1903 Australian federal election

The 1903 Australian federal election was held in Australia on 16 December 1903. All 75 seats in the House of Representatives, and 19 of the 36 seats in the Senate were up for election. The incumbent Protectionist Party minority government led by Prime Minister Alfred Deakin retained the most House of Representatives seats of the three parties and retained government with the parliamentary support of the Labour Party led by Chris Watson. The Free Trade Party led by George Reid remained in opposition.

1903 Australian federal election

16 December 1903 (1903-12-16)

All 75 seats in the House of Representatives
38 seats were needed for a majority in the House
19 (of the 36) seats in the Senate
  First party Second party Third party
Leader Alfred Deakin George Reid Chris Watson
Party Protectionist Free Trade Labour
Leader since 24 September 1903 (1903-09-24) 11 May 1901 20 May 1901
Leader's seat Ballaarat (Vic.) East Sydney (NSW) Bland (NSW)
Last election 31 seats 28 seats 15 seats
Seats won 26 seats 24 seats 22 seats
Seat change 5 4 7
Popular vote 214,091 247,774 223,163
Percentage 29.70%' 34.37% 30.95%
Swing 7.05% 4.33% 15.20%

  Fourth party
Leader William McWilliams
Party Revenue Tariff Party
Leader since 1903
Leader's seat Franklin (Tas.)
Last election 0 seats
Seats won 1 seats
Seat change 1
Popular vote 3,546
Percentage 0.88%
Swing 15.20%

Prime Minister before election

Alfred Deakin

Resulting Prime Minister

Alfred Deakin

The election outcome saw a finely balanced House of Representatives, with the three parties each holding around a third of seats − the Protectionists on 26 (−5), the Free Traders on 24 (−4) and Labour on 22 (+7). This term of parliament saw no changes in any party leadership but did see very significant and prolonged debates on contentious issues − the Protectionist minority government fell in April 1904 to Labour, while the Labour minority government fell in August 1904 to the Free Traders, while the Free Trader minority government fell in July 1905 back to the Protectionists, which continued until the 1906 election and beyond. The Free Traders remained in opposition throughout this eventful period with the exception of Labour forming the opposition for the first time during the period of the Free Trader minority government. Additionally, the Watson government was the world's first Labour Party government at a national level.

Despite a break in prime ministerships in 1904-05 and 1908–09, this is the first of three consecutive elections in which Deakin was the sitting prime minister.


House of Representatives

House of Reps 1903–06 (FPTP) — Turnout 50.27% (Non-CV) — Informal 2.50% [1]
Party Votes % Swing Seats Change
  Free Trade [lower-alpha 1] 247,774 34.37 +4.33 25 3
  Labour 223,163 30.95 +15.20 22 +7
  Protectionist 214,091 29.70 7.05 26 5
  Revenue Tariff 3,546 0.49 +0.49 1 +1
  Independents/Other [lower-alpha 2] 32,364 4.49 1 0
  Total [lower-alpha 3] 720,938     75
  Protectionist/Labour WIN 48 +3
  Free Trade Party 24 4
Popular vote
Free Trade
Revenue Tariff
Parliament seats
Free Trade
Revenue Tariff


Senate 1903–06 (FPTP BV) — Turnout 46.86% (Non-CV) — Informal N/A
Party Votes % Swing Seats won Seats held Change
  Free Trade 986,030 34.33 5.11 4 12 5
  Labour 784,859 27.33 +13.83 10 14 +6
  Protectionist 503,586 17.53 27.33 3 8 3
  Liberal (Qld) 136,727 4.76 +4.76 0 0 0
  Socialist Labor[5] 69,769 2.43 +1.41 0 0 0
  Revenue Tariff 25,310 0.88 +0.88 1 1 +1
  Independent [lower-alpha 4] 365,851 12.74 1 1 +1
  Total 2,872,132     19 36


The election saw the Labour party make 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 led 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 a minor party, the Tasmanian Revenue Tariff Party gain an MHR and one Senator. Prior to the 1901 election, the Free Trade Party had been known as the Revenue Tariff Party in some states. However, in 1903 a separate Revenue Tariff Party competed against the FTP in Tasmania. Nevertheless, both of the Revenue Tariff Party members elected joined the Free Trade Party, when the new parliament began sitting.

Like the 1901 election, voting was voluntary and candidates were elected by the first-past-the-post system. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 gave women the vote and the right to stand for federal Parliament, leading to a significant increase in the number of votes cast in the 1903 federal election. Four women stood at the 1903 election – Selina Anderson (Dalley) in the House of Representatives and Vida Goldstein (Victoria), Nellie Martel (New South Wales), and Mary Moore-Bentley (New South Wales) in the Senate.[6] All four stood as independents and all were unsuccessful.


