Puneet Varma

Australian federal election, 2004

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9 October 2004 (2004-10-09)  2007 →
Turnout  94.3%
87 seats  60 seats
Registered  12,354,983
82 seats  65 seats
Australian federal election, 2004
30 January 1995 (1995-01-30)  2 December 2003 (2003-12-02)

Federal elections were held in Australia on 9 October 2004. All 150 seats in the House of Representatives and 40 seats in the 76-member Senate were up for election. The incumbent Liberal Party of Australia led by Prime Minister of Australia John Howard and coalition partner the National Party of Australia led by John Anderson defeated the opposition Australian Labor Party led by Mark Latham.


House of Representatives results

Independents: Peter Andren, Tony Windsor, Bob Katter

House of Representatives preference flows

  • The Nationals had candidates in 9 seats where three-cornered-contests existed, with 84.70% of preferences favouring the Liberal Party.
  • The Greens contested all 150 electorates with preferences strongly favouring Labor (80.86%)
  • Family First contested 109 electorates with preferences favouring the Liberal/National Coalition (66.57%)
  • The Democrats contested 125 electorates with preferences slightly favouring Labor (58.91%)
  • One Nation contested 77 electorates with preferences slightly favouring the Liberal/National Coalition (56.4%)
  • Seats changing hands

    In the House of Representatives, the Coalition won eight seats from Labor: Bass (Tas), Bonner (Qld), Braddon (Tas), Greenway (NSW), Hasluck (WA), Kingston (SA), Stirling (WA) and Wakefield (SA). Labor won four seats from the Coalition: Adelaide (SA), Hindmarsh (SA), Parramatta (NSW) and Richmond (NSW). The Coalition thus had a net gain of four seats. The redistribution had also delivered them McMillan (Vic), formerly held by Christian Zahra of Labor and won by Liberal Russell Broadbent; and Bowman (Qld), formerly held by Labor's Con Sciacca and won by Liberal Andrew Laming. Labor, meanwhile, received the new seat of Bonner (Qld) and the redistributed Wakefield (SA), both of which were lost to the Liberal Party. The Labor Party regained the seat of Cunningham, which had been lost to the Greens in a by-election in 2002.

  • *Con Sciacca was in fact the member for the seat of Bowman, which had become Liberal in a redistribution; he instead contested the new seat of Bonner. Martyn Evans was the member for the abolished seat of Bonython; he instead contested the seat of Wakefield.
  • Senate results

  • Julian McGauran later left the Nationals and joined the Liberals.
  • Overall result

    The Coalition parties won 46.7% of the primary vote, a gain of 3.7% over the 2001 election. The opposition Australian Labor Party polled 37.6%, a loss of 0.2 percentage points. The Australian Greens emerged as the most prominent minor party, polling 7.2%, a gain of 2.2 points. Both the Australian Democrats and One Nation had their vote greatly reduced. After a notional distribution of preferences, the Australian Electoral Commission estimated that the Coalition had polled 52.74% of the two-party-preferred vote, a gain of 1.7 points from 2001.

    The Liberal Party won 74 seats, the National Party 12 seats and the Country Liberal Party (the Northern Territory branch of the Liberal Party) one seat, against the Labor opposition's 60 seats. Three independent members were re-elected. The Coalition also won 39 seats in the 76-member Senate, making the Howard Government the first government to have a majority in the Senate since 1981. The size of the government's win was unexpected: few commentators had predicted that the coalition would actually increase its majority in the House of Representatives, and almost none had foreseen its gaining a majority in the Senate. Even Howard had described that feat as "a big ask".

    The election result was a triumph for Howard, who in December 2004 became Australia's second-longest serving Prime Minister, and who saw the election result as a vindication of his policies, particularly his decision to join in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The results were a setback for the Labor leader, Mark Latham, and contributed to his resignation in January 2005 after assuming the leadership from Simon Crean in 2003. The defeat made Labor's task more difficult: a provisional pendulum for the House of Representatives, showed that Labor would need to win 16 seats to win the following election. However, Kim Beazley said that the accession of Latham to the ALP leadership, in December 2003, had rescued the party from a much heavier defeat. Beazley stated that polling a year before the election indicated that the ALP would lose "25–30 seats" in the House of Representatives. Instead the party lost a net four seats in the House, a swing of 0.21 percentage points. There was also a 1.1-point swing to the ALP in the Senate. The Coalition gaining control of the Senate was enabled by a collapse in first preferences for the Australian Democrats and One Nation.

