Australian federal election, 1983


Australian federal election, 1983

Independent: Brian Harradine

Background

The coalition government led by Malcolm Fraser had to contend with a parlous economic situation with high inflation and high unemployment. The nation had seen an increase in industrial disputation and many rural areas were gripped by drought. In the previous year, Fraser had fought off a leadership challenge from Andrew Peacock, who had resigned from the Cabinet citing Fraser's "manic determination to get his own way", a phrase Fraser had himself used when he resigned from the Gorton ministry in 1971. A by-election in Flinders in December 1982, occasioned by the resignation of Phillip Lynch, had seen an unexpected victory by the Liberal candidate, Peter Reith.

Bob Hawke had entered Parliament at the 1980 federal election after many years as the colourful and popular leader of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). Sensing the opportunity to take power was not far away, Labor factions began to push for the deposition of Bill Hayden from the party leadership in favour of Hawke. On 3 February 1983, in a meeting in Brisbane, Hayden was told by his closest supporters that he must resign, which he did. Hawke was then elected leader unopposed. Later that morning, emboldened by the December by-election but unaware of the events in Brisbane, Fraser in Canberra called a snap election for 5 March. In response to his removal, Hayden claimed that a "drover's dog" could lead the ALP to victory.

Fraser's campaign was dogged by an uninspiring strategy and a weak slogan ("We're Not Waiting For The World"). Hawke's campaign theme revolved around his favoured leadership philosophy of consensus, and Labor's slogan "Bringing Australia Together" promised an end to the bitterness that surrounded Fraser's election after the Whitlam government's dismissal in November 1975. The Ash Wednesday bushfires that devastated areas of Victoria and South Australia on 16 February also cost Fraser precious time as campaigning was unofficially put on hold while the Prime Minister toured the affected areas. In response to an attack from Fraser on the security of the banking system to protect people's savings in which he asserted that ordinary people's money was safer under their beds than in a bank under Labor, Hawke retorted mirthfully with the line "you can't keep your money under the bed because that's where the Commies are!"

As election night progressed and the landslide win to the ALP became clear early, a victorious Hawke with wife Hazel claimed victory while a tearful Fraser conceded defeat. Fraser soon resigned from Parliament, leaving the Liberal leadership to one-time foe Andrew Peacock, who would later form a fierce leadership rivalry himself with future Prime Minister John Howard.

References

* [http://elections.uwa.edu.au/ University of WA] election results in Australia since 1890
* [http://www.aec.gov.au/Elections/Australian_Electoral_History/House_of_Representative_1949_Present.htm AEC 2PP vote]
* [http://australianpolitics.com/elections/1983/ AustralianPolitics.com election details]


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