Candidates were contesting all 75 House of Representatives and 19 of the 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 statewide 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 by bloc voting rather than the current single transferable vote system. Half the Senators retired as their terms expired, and there was one casual vacancy.

Seats changing hands

Seat Pre-1903 Swing Post-1903
Party Member Margin Margin Member Party
Adelaide, SA new division 100.0 Charles Kingston Protectionist  
Angas, SA new division 100.0 Paddy Glynn Free Trade  
Barker, SA new division 100.0 Langdon Bonython Protectionist  
Bass, Tas new division 6.7 David Storrer Protectionist  
Boothby, SA new division 100.0 Lee Batchelor Labour  
Brisbane, Qld   Protectionist Thomas Macdonald-Paterson 7.6 9.7 2.1 Millice Culpin Labour  
Capricornia, Qld   Independent Alexander Paterson 1.0 8.6 9.6 David Thomson Labour  
Corangamite, VIC   Protectionist Chester Manifold 22.2 35.2 2.2 Gratton Wilson Free Trade  
Cowper, NSW   Protectionist Francis Clarke 2.4 15.4 13.0 Henry Lee Free Trade  
Darwin, Tas new division 0.7 King O'Malley Labour  
Denison, Tas new division 0.2 Philip Fysh Protectionist  
Franklin, Tas new division 4.6 William McWilliams Revenue Tariff  
Fremantle, WA   Free Trade Elias Solomon 10.3 21.6 11.3 William Carpenter Labour  
Grey, SA new division 100.0 Alexander Poynton Labour  
Gwydir, NSW   Protectionist George Cruickshank 12,9 24.3 11.4 William Webster Labour  
Hindmarsh, SA new division 16.7 James Hutchison Labour  
Hunter, NSW   Protectionist Edmund Barton 100.0 59.3 13.3 Frank Liddell Free Trade  
Kalgoorlie, WA   Free Trade John Kirwan 14.1 30.7 26.6 Charles Frazer Labour  
New England, NSW   Protectionist William Sawers 0.6 2.5 1.9 Edmund Lonsdale Free Trade  
Riverina, NSW   Protectionist John Chanter 3.5 3.5 0.0 Robert Blackwood Free Trade  
Wakefield, SA new division 100.0 Frederick Holder [lower-alpha 1] Free Trade  
Wilmot, Tas new division 4.9 Edward Braddon Free Trade  
  • Members in italics did not contest their seat at this election.