    Members and Senators defeated in the election include Larry Anthony, the National Party Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, defeated in Richmond, New South Wales; former Labor minister Con Sciacca, defeated in Bonner, Queensland; Liberal Parliamentary Secretaries Trish Worth (Adelaide, South Australia) and Ross Cameron (Parramatta, New South Wales); and Democrat Senators Aden Ridgeway (the only indigenous member of the outgoing Parliament), Brian Greig and John Cherry. Liberal Senator John Tierney (New South Wales), who was dropped to number four on the Coalition Senate ticket, was also defeated.

    Celebrity candidates Peter Garrett (Labor, Kingsford Smith, New South Wales) and Malcolm Turnbull (Liberal, Wentworth, New South Wales) easily won their contests. Prominent clergyman Fred Nile failed to win a Senate seat in New South Wales. The first Muslim candidate to be endorsed by a major party in Australia, Ed Husic, failed to win the seat of Greenway, New South Wales, for Labor. The former One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, failed in her bid to win a Senate seat in Queensland as an independent.

    Minor parties had mixed results. The Australian Democrats polled their lowest vote since their creation in 1977, and lost the three Senate seats they were defending. The Australian Greens won Senate seats in Western Australia and in Tasmania. They missed seats in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, partly because of preference deals by other parties. This was a poorer result than they had expected. They failed to win a seat in the House, losing the seat of Cunningham which they gained at a 2002 by-election.

    The Australian Progressive Alliance leader, Senator Meg Lees, and the One Nation parliamentary leader, Senator Len Harris, lost their seats. One Nation's vote in the House of Representatives collapsed. The Christian Democratic Party, the Citizens Electoral Council, the Democratic Labor Party, the Progressive Labour Party and the Socialist Alliance all failed to make any impact. The Family First Party polled 2% of the vote nationally, and their candidate Steve Fielding won a Senate seat in Victoria.


    The Liberal and National parties run joint tickets in some states. The figures under "Seats" show the number of Senate seats won at this election. These have been added to the number of seats won in 2001 to give the total number of seats in Senate which each party will hold after 1 July 2005, when the new Senators take their seats.

    The National and Liberal Parties won the fifth and sixth Senate seats in Queensland, thus giving the Coalition 39 seats and outright control of the Senate. Labor won the final Senate seats in New South Wales and South Australia, giving it 28 seats. The Greens won the final Senate seats in Western Australia and Tasmania, increasing their Senate seats from 2 to 4.

    See Results of the Australian federal election, 2004

    Pre-election issues

    In the wake of the 2002 Bali Bombings and the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, the Howard government along with the Blair and Bush governments, initiated combat operations in Afghanistan and an alliance for invading Iraq, these issues divided Labor voters who were disproportionately anti-war, flipping those votes from Labor and to the Greens. The second issue was the ongoing and continued worsening of the Millenium Drought continued to bolster support for the Nationals water management policies of the Murray-Darling river system, diverting focus away from rural and inner-city community water supplies and focusing on Regional and Farmland water supplies.

    The campaign

    The Prime Minister, John Howard, announced the election at a press conference in Canberra on 29 August, after meeting the Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery, at Government House.

    Opening shots: "who do you trust?"

    John Howard told the press conference that the election would be about trust. "Who do you trust to keep the economy strong and protect family living standards?" he asked "Who do you trust to keep interest rates low? Who do you trust to lead the fight on Australia's behalf against international terrorism?"

    Howard, who turned 64 in July, declined to answer questions about whether he would serve a full three-year term if his government was re-elected. "I will serve as long as my party wants me to," he said.

    At a press conference in Sydney half an hour after Howard's announcement, Opposition Leader Mark Latham welcomed the election, saying the Howard Government had been in power too long. He said the main issue would be truth in government. "We've had too much dishonesty from the Howard Government", he said. "The election is about trust. The Government has been dishonest for too long."

    Labor starts ahead in national opinion polls

    The campaign began with Labor leading in all published national opinion polls. On 31 August, Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper gave Labor a lead of 52% to 48% nationwide, which would translate into a comfortable win for Labor in terms of seats. Most commentators, however, expected the election to be very close, pointing out that Labor was also ahead in the polls at the comparable point of the 1998 election, which Howard won. Howard had also consistently out-polled Latham as preferred Prime Minister by an average of 11.7 percentage points in polls taken this year.

    After the first week, the Coalition draws ahead

    After the first week of campaigning, a Newspoll conducted for News Corporation newspapers indicated that the Coalition held a lead on a two-party-preferred basis of 52% to 48% in the government's 12 most marginal held seats. To secure government in its own right, Labor needed to win twelve more seats than in the 2001 election. In the same poll, John Howard increased his lead over Mark Latham as preferred Prime Minister by four points. The Taverner poll conducted for The Sun-Herald newspaper revealed that younger voters were more likely to support Labor, with 41% of those aged 18 to 24 supporting Labor, compared with 36% who support the Coalition.

