Australian federal election, 1903

Australian federal election, 1903


The election saw the Labour party made significant gains outside New South Wales and Victoria. As a result of Labour's gains, the numbers of the three parties in Parliament were very close to equal, leading to unstable governments. Alfred Deakin would describe it as a parliament of "three elevens" (three cricket teams). Although the Protectionists were able to retain their minority government with the qualified support of the Labour Party, the equal numbers would see a record three changes of government over the course of the Parliamentary term, with each of the three parties holding office at least once during the term of the Parliament.

The three parties that contested the 1901 election also contested the 1903 election, with only the Protectionists changing leaders to Alfred Deakin as a result of Edmund Barton's appointment as an inaugural judge of the newly constituted High Court of Australia. The Free Trade Party was again lead by George Reid. The only significant difference in policy between these parties was on trade issues. The Protectionists sought to protect Australian industry and agriculture by placing tariffs on imports. The Free Traders downgraded the view they had last election of having no tariffs to campaigning on minimal tariffs. The other major party contesting the election was the Labour Party. This election also saw the debut of Australia's first of many minor parties, the Revenue Tariff Party, whose sole elected member joined the Free Trade Party at the start of the first sitting of the new parliament.

Following a federal government act in 1902, women were given the vote in all states, leading to a significant increase in the number of votes cast in the 1903 election. Like the 1901 election, voting was voluntary and candidates were elected by the First-past-the-post system.


Candidates were contesting 75 House of Representatives and 36 Senate seats, a number unchanged from the 1901 election. The House of Representative seats were determined by the population of each state, giving 26 seats to New South Wales, 23 to Victoria, nine to Queensland, seven to South Australia and five to both Western Australia and Tasmania. In 1901, the South Australian and Tasmanian colonial parliaments had not legislated for single member electorates, so their House of Representative members were elected from a single state wide electorate. This had since changed and there were now single member electorates in both states. The newly created seats were Adelaide, Angas, Barker, Boothby, Grey, Hindmarsh and Wakefield (South Australia) and Bass, Darwin, Denison, Franklin and Wilmot (Tasmania).

Each state elected six Senators regardless of population. The Senate was elected on a "winner take all" basis rather than the current proportional representation system.

The most marginal electorates from the 1901 election are shown here.

New England 0.3% Pro to FT

Capricornia 1.0% Ind to ALP

Herbert 1.6% ALP to Pro

Werriwa 1.9% FT to Pro

Lannecorrie 2% Pro to IP

Yarra 2.3% ALP to Pro

Clarke 2.4% Pro to FT

Coolgardie 2.8% ALP to FT

Flinders 3% FT to Pro

Robertson 3% Ft to Pro

Oxley 3.2% Pro to ALP

Maranoa 3.3% ALP to FT

Riverina 3.5% Pro to FT

Bourke 4% Pro to FT

Echuca 4% Pro to FT

Macquerie 4% FT to Pro


* [ State and federal election results] in Australia since 1890

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