Inside Story

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Polls, elections and Australian political history: a primer

As Australian political records tumble, Rodney Tiffen looks at the pitfalls of poll-watching and the lessons of post-war Australian elections

Rodney Tiffen 6 August 2010 175 words

Julia Gillard and treasurer Wayne Swan board the media bus in Sydney on 3 August, heading for a day of campaigning on the central coast. AAP Image/Alan Porritt



THERE have been so many records set recently in Australian politics that the politicians should be tested for steroids. We began the current electoral cycle with the personal defeat of a prime minister for only the second time in 110 years, with John Howard following the 1929 precedent of Stanley Bruce and being swept from parliament. Then, for the first time, the Liberals staged two leadership coups within three years. Finally – and again for the first time ever – a successful leadership coup was launched against a first-term prime minister, the leader who had achieved the equal-third-biggest winning swing since the second world war.

This raises an obvious question. Will this month’s election follow the precedent of the 1931 election, with Julia Gillard joining James Scullin as leader of one of only two federal governments defeated after only one term? Or else, will she follow Paul Keating as the only leader at either state or federal level – at least in the last half century – to win an election after…

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Wild card? Andrew Wilkie, who narrowly missed on on a seat at this year’s state election, on the campaign trail in Hobart last week.
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Wild card? Andrew Wilkie, who narrowly missed on on a seat at this year’s state election, on the campaign trail in Hobart last week.
AAP Image/ Patrick Caruana