    A terrorist attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta marks the second week

    On 9 September, during the second week of campaigning the election was rocked by a terrorist attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. John Howard expressed his "utter dismay at this event" and dispatched Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to Jakarta to assist in the investigation. Mark Latham committed the Labor party's "full support to all efforts by the Australian and Indonesian governments to ensure that happens". The parties reached an agreement that campaigning would cease for 10 September out of respect for the victims of this attack and that this would be in addition to the cessation of campaigning already agreed upon for 11 September in remembrance of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Some argue that this attack increased the Coalition's chances of victory because it re-focused the election on the issue of national security, which was generally considered to be a Coalition strength.

    The leaders debate and the worm turns in Latham's favour

    A debate between John Howard and Mark Latham was televised commercial-free on the Nine Network at 7:30 pm on Sunday 12 September. In a change from previous election debates, which involved a single moderator, the leaders were questioned by a five-member panel representing each of the major media groups in Australia. There was a representative from commercial television (Laurie Oakes), the ABC (Jim Middleton), News Limited (Malcolm Farr), John Fairfax Holdings (Michelle Grattan) and radio (Neil Mitchell). After an opening address, Howard and Latham responded to questions posed by the panel and had the opportunity to make a closing statement. The Nine Network permitted other television organisations to transmit the feed, but only the ABC chose to.

    The debate was followed (only on the Nine Network) by an analysis of the leaders' performance by the "worm". The worm works by analysing the approval or disapproval of a select group of undecided voters to each statement that a leader makes. Throughout the debate, according to the worm, Latham performed strongly and Howard performed poorly. A final poll of the focus group found that 67% of the focus group believed that Latham won the debate and that 33% of the focus group believed that Howard won. Major media outlets generally agreed that Latham had won the debate, although they pointed out that with no further debates scheduled and nearly four weeks of the campaign remaining, Latham's gain in the momentum from the debate was unlikely to be decisive. Political commentators noted that the 2001 election debate, between Howard and then opposition leader Kim Beazley, gave the same worm results yet Labor still lost that election.

    At the midpoint, it is too close to call

    By the midpoint of the campaign, after Labor had released its policies on taxation and education, polls showed that the election was still too close to call. The Newspoll in The Australian, showed (21 September) Labor leading with 52.5% of the two-party-preferred vote. The ACNielsen poll published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age showed the Coalition ahead on 52%. The Morgan poll, which has a poor recent record of predicting federal elections, showed Labor ahead with 53% on the weekend of 18–19 September. A Galaxy Poll in the Melbourne Herald Sun showed the Coalition ahead with 51%, but showed Labor gaining ground.

    Despite Latham's strong performance in the debate, most political commentators argued that he had not gained a clear advantage over Howard. They pointed to anomalies in Labor's tax policy and the controversy surrounding Labor's policy of reducing government funding to some non-government schools as issues which Howard was successfully exploiting.

    John Howard and John Anderson launched the Coalition election campaign at a joint function in Brisbane on 26 September. Howard's policy speech can be read at the Liberal Party website. Anderson's policy speech can be read at the National Party website.

    Mark Latham's policy speech was delivered, also in Brisbane, on 29 September.

    Contradictory polls in the fourth week

    During the fourth week of the campaign contradictory polls continued to appear. The ACNielsen poll published in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on 25 September showed the Coalition ahead with 54%, which would translate into a large majority for the government. The Newspoll in The Australian on 28 September showed Labor ahead with 52%, which would give Labor a comfortable majority.

    Tasmanian forests erupt as the main issue during the last week

    In the last days of the campaign the environment policies regarding the logging of Tasmania's old-growth forests were released by both major parties, but too late for the Greens to adjust their preference flows on how-to-vote cards in most electorates as the majority were already printed. In the game of "cat and mouse" on Tasmanian forest policy between Mark Latham and John Howard, Latham eventually lost out when Dick Adams (Labor member for the Tasmanian seat of Lyons), Tasmanian Labor Premier Paul Lennon and CFMEU's Tasmanian secretary Scott McLean all attacked Latham's forest policy. At a timber workers' rally on the day Labor's forestry policy was announced, Scott McLean asked those gathered to pass a resolution of no confidence in Mr Latham's ability to lead the country. Michael O'Connor, assistant national secretary of the CFMEU said the Coalition's forest policy represented a much better deal for his members than Labor's policy. Australian Labor Party national president Carmen Lawrence later said that "Labor has only itself to blame for the backlash over its forestry policy" and that it was a strategic mistake to release the policy so late in the election campaign. She stated that she was disappointed in criticism from within the ALP and union movement, and that the party did not leave itself enough time to sell the package.

