Australian legislative election, 2004

From Academic Kids

Legislative elections were held in Australia on 9 October, 2004. The conservative Coalition of the Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister John Howard, and the National Party of Australia led by Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, won a fourth three-year term, with a net gain of four seats in the 150-member House of Representatives. The Coalition also won control of the Senate for the first time since 1981, winning 39 of the 76 seats.

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This large election billboard by the Liberal Party attacking Mark Latham's credentials on economic management was typical of many used during the campaign. Economic management has been identified by most commentators as the issue which most benefitted the government. The "L" plate is a reference to Latham's alleged lack of economic credentials (in Australia young drivers have to put an "L" for "learner" plate on their cars).

Overall result

The coalition parties won 46.7 percent of the primary vote, a gain of 3.7 percent over the 2001 election. Labor polled 37.6 percent, a loss of 0.2 percent. The Australian Greens emerged as the most prominent minor party, polling 7.2 percent, a gain of 2.2 percent. Both the Australian Democrats and One Nation had their vote greatly reduced. After a notional distribution of preferences, the Australian Electoral Commission estimated that the Coalition had polled 52.6 percent of the two-party preferred vote, a gain of 2.1 percent from 2001.

The Liberal Party has won 75 seats and the National Party 12 seats, against the Australian Labor Party opposition's 60 seats. Three independent members were re-elected. The Coalition also won 39 seats in the 76-member Senate, making the Howard Government the first government to have a majority in the Senate since 1981. The size of the government's win was unexpected: few commentators had predicted that the coalition would actually increase its majority in the House of Representatives, and almost none had foreseen its clinching of a majority in the Senate. Even Howard had described that feat as "a big ask."

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Mackerras Pendulum for the 2004 Federal Election (84kB)

The election result was a triumph for Howard, who in December 2004 became Australia's second-longest serving Prime Minister, and who will see the election result as a vindication of his policies, particularly his decision to join in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The results were a setback for the Labor leader, Mark Latham, and makes Labor's task in winning the next election more difficult.

A provisional pendulum for the new House of Representatives can be seen at Adam Carr's Electoral Archive ( It shows that in order to win the next election, Labor will need to win about 15 seats, which could be generated if it picked up a nationally-uniform swing of over 4 percent.

Members and Senators defeated in the election include Larry Anthony, the National Party Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, defeated in Richmond, New South Wales; former Labor minister Con Sciacca, defeated in Bonner, Queensland; Liberal Parliamentary Secretaries Trish Worth (Adelaide, South Australia) and Ross Cameron (Parramatta, New South Wales); and Democrat Senators Aden Ridgeway (the only Aboriginal member of the outgoing Parliament), Brian Greig and John Cherry. Liberal Senator John Tierney (New South Wales), who was dropped to number four on the Coalition Senate ticket, was also defeated.

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A party worker for the Australian Labor Party hands out How-to-Vote Cards at a polling place in St. Kilda, Victoria, in the Division of Melbourne Ports, on election day, 9 October, 2004.

Celebrity candidates Peter Garrett (Labor, Kingsford Smith, New South Wales) and Malcolm Turnbull (Liberal, Wentworth, New South Wales) easily won their contests. Prominent clergyman Fred Nile failed to win a Senate seat in New South Wales. The first Muslim candidate to be endorsed by a major party in Australia, Ed Husic, failed to win the seat of Greenway, New South Wales, for Labor. The former One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, failed in her bid to win a Senate seat in Queensland as an independent.

Detailed results are available at the Australian Electoral Commission ('s virtual tally room website.

Minor parties had mixed results. The Australian Democrats polled their lowest vote since their creation in 1977, and will lose the three Senate seats they were defending. The Australian Greens have won Senate seats in Western Australia and in Tasmania. They missed seats in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, partly because of preference deals by other parties. This was a poorer result than they had expected. They failed to win a seat in the House, losing the seat of Cunningham which they gained at a 2002 by-election.

The Australian Progressive Alliance leader, Senator Meg Lees, and the One Nation parliamentary leader, Senator Len Harris, lost their seats. One Nation's vote in the House of Representatives collapsed. The Christian Democratic Party, the Citizens Electoral Council, the Democratic Labor Party, the Progressive Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance all failed to make any impact. The Family First Party polled 2 percent of the vote nationally, and their candidate Steve Fielding won a Senate seat in Victoria.


House of Representatives

Registered Voters 13,021,230
Votes Cast 12,354,636 Turnout 94.69% +0.41%
Informal Votes 639,801 Informal % 5.18% +0.36%
Party Primary Votes % Swing Seats Change
Liberal Party of Australia 4,741,458 40.47 +3.39% 74 +5
National Party of Australia 690,275 5.89 +0.28% 12 -1
Country Liberal Party 39,855 0.34 +0.02% 1
Total Coalition 5,471,588 46.7 87 +4
Australian Labor Party 4,408,820 37.63 -0.21% 60 -4
Australian Greens 841,734 7.19 +2.23% 0
Australian Democrats 144,832 1.24 -4.17% 0
One Nation Party 139,956 1.19 -3.15% 0
Family First Party 235,315 2.01 +2.01% 0
Other 512,445 4.37 3
Total 11,714,835 150

The Coalition won eight seats from Labor: Bass (Tas), Bonner (Qld), Braddon (Tas), Greenway (NSW), Hasluck (WA), Kingston (SA), Stirling (WA) and Wakefield (SA). Labor won four seats from the Coalition: Adelaide (SA), Hindmarsh (SA), Parramatta (NSW) and Richmond (NSW). The Coalition thus had a net gain of four seats.

Party                                 Votes        %     Change    Seats  +  2001 = 2005
Liberal National coalition             4,291,478   44.7  +02.9      21    +  18   =  39
Australian Labor Party                 3,388,195   35.3  +01.1      16    +  12   =  28
Australian Greens                        716,253   07.5  +02.6       2    +   2   =   4
Australian Democrats                     195,243   02.0  -05.2       -    +   4   =   4
Family First                             169,584   01.8  +01.8       1    +   -   =   1      
One Nation                               161,355   01.7  -03.7       -
Others                                   666,472   06.9              -
Total                                  9,588,580                    40    +  36   =  76

The Liberal and National parties run joint tickets in some states. The figures under "Seats" show the number of Senate seats won at this election. These have been added to the number of seats won in 2001 to give the total number of seats in Senate which each party will hold after July 1 2005, when the new Senators take their seats.

The National and Liberal Parties won the fifth and sixth seats respectively in Queensland, thus giving the Coalition 39 seats and outright control of the Senate. Labor won the final seats in New South Wales and South Australia, giving it 28 seats. The Greens won the final seats in Western Australia and Tasmania.

See Results of the Australian legislative election, 2004

The campaign

The Prime Minister, John Howard, announced the election at a press conference in Canberra on 29 August, after meeting with the Governor-General, Major-General (ret) Michael Jeffery, at Government House.

John Howard told the press conference that the election would be about trust. "Who do you trust to keep the economy strong and protect family living standards?" he asked "Who do you trust to keep interest rates low? Who do you trust to lead the fight on Australia's behalf against international terrorism?"

Howard, who turned 65 in July, declined to answer questions about whether he would serve a full three-year term if his government was re-elected. "I will serve as long as my party wants me to," he said. (See full report ( and transcript ( of Howard's press conference).

At a press conference in Sydney half an hour after Howard's announcement, Opposition Leader Mark Latham welcomed the election, saying the Howard Government had been in power too long. He said the main issue would be truth in government. "We've had too much dishonesty from the Howard Government," he said. "The election is about trust. The Government has been dishonest for too long." (See full report ( and transcript ( of Latham's press conference).

The campaign began with Labor leading in all published national opinion polls. On 31 August the Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper gave Labor a lead of 52 percent to 48 percent nationwide, which would translate into a comfortable win for Labor in terms of seats. Most commentators, however, expected the election to be very close, pointing out that Labor was also ahead in the polls at the comparable point of the 1998 election, which Howard won. Howard has also consistently out-polled Latham as preferred Prime Minister by an average of 11.7 percentage points in polls taken this year (

After the first week of campaigning, a Newspoll conducted for News Corporation newspapers indicated that the Coalition held a lead on a two-party preferred basis of 52 percent to 48 percent in the government's twelve most marginal held seats. To secure government in its own right, Labor needed to win twelve more seats than in the 2001 election. In the same poll, John Howard increased his lead over Mark Latham as preferred Prime Minister by four points. Meanwhile, the Taverner poll conducted for The Sun-Herald newspaper revealed that younger voters were more likely to support Labor, with 41% of those aged 18 to 24 supporting Labor, compared with 36% who support the Coalition.