Post-election pendulum

Protectionist/Labour Coalition
Denison (Tas) Philip Fysh PROT 00.2 vs FT
Melbourne (Vic) Malcolm McEacharn PROT 00.2 vs LAB
Darwin (Tas) King O'Malley LAB 00.7 vs PROT
Wimmera (Vic) Pharez Phillips PROT 01.0 vs FT
Bendigo (Vic) John Quick PROT 01.1 vs LAB
Bourke (Vic) James Hume Cook PROT 01.8 vs LAB
Brisbane (Qld) Millice Culpin LAB 02.1 vs PROT
Southern Melbourne (Vic) James Ronald LAB 02.1 vs IND
Oxley (Qld) Richard Edwards PROT 02.3 vs LAB
Moira (Vic) Thomas Kennedy PROT 04.0 vs FT
Corio (Vic) Richard Crouch PROT 04.4 vs FT
Boothby (SA) Lee Batchelor LAB 04.6 vs FT
Bland (NSW) Chris Watson LAB 05.4 vs FT
Fairly safe
Bass (Tas) David Storrer PROT 06.7 vs FT
Melbourne Ports (Vic) Samuel Mauger PROT 06.8 vs LAB
Herbert (Qld) Fred Bamford LAB 07.8 vs PROT
Darling (NSW) William Spence LAB 08.2 vs FT
Capricornia (Qld) David Thomson LAB 09.6 vs PROT
Hume (NSW) William Lyne PROT 10.0 vs FT
Wide Bay (Qld) Andrew Fisher LAB 11.2 vs PROT
Fremantle (WA) William Carpenter LAB 11.3 vs FT
Gwydir (NSW) William Webster LAB 11.4 vs FT
Mernda (Vic) Robert Harper PROT 12.1 vs FT
Newcastle (NSW) David Watkins LAB 12.5 vs FT
Echuca (Vic) James McColl PROT 13.3 vs FT
Kalgoorlie (WA) Charles Frazer LAB 16.6 vs FT
Hindmarsh (SA) James Hutchison LAB 16.7 vs PROT
Kennedy (Qld) Charles McDonald LAB 19.7 vs PROT
Yarra (Vic) Frank Tudor LAB 19.7 vs PROT
West Sydney (NSW) Billy Hughes LAB 19.9 vs FT
Very safe
Northern Melbourne (Vic) H. B. Higgins PROT 20.3 vs LAB
Richmond (NSW) Thomas Ewing PROT 22.6 vs FT
Perth (WA) James Fowler LAB 22.8 vs FT
Laanecoorie (Vic) Carty Salmon PROT 24.6 vs FT
Maranoa (Qld) Jim Page LAB 25.0 vs PROT
Barrier (NSW) Josiah Thomas LAB 32.0 vs IND
Adelaide (SA) Charles Kingston PROT unopposed
Balaclava (Vic) George Turner PROT unopposed
Ballaarat (Vic) Alfred Deakin PROT unopposed
Barker (SA) Langdon Bonython PROT unopposed
Canobolas (NSW) Thomas Brown LAB unopposed
Coolgardie (WA) Hugh Mahon LAB unopposed
Corinella (Vic) James McCay PROT unopposed
Darling Downs (Qld) Littleton Groom PROT unopposed
Eden-Monaro (NSW) Austin Chapman PROT unopposed
Gippsland (Vic) Allan McLean PROT unopposed
Grey (SA) Alexander Poynton LAB unopposed
Indi (Vic) Isaac Isaacs PROT unopposed
Swan (WA) John Forrest PROT unopposed
Free Trade Party
Riverina (NSW) Robert Blackwood FT 00.0 vs PROT
New England (NSW) Edmund Lonsdale FT 01.9 vs PROT
Corangamite (Vic) Gratton Wilson FT 02.2 vs PROT
Grampians (Vic) Thomas Skene FT 02.6 vs PROT
Kooyong (Vic) William Knox FT 02.8 vs PROT
Wannon (Vic) Arthur Robinson FT 02.9 vs PROT
Macquarie (NSW) Sydney Smith FT 04.0 vs PROT
Flinders (Vic) James Gibb FT 04.5 vs PROT
Wilmot (Tas) Edward Braddon FT 04.9 vs PROT
Fairly safe
South Sydney (NSW) George Edwards FT 06.0 vs LAB
Lang (NSW) Elliot Johnson FT 12.0 vs IND
Cowper (NSW) Henry Lee FT 13.0 vs PROT
Hunter (NSW) Frank Liddell FT 13.3 vs IND
Robertson (NSW) Henry Willis FT 13.5 vs IND
East Sydney (NSW) George Reid FT 14.4 vs LAB
Werriwa (NSW) Alfred Conroy FT 18.7 vs LAB
Very safe
Wentworth (NSW) Willie Kelly FT 21.8 vs PROT
Parkes (NSW) Bruce Smith FT 27.8 vs PROT
Dalley (NSW) William Wilks FT 28.6 vs IND
Parramatta (NSW) Joseph Cook FT 30.1 vs IND
Angas (SA) Paddy Glynn FT unopposed
Illawarra (NSW) George Fuller FT unopposed
North Sydney (NSW) Dugald Thomson FT unopposed
Wakefield (SA) Frederick Holder [lower-alpha 1] SPEAKER unopposed
Franklin (Tas) William McWilliams REV TAR 04.6 vs FT
Moreton (Qld) James Wilkinson IND LAB 05.8 vs PROT

See also


  1. Free Trade party figures for the House of Representatives include Frederick Holder (Wakefield, SA) who had been elected as a member of the party in 1901,[2] however he was the Speaker for his entire parliamentary career and did not take part in party activities.[3]
  2. The independent was James Wilkinson (Moreton, Qld) who was elected as an independent labour candidate and joined the Labour caucus in 1904.[4]
  3. Seventeen members were elected unopposed – eleven Protectionist, four Free Trade, and two Labour.
  4. The independent senator was William Trenwith (Vic)


  1. "House of Representatives election 1903". Australian politics and elections database. The University of Western Australia. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
  2. Carr, Adam. "1901 legislative election: House of Representatives, South Australia". Psephos.
  3. Carr, Adam. "1906 legislative election: House of Representatives, South Australia". Psephos.
  4. Carr, Adam. "1903 legislative election: House of Representatives, Queensland". Psephos.
  5. "Report of the Australian Socialist League to the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam 1904". www.marxists.org. Retrieved 4 November 2019.
  6. "AEC.gov.au". AEC.gov.au. 25 October 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
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