    Treasury and the Department of Finance reported on the validity of Labor's costings of their promises. They claimed to identify a different flaw to that identified by Liberal Treasurer Costello, but overall Labor was satisfied with the report.

    The Handshake

    On the morning of 8 October, the day before the election, a television crew filmed Latham and Howard shaking hands as they crossed paths outside an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio studio in Sydney. The footage showed Latham appearing to draw Howard towards him and tower over his shorter opponent. The incident received wide media coverage and, while Latham claimed to have been attempting to get revenge for Howard squeezing his wife's hand too hard at a press function, it was variously reported as being "aggressive", "bullying" and "intimidating" on the part of Latham. The Liberal Party campaign director, Brian Loughnane, later said this incident generated more feedback to Liberal headquarters than anything else during the six-week campaign, and that it "brought together all the doubts and hesitations that people had about Mark Latham". Latham disputes the impact of this incident, however, having described it as a "Tory gee-up: we got close to each other, sure, but otherwise it was a regulation man's handshake. It's silly to say it cost us votes – my numbers spiked in the last night of our polling." (Latham Diaries, p. 369) According to Latham's account of events, Latham came in close to Howard for the handshake to prevent Howard shaking with his arm rather than his wrist.

    Final opinion polls are not conclusive

    The final opinion polls continued to be somewhat contradictory, with Newspoll showing a 50–50 tie and the Fairfax papers reporting 54–46 to the Coalition. Most Australian major daily newspaper editorials backed a return of the Howard government, with the notable exceptions of The Sydney Morning Herald, which backed neither party, and The Canberra Times, which backed Labor.

    Party leaders

  • John Howard had been an MP since 1974, leader of the Liberal Party since 1995 (he was previously leader from 1985 to 1989), and Prime Minister since March 1996. He turned 65 in July 2004, and is more than 20 years older than Mark Latham. Howard is by far the most experienced politician in Australian federal politics and is considered a master of political strategy, a reputation which was enhanced during the 2004 campaign. Although most commentators agreed that he did not perform well in the debate with Latham, his dogged campaigning on interest rates, economic certainty and national security was effective in persuading voters in marginal seats to stick with the Coalition.
  • John Anderson had been an MP since 1988 and leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister since 1999. Although talented and personable, he was unable to stem the long-term decline in the Nationals' rural electoral base. During 2003 he considered retiring from Parliament at this election, but was persuaded not to. Despite his personal standing, the Nationals lost another seat (Richmond) and struggled to win a Senate spot in Queensland. Anderson stepped down as leader in July 2005.
  • Mark Latham had been an MP since 1994 and was elected leader of the Australian Labor Party in December 2003. Latham initially made a good impression, but a series of controversies during 2004 caused much criticism of his alleged inconsistency and volatility. His campaign was aggressive and colourful, with a series of bold policy announcements late in the campaign. This galvanised Labor's base but many commentators felt that Latham's policies and personality alienated middle-class voters. In retrospect Labor's forests policy was a major miscalculation, costing two seats in Tasmania. Latham also failed to effectively counter Howard's campaign on interest rates. Latham resigned for health reasons in January 2005 from both his position as Leader of the Opposition and as Member for Werriwa in the House of Representatives.
  • Andrew Bartlett had been a Senator since 1997 and leader of the Australian Democrats since 2002 when Natasha Stott Despoja stood down from the position. The efforts to revive the Democrats' public support were unsuccessful. A widely publicised incident in December 2003 where he confronted Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris while exiting the Senate chamber did not help these efforts. The Democrats' election result in 2004 was the worst in the party's history to that time. He chose not to recontest the leadership after that election, and Senator Lyn Allison took on the leadership role.
  • Bob Brown had been a Senator and the informal leader of the Australian Greens since 1996. By opposing Australia's participation in the Iraq War he established himself as the most prominent figure of the Australian left. But media predictions that the Greens would greatly increase their vote and win a Senate seat in every state, or even win House seats, were not realised. Although the Greens took some votes from the Democrats, many flowed to other parties and the predicted big inroads into Labor's base vote did not occur.
  • Disclosure

    Dates for financial disclosure for the 2004 Federal election were specified by the Australian Electoral Commission. Broadcasters and publishers had to lodge their returns by 6 December, while candidates and Senate groups needed to lodge by 24 January 2005. This information was made available for public scrutiny on 28 March 2005.


    Australian federal election, 2004 Wikipedia

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