On September 9, during the second week of campaigning the election was rocked by a terrorist attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. John Howard expressed his "utter dismay at this event" and dispatched Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to Jakarta to assist in the investigation. Mark Latham committed the Labor's "full support to all efforts by the Australian and Indonesian governments to ensure that happens". The parties reached an agreement that campaigning would cease for September 10 out of respect for the victims of this attack and that this would be in addition to the cessation of campaigning already agreed upon for September 11 out of respect for the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Most commentators believe that this terrorist attack increased the Coalition's chances of victory because it refocused the election on the issue of national security, which is generally considered to be a Coalition strength.

A debate between John Howard and Mark Latham was televised commercial-free on the Nine Network at 7:30 PM on Sunday September 12. In a change from previous election debates, which involved a single moderator, the leaders were questioned by a five member panel representing each of the major media groups in Australia. There was a representative from commercial television (Laurie Oakes), the ABC (Jim Middleton), News Limited (Malcolm Farr), John Fairfax Holdings (Michelle Grattan) and radio (Neil Mitchell). After an opening address, Howard and Latham responded to questions posed by the panel and had the opportunity to make a closing statement. The Nine Network permitted other television organisations to transmit the feed, but only the ABC decided to.

The debate was followed (only on the Nine Network) by an analysis of the leaders' performance by the "worm". The worm works by analysing the approval or disapproval of a select group of undecided voters to each statement that a leader makes. Throughout the debate, according to the worm," Latham performed strongly and Howard performed poorly. A final poll of the focus group found that 67% of the focus group believed that Latham won the debate and that 33% of the focus group believed that Howard won. Major media outlets generally agreed that Latham had won the debate, although they pointed out that with no further debates scheduled and nearly four weeks of the campaign remaining, Latham's gain in the momentum from the debate was unlikely to be decisive. Political commentators noted that the 2001 election debate, between Howard and then opposition leader Kim Beazley, gave the same worm results yet Labor still lost that election.

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Officials of the Australian Electoral Commission conduct a blind ballot to determine the order of candidates on the House of Representatives ballot paper in the Division of Melbourne Ports, September 17, 2004

By the midpoint of the campaign, after Labor had released its policies on taxation and education, polls showed that the election was still too close to call. The Newspoll in The Australian, showed (September 21) Labor leading with 52.5 percent of the two-party vote. The ACNielsen poll published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age showed the Coalition ahead on 52 percent. The Morgan poll, which has a poor recent record of predicting federal elections, showed Labor ahead with 53 percent on the weekend of 18-19 September. A Galaxy Poll in the Melbourne Herald Sun showed the Coalition ahead with 51 percent, but showed Labor gaining ground.

Despite Latham's strong performance in the debate, most political commentators argued that he had not gained a clear advantage over Howard. They pointed to anomalies in Labor's tax policy and the controversy surrounding Labor's policy of reducing government funding to some non-government schools as issues which Howard was successfully exploiting.

John Howard and John Anderson launched the Coalition election campaign at a joint function in Brisbane on 26 September. Howard's policy speech ( (PDF) can be read at the Liberal Party website ( Anderson's policy speech ( can be read at the National Party website (

Mark Latham's policy speech was delivered, also in Brisbane, on 29 September. His policy speech ( can be read at the Australian Labor Party website (

During the fourth week of the campaign contradictory polls continued to appear. The ACNielsen poll published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 25 September showed the Coalition ahead with 54 percent, which would translate into a large majority for the government. The Newspoll in The Australian on 28 September showed Labor ahead with 52 percent, which would give Labor a comfortable majority.

In the last days of the campaign the environment policies regarding the logging of Tasmania's old-growth forests were released by both major parties, allowing the Greens to determine their preference flows on the how-to-vote cards in many electorates. Treasury and the Department of Finance reported on the validity of Labor's costings of their promises. They claimed to identify a different flaw to that identified by Liberal Treasurer Costello, but overall Labor was satisfied with the report.

The final opinion polls continued to be somewhat contradictory, with Newspoll showing a 50-50 tie and the Fairfax papers reporting 54-46 to the Coalition. Most Australian major daily newspaper editorials backed a return of the Howard government, with the notable exceptions of The Sydney Morning Herald which backed no parties and The Canberra Times which backed Labor [1] (

Preference deals

As in all Australian elections, the second-preference votes of minor parties were crucial in determining the outcome of this election, and the close of nominations was followed by a period of bargaining among the parties. Howard made a pitch for the preferences of the Australian Greens by appearing to offer concessions on the issue of logging in old-growth forests in Tasmania, and the Coalition directed its preferences to the Greens ahead of Labor in the Senate, but the Greens nevertheless decided to allocate preferences to Labor in most electorates. In exchange, Labor agreed to direct its preferences in the Senate to the Greens, increasing the chances that the Greens would displace Australian Democrats Senators in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

The Democrats in turn did a preference deal with the Family First Party, despite the great ideological differences between the two parties. The Coalition expected to gain preferences from the Family First Party, the Christian Democratic Party, the Democratic Labor Party and One Nation.

