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Australian federal election, 1929


Australian federal election, 1929

Australian federal election, 1929

12 October 1929 (1929-10-12)

All 75 seats in the Australian House of Representatives
38 seats were needed for a majority
  First party Second party
Leader James Scullin Stanley Bruce
Party Labor Nationalist/Country coalition
Leader since 26 April 1928 9 February 1923
Leader's seat Yarra Flinders (lost seat)
Last election 31 seats 42 seats
Seats won 46 seats 24 seats
Seat change Increase15 Decrease18
Popular vote 1,406,327 1,271,619
Percentage 48.84% 44.16%
Swing Increase4.20 Decrease5.40

Prime Minister before election

Stanley Bruce
Nationalist/Country coalition

Resulting Prime Minister

James Scullin

A House-only Federal Election was held in Australia on 12 October 1929. All 75 seats in the House of Representatives were up for election, but there was no Senate election. The election was caused by the defeat of the Bruce-Page Government in the House of Representatives over the Maritime Industries Bill, Bruce having declared that the vote on the bill would constitute a vote of confidence in his government.

With senators having fixed six-year terms, the terms of those senators elected in 1926 were not due to expire until 1932. Under the Constitution of Australia, no election for their replacement could occur more than a year prior to their terms expiring (except in the case of a double dissolution), so it was not possible to hold a half-Senate election in 1929. This was the first Commonwealth election for the House of Representatives alone.

In the election, the incumbent Nationalist Party of Australia led by Prime Minister of Australia Stanley Bruce, in power since 1923 with coalition partner the Country Party led by Earle Page, was defeated by the opposition Australian Labor Party led by James Scullin. Labor won with its then largest-ever majority in the federal parliament, but held only a minority of Senate seats as a result of the House-only election.

It was the only federal election in Australia's history at which no sitting members retired. It also saw the defeat of the Prime Minister Stanley Bruce in his own seat of Flinders; the first time that a serving Prime Minister had lost his own seat at an election.

House of Reps (IRV) — 1929–31—Turnout 94.85% (CV) — Informal 2.65%
  Party Votes % Swing Seats Change
  Australian Labor Party 1,406,327 48.84 +4.20 46 +15 (6 elected
  Nationalist Party of Australia 975,979 33.90 −5.20 14 −15
  Country Party 295,640 10.27 −0.20 10 −3 (3 elected
  Independent Nationalist 112,108 3.89 * 3 +3
  Country Progressive Party 27,942 0.97 −0.64 1 0
  Independent 61,254 2.13 −2.06 1 0
  Total 2,879,250     75
  Australian Labor Party 46 +15
  Nationalist/Country coalition 24 −18

Independent: William McWilliams (Franklin, Tas)

See Australian federal election, 1928 for Senate composition.


  • Trigger 1
  • Seats changing hands 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Conflict over industrial relations had dominated Stanley Bruce's government in 1929. Strikes and unrest in Newcastle and Hunter Region coalfields were the most widespread and severe, but disturbances within the waterfront, sugar, transport and timber industries were also ongoing. Throughout 1928 and 1929 economic conditions in Australia and internationally had been declining, whilst Australian debt had grown and revenues had shrunk. Facing major challenges, Bruce had embarked upon extensive negotiations throughout 1929 to tighten federal control over finance and industrial relations and to implement ameliorating policies in concert with the states. Instead, the Nationalist premiers met separately and demanded that Bruce remand control of industrial arbitration back to the individual states.[1]

In August these issues came to a head. On 14 August, a motion of no-confidence was moved by Labor in response to Bruce's decision earlier in the year to drop prosecution of mine-owner John Brown for his part in the coalmine lock-outs in the Hunter Valley. The motion was defeated, but Billy Hughes and Edward Mann crossed the floor on the motion. Bruce subsequently excluded them from participating in party meetings. Bruce then introduced the Maritime Industries Bill, which would abolish the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and make arbitration the exclusive domain of the states. In concert Earle Page brought down his seventh and most stringent budget, which introduced new taxes and spending cuts in an attempt to fight the ballooning deficit. Both were highly controversial.[2]

Hughes and Mann joined the opposition in denouncing the bill, and were joined by rebelling Nationalist Percy Stewart. At the second reading of the bill in September, it was apparent the bill would narrowly pass. However, when the bill entered the committee stage Hughes moved an amendment that the bill should not be proclaimed until submitted to the people, either by referendum or general election. Attorney-General John Latham noted that the Commonwealth had no power to call a referendum, making general election the only constitutionally valid result of the amendment. Bruce agreed, stating that the amendment would constitute a vote of confidence in his government.[3] The amendment had the support of the opposition, as well as the three Nationalist defectors. Independents Stewart and William McWilliams indicated their support. The critical vote came down to Nationalist Walter Marks, who was known to be a supporter of the bill but unhappy with the government's handling of the movie industry, of which he was an ardent supporter. The new budget's "amusement tax" (which would harm film exhibitors) appeared to be the last straw, and Marks joined to defectors to vote for the amendment.[4]

