Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Should we have by-elections?

By Crispin Hull - posted Friday, 8 August 2008

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.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

A version of this article was first published in The Canberra Times on August 2, 2008.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

6 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times, admitted as a barrister and solicitor in the ACT and author of The High Court 1903-2003 (The Law Book Company). He teaches journalism at the University of Canberra and is chair of Barnardos Australia, the children’s charity. His website is here:

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Crispin Hull

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 6 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy