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What’s wrong with the Labor Party?

By Dennis Glover - posted Tuesday, 16 August 2005

What’s Labor doing wrong? Let’s begin by looking at some facts about Labor’s current electoral position:

  • Labor holds only 60 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives. The conservatives hold 90;
  • Labor and the minor parties and independents have lost their majority in the Senate; and
  • at the 2004 federal election Labor received just 47.3 per cent of the 2-party preferred vote for the House of Representatives. A swing against it of nearly 1.8 per cent.

This sounds bad. But it’s worth comparing with some recent bad results:

  • in 1996 to 2-party preferred result was 46.4 per cent;
  • in 1977 it was 45.4 per cent;
  • in 1975 it was 44.3 per cent; and
  • in the Vietnam War election of 1966 it was just 43.1 per cent.

Here are some other interesting facts:

Labor holds government in every state and territory, including the Northern Territory. If you’d suggested this was possible a decade ago, people would have laughed at you.

It recently held on in Western Australia when it was gone for all money just days out from the election.

If you add up every seat in every legislature in the states and territories Labor holds 337 of the 598 - that’s 56 per cent. The Liberals have just 158 - 26 per cent. And the Coalition combined holds only 207 - or 34.6 per cent.

In the Victorian Legislative Assembly the Coalition holds just 19 of the 88 seats. In Queensland the figure is 20 out of 89. The Liberal Party does not hold a single seat of the 15 in the Tasmanian Upper House.


Why is this important? Because it proves that while it’s down, Labor is by no means out. To suggest the party is finished defies the evidence and history. And John Howard knows it. So what’s the problem?

There’s an obvious and massive one - the primary vote:

  • in 1993 it was 44.9 per cent;
  • in 1996 - 38.8;
  • in 1998 it went up slightly - 40.1;
  • in 2001 - 37.8; and
  • in 2004 - just 37.6.
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This is the an edited version of a speech given to the Politics students at Latrobe University on May 5, 2005.

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About the Author

Dennis Glover is a Labor speechwriter and fellow of the new progressive think tank Per Capita.

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