With the vote now likely 35-34 in favor of the amendment, the Government was faced with a dilemma. The Chairman of Committees, Nationalist James Bayley, could not cast a deliberative vote in committee, only a casting vote if the numbers were tied. However, it was possible for the Speaker, Nationalist Sir Littleton Groom, to cast a deliberative vote in the committee (though not on the floor of the House, where the Speaker has only a casting vote). Bruce implored Groom to vote against the amendment in committee so that Bayley could defeat the measure with his tie-breaking vote. However, Groom was steadfast that he would follow the British House of Commons (though not Australian) precedent that the Speaker remain impartial and not vote in committee. There was also some suspicion of vengeance in his decision, as Groom had been demoted from Attorney-General to Speaker the a few years previously, a move he had reputedly been unhappy about.[5] With Groom abstaining, the amendment passed by one vote as predicted. Treating the passage of the amendment as a traditional defeat in a motion of no-confidence, after adjournment on 12 September Bruce announced to the House that the Governor-General had accepted his advice to call a new election, despite some speculation a government led by John Latham, James Scullin or (somewhat implausibly) Billy Hughes might be attempted.

Seats changing hands

Seat Pre-1929 Swing Post-1929
Party Member Margin Margin Member Party
Angas, SA   Nationalist Walter Parsons 9.4 14.1 4.7 Moses Gabb Labor  
Bass, Tas   Nationalist David Jackson 3.1 13.5 10.4 Allan Guy Labor  
Bendigo, Vic   Nationalist Geoffry Hurry 3.1 8.2 5.1 Richard Keane Labor  
Calare, NSW   Nationalist Neville Howse 10.7 12.3 1.6 George Gibbons Labor  
Corangamite, Vic   Country William Gibson 3.0 5.1 2.1 Richard Crouch Labor  
Corio, Vic   Nationalist John Lister 8.5 14.5 6.0 Arthur Lewis Labor  
Eden-Monaro, NSW   Nationalist John Perkins 7.6 7.7 0.1 John Cusack Labor  
Fawkner, Vic   Nationalist George Maxwell N/A 23.1 11.4 George Maxwell Independent Nationalist  
Flinders, Vic   Nationalist Stanley Bruce 10.7 10.9 0.2 Jack Holloway Labor  
Gwydir, NSW   Country Aubrey Abbott 2.3 6.0 3.7 Lou Cunningham Labor  
Kennedy, Qld   Nationalist Grosvenor Francis 2.4 5.5 3.1 Darby Riordan Labor  
Martin, NSW   Nationalist Graham Pratten 6.9 13.3 6.4 John Eldridge Labor  
North Sydney, NSW   Nationalist Billy Hughes N/A 32.3 16.1 Billy Hughes Independent Nationalist  
Parkes, NSW   Nationalist Charles Marr 7.4 15.2 7.8 Edward McTiernan Labor  
Parramatta, NSW   Nationalist Eric Bowden 10.1 13.4 3.3 Albert Rowe Labor  
Wakefield, SA   Country Maurice Collins 9.6 16.5 6.9 Charles Hawker Nationalist  
Wannon, Vic   Nationalist Arthur Rodgers 2.8 4.8 2.0 John McNeill Labor  
Wentworth, NSW   Nationalist Walter Marks 11.5 19.8 8.3 Walter Marks Independent Nationalist  
Wilmot, Tas   Nationalist Llewellyn Atkinson 4.6 N/A 2.9 Joseph Lyons Labor  

See also


  1. ^ Radi, Heather. "Stanley Melbourne Bruce". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 25 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Souter, Gavin (1988). Acts of Parliament : A Narrative History of the Senate and House of Representatives. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press. pp. 249–252.  
  3. ^ Souter, Gavin (1988). Acts of Parliament: A Narrative History of the Senate and House of Representatives. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press. pp. 249–252.  
  4. ^ Lloyd, C.J. "Marks, Walter Moffitt (1875–1951)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 25 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Lee, David (2010). Stanley Melbourne Bruce: Australian Internationalist. London: Continuum. pp. 89–90.  
  • University of WA election results in Australia since 1890
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