In Victoria, however, Family First, the Christian Democrats and the DLP allocated their senate preferences to Labor, in order to help ensure the re-election of the number three Labor Senate candidate, Jacinta Collins, a Catholic who has conservative views on some social issues such as abortion. In exchange, Labor gave its Senate preferences in Victoria to Family First ahead of the Greens, expecting Family First to be eliminated before these preferences were distributed. In the event, however, Labor and Democrat preferences helped Family First win a Victorian Senate seat.

In Tasmania, Family First and the Democrats also directed their Senate preferences to Labor, apparently to preclude the possibility of the Liberals winning a majority in the Senate and thus reducing the influence of the minor parties.

Party leaders

  • John Howard has been an MP since 1974, leader of the Liberal Party since 1995 (he was previously leader from 1985 to 1989), and Prime Minister since March 1996. He turned 65 in July 2004, and is more than 20 years older than Mark Latham. Howard is by far the most experienced politician in Australian federal politics and is considered a master of political strategy, a reputation which was enhanced during the 2004 campaign. Although most commentators agreed that he did not perform in well in the debate with Latham, his dogged campaigning on interest rates, economic certainty and national security was effective in persuading voters in marginal seats to stick with the Coalition.
  • John Anderson has been an MP since 1988 and leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister since 1999. Although talented and personable, he has been unable to stem the long-term decline in the Nationals' rural electoral base. During 2003 he considered retiring from Parliament at this election, but was persuaded not to. Despite his personal standing, the Nationals lost another seat (Richmond) and struggled to win a Senate spot in Queensland.
  • Mark Latham has been an MP since 1994 and was elected leader of the Australian Labor Party in December 2003. Latham initially made a good impression, but a series of controversies during 2004 caused much criticism of his alleged inconsistency and volatility. His campaign was aggressive and colourful, with a series of bold policy announcements late in the campaign. This galvanised Labor's base but many commentators felt that Latham's policies and personality alienated middle class voters. In retrospect Labor's forests policy was a major miscalculation, costing two seats in Tasmania. Latham also failed to effectively counter Howard's campaign on interest rates.
  • Andrew Bartlett has been a Senator since 1997 and leader of the Australian Democrats since 2002. His efforts to revive the Democrats' fortunes after a year of damaging internal conflict were severely set back by an incident in December 2003 in which he accosted Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris in the Senate chamber while visibly drunk. After keeping a low profile during 2004, he led the Democrats' to their worst-ever election performance. His position is now in doubt, but with Aden Ridgeway losing his seat the Democrats have no obvious alternative leader.
  • Bob Brown has been a Senator and the informal leader of the Australian Greens since 1996. By resolutely opposing Australia's participation in the Iraq War he has established himself as the most prominent figure of the Australian left and has a high reputation for integrity. Media predictions that the Greens would greatly increase their vote and win a Senate seat in every state, or even win House seats, were not realised. Although the Greens took many votes from the Democrats, their inroads into Labor's base vote did not occur.
  • Andrea Mason, leader of Family First, is the first indigenous Australian woman to lead an Australian political party. She completed her Bachelor of Law Degree in 2002 and has no formal political experience to date. The position she will lead her party in on certain key issues is unclear, though she has hinted that she is in favour of an apology for the stolen generation and would like to see an end to the incarceration of the children of refugees. In media interviews she states the party will address issues such as the sale of Telstra and cross-media ownership laws by assessing their impact on families.


Dates for financial disclosure for the 2004 Federal election have been specified by the Australian Electoral Commission. Broadcasters and publishers must lodge their returns by December 6, while candidates and Senate groups must lodge by January 24, 2005. This information will be available for public scrutiny on March 28, 2005.


External links

Electoral sites

Party sites

Election commentary and voter assistance

  • Election Tracker ( - Aimed at youth; writers are young journalists and enthusiastic amateurs.
  • ComparePolicies ( - Brings together all published policies by all candidates, without comment.

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