Should we have by-elections? Last week Mark Vaile formally resigned from Parliament creating a need for a by-election in his seat of Lyne.
The by-election will be held on the same day as that of the seat of Mayo vacated by Alexander Downer. They follow the by-election in June in Gippsland caused by the resignation of Peter McGauran.
Perhaps Peter Costello will leave, causing a by-election in Higgins.
Maybe Lyne will fall to an independent like other New South Wales National Party seats, but all the others are safe. And even if Lyne changes hands it will not affect the Government.
We can expect a lot more by-elections in the future, now John Howard has left the prime ministership.
Howard held a tight rein on by-elections because he had a good sense of political history. In his 11 years, he allowed just one resignation-causing by-election: that in the seat of Ryan held by his former Defence Minister John Moore in 2001. The Liberals lost that by-election to Labor and Howard never allowed another one.
All the other by-elections in his term were cause by death or Labor resignations except the one caused by a finding of the Court of Disputed Returns in Lindsay which Jackie Kelly won in 1996.
If you wanted to vacate a Coalition seat in the Howard years, you had to wait till a general election.
Howard knew that a political party is three times more likely to lose a by-election caused by a resignation than it is to lose one caused by death.
Even so, a major party is still very unlikely to lose a by-election to the other major party. As for a by-election causing a change of government, it has never happened in the federal sphere.
It happened once in Queensland in 1996, but that was not so much a by-election as a re-run of the original election in the state seat of Mundingburra after a ruling by the Court of Disputed Returns.
So it makes you wonder why we do not have the same process for the House of Representatives as we have for the Senate. If a Member dies or resigns he or she is replaced by a person of the same party.
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