.

1949 amendments[edit]

The Chifley Government amended the Electoral Act in 1949, in time for the 1949 federal election, as follows:

  • the number of senators was increased from 36 to 60 (10 from each State), an increase of 24, and the number of members of the House of Representatives from 74 to 121, an increase of 47.
  • the single transferable vote under a proportional voting system for the Senate was introduced.
  • All Indigenous Australians eligible to vote in their respective states were granted the vote, as well as those who had served in the military[9]

Although in 1948 (effective in 1949) Australian nationality law had been altered to create an Australian citizenship, the nationality criterion for the franchise remained that of being a British subject.

1962 amendments[edit]

In 1962, the Menzies Government extended the franchise to Indigenous Australians at federal elections,[3][10] though enrolment was voluntary.

1973 and 1974 amendments[edit]

Changes to the Electoral Act in 1973 by the Whitlam Government included:

  • the qualifying voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 years.
  • the ACT and Northern Territory became entitled to representation in both Houses for the first time in 1974.
  • the allowable quota variation of the number of electors in each division of a state was reduced from 20% to 10%.[11]

1984 amendments[edit]

Changes to the Electoral Act in 1984 by the Hawke Government included:

  • an independent Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) was established to administer the federal electoral system.
  • the number of senators was increased from 64 to 76 (12 from each State and two from each Territory), an increase of 12, and the number of members of the House of Representatives was increased from 125 to 148, an increase of 23.
  • the group voting ticket voting system (the original "above-the-line" voting) was introduced.
  • the registration of political parties was introduced to permit the printing of party names on ballot papers.
  • public funding of election campaigns and disclosure of political donations and electoral expenditure was introduced.
  • the compulsory enrolment and voting requirement was extended to cover Indigenous Australians.
  • the franchise qualification was changed to Australian citizenship, though British subjects on the roll immediately before 26 January 1984 retained enrolment and voting rights.
  • the grace period after an election is called before the electoral rolls are closed was extended to seven days and the time that polling places closed was changed from 8pm to 6pm.[3]
  • Section 282 was added, requiring the AEC to conduct a recount following a dissolution under section 57 of the Constitution as if only the elected candidates had been named on the ballot papers, and only half the number were to be elected.[12] The constitution requires the Senate to allocate long and short term senate seats, and this provides one way of determining which senators are allocated which terms. As of 2016, this method had not yet been applied,[13] despite two bipartisan senate resolutions in favour of using it as well as two double dissolution elections (1987 and 2016). See also Stalled reform on allocation of terms
  • existing legislation on the Senate (Representation of Territories) Act 1973 regarding federal parliamentary representation of Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and other territories were incorporated into the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. This included appointment of territory Senate casual vacancies.[14]

2016 amendments[edit]

In 2016 the registered preference part of the Senate group ticket voting system was abolished,[15] to avoid undue influence of preference deals experienced in 2013,[16] and especially cascading preference deals (which are unlikely to be obvious to most voters).[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918". Commonwealth Consolidated Acts. Australasian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902".
  3. ^ a b c d "Australia's major electoral developments Timeline: 1900 - Present". Australian Electoral Commission. Archived from the original on 6 June 2013. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  4. ^ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth)
  5. ^ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1921, Federal Register of Legislation
  6. ^ Elaine Brown (2000). "Francis Michael Forde". In Michelle Grattan (ed.). Australian Prime Ministers. New Holland. p. 241. ISBN 1-86436-671-0.
  7. ^ "Compulsory Voting". Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved 28 June 2013.
  8. ^ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1924
  9. ^ url=
  10. ^ Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962
  11. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Act (No. 2) 1973, s.4". Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  12. ^ "282 Re‑count of Senate votes to determine order of election in other circumstances", Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, Government of Australia, 1 July 2016, retrieved 19 October 2016
  13. ^ Hutchens, Gareth (12 August 2016). "Senate terms: Derryn Hinch and Greens' Lee Rhiannon given three years". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 19 October 2016.
  14. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act 1983".
  15. ^ "Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act 2016". Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Fact check: What do the proposed Senate voting changes mean for above the line voting? ABC. Updated 12 Mar 2016, 6:29pm". Retrieved 6 June 2019.

External Links[edit]