Briefing paper

The age of independence? Independents in Australian parliaments

1 Oct 2010
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As there are more independent members with a party background, it could be argued that the influence of the major parties continues to be very strong, even when non-aligned candidates are successful.

The dominance of the major parties in Australian politics has lead to the portrayal of independent  Members of Parliament as marginal or even irrelevant features of parliamentary representation.  First preference votes for major parties in the House of Representatives averaged about 92 per  cent in each decade from the 1950s to the 1980s. However, this dropped to an average of 84 per  cent in the House elections since 1990, signalling a trend away from major parties.

Against the decline in support for major parties, there has been a slow but steady increase in support for independent candidates in federal and state elections since 1980. The average first preference vote for independent candidates in the House of Representatives increased from under 0.5 per cent in 1963 to about 2.5 per cent in 2010. In state lower house elections, support for independents increased from 3.15 per cent in the 1960s to 5.8 per cent in the 2000s.

However, independents are not completely outside mainstream party politics — this study suggests that successful independent candidates tend to be males with a background in party politics. Some state independents have become independent members at the Commonwealth level. A small number of independents have also gained ministerial positions at the state level.

As there are more independent members with a party background, it could be argued that the influence of the major parties continues to be very strong, even when non-aligned candidates are successful. The greater number of independents elected has, therefore, not resulted in particularly ‘different’ people being elected, that is, while they are not party insiders, by definition, nor are they political outsiders.

 

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2010
10
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