Research report

Double, double toil and trouble: the 2016 federal election

30 Jun 2017

Executive summary

  • The Coalition, led by Malcolm Turnbull, was returned at the election with 76 seats and a slim majority of one in the House of Representatives and faced an enlarged crossbench in the Senate. The 2016 election saw the return of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, which gained four seats in the Senate.
  • The election followed a double dissolution of the two Houses of Parliament, only the seventh since Federation, and the first since 1987. The triggering legislation were the Bills to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which were passed by the Senate after the election without the need for a joint sitting.
  • The 2016 election was the first to be conducted under the new Senate voting system, which allowed voters to use optional preferential voting above or below the line. The changes survived a High Court challenge just prior to the election. In general, the new Senate system worked as intended, with voters taking the opportunity to allocate their own preferences.
  • The election followed redistributions in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Western Australia (WA) and New South Wales (NSW). The WA redistribution added a new electorate to the state, and the NSW redistribution removed one, both of which involved the movement of many voters between divisions.
  • Despite the double dissolution triggers being industrial relations Bills, there was an absence of a fiery campaign on industrial relations. The eight-week long election campaign brought forth a wide variety of issues, from milk prices to refugee policy. However, few people would have guessed at the start of the campaign the importance that Medicare and health policy would have by election day.
  • The campaign featured three leaders’ debates, one of which was hosted on the social media site Facebook.While campaigns in all 150 seats and all states doubtless had their own highlights, a number of contests were notable because of attempted political revivals, escapes from apparently certain defeat, or the rancour of the battles.
  • Despite failures of polling in several recent international elections, national polls for the federal election closely estimated the results. Polls for individual divisions were notably less accurate.
  • Around one million new voters were added to the electoral roll for the 2016 federal election, leading to the highest enrolment rate in recent times—however, the turnout for the election was the lowest since the start of compulsory voting. Early voting continued to rise, with 4.5 million voters casting their vote before election day.
  • The 45th Parliament first sat on 30 August 2016—113 days, three months and 21 days after it was dissolved for the election.
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