Australian Electoral Commission

Australia's major electoral developments Timeline: 1900 - Present

Updated: 4 February 2016

1788 – 1899| 1900 – Present

Year Australia's major electoral developments
  • Up until 1901 each colony had its own government with its own laws.
  • Federation. In 1901 the colonies formed a new level of government known as the Federal Government. The first federal elections were held under State legislation. Federal Parliament met for the first time in Melbourne, on 9 May 1901, with 75 Members of the House of Representatives (MPs) and 36 Senators (6 for each State).
  • The first Commonwealth Parliament passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902 which was progressive for its time in granting universal adult suffrage (most men and women over 21) were allowed to vote at federal elections. However, it specifically excluded any Aboriginal native of Australia, or the Torres Strait and South Sea Island of the Pacific (except New Zealand) from Commonwealth franchise unless already enrolled in a State. The Aboriginal franchise was further reduced in practice by admitting only those Australian Aboriginals already enrolled in a State in 1902.
  • Women over 21 were given the right to vote in New South Wales.
  • Commonwealth officials were appointed to conduct federal elections.
  • First federal elections under federal law held on 16 December: 46.86% voter turnout.
  • Women over 21 were given the right to vote in Tasmania.
  • Electoral subdivisions created.
  • Women over 21 were given the right to vote in Queensland.
  • Postal voting available for the first time.
  • Permanent electoral rolls established.
  • Women over 21 were given the right to vote in Victoria.
  • Compulsory enrolment introduced.
  • Elections held on Saturdays.
  • Full time Divisional Returning Officers appointed.
  • Queensland State elections became the first to have compulsory voting.
  • Compulsory voting for referendums.
  • Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (followed by Commonwealth Electoral Act 1919) set down preferential voting systems for the House and Senate.
  • First use of preferential voting at Corangamite by-election 14 December 1918.
  • First general election using preferential voting, 13 December 1919 (i.e. first Senate election under preferential voting).
  • Nationality Act 1920 bestowed upon British subjects 'all political and other rights', but South Sea Islanders still ineligible to vote despite being British subjects.
  • The Northern Territory granted a Member of the House of Representatives with limited voting rights.
  • Compulsory voting introduced at federal elections.
  • Compulsory voting first used at a federal election: 91.31% of electors voted.
  • Natives of British India living in Australia allowed to vote.
  • Parliament met in Canberra for the first time, 9 May 1927.
  • Senate system of voting altered to require all preferences to be shown.
  • The number of Senators increased to 60 (10 for each State), and Members of the House of Representatives to 121. (The figures exclude Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory).
  • Australian Capital Territory granted one Member of the House of Representatives with limited voting rights.
  • Proportional voting by the single transferable vote was introduced for Senate elections.
  • Australian Aboriginals were given the right to enrol and vote at federal elections provided they were entitled to enrol for State elections (NSW, SA, VIC, TAS) or had served in the Defence Forces.
  • Industrial ballots were first conducted by the Industrial Branch.
  • Voluntary enrolment and voting at federal elections extended to all Australian Aboriginals.
  • Queensland granted Australian Aboriginals State votes.
  • Australian Capital Territory – Member of House of Representatives granted full voting rights.
  • A Constitutional Referendum overwhelmingly approved the amendment of the Constitution. A YES vote was registered by more than 90% of Australian voters with all States voting in favour of:

    A. The words other than the aboriginal race in any State were struck out of Section 51 xxvi so that the Commonwealth Parliament could now make special laws for Australian Aboriginals.

    s.51 The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:

    xxvi The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.


    B. Section 127 was struck out in its entirety.

    s.127 In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other parts of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.

  • Northern Territory – Member of House of Representatives granted full voting rights in the House of Representatives.
  • The qualifying age for enrolment, voting and candidature for all federal elections was lowered from 21 years to 18.
  • The Australian Electoral Office was established as a statutory authority.
  • Australian Capital Territory gained second Member of Parliament (with full voting rights).
  • Senate representation for the Territories – two for the Australian Capital Territory and two for Northern Territory (put into effect 1975).
  • Northern Territory granted self government.
  • First election conducted for Northern Territory Legislative Assembly 7 June 1980.
  • Compulsory enrolment and voting for Australian Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders introduced.
  • Number of Senators increased from 64 to 76 (12 each State and two each Territory) and number of Members of the House of Representatives increased from 125 to 148.
  • Franchise qualification changed to Australian citizenship.
  • British subjects on the roll immediately before 26 January 1984 retained enrolment rights.
  • An independent Australian Electoral Commission established to administer the federal electoral system.
  • Group voting ticket introduced for Senate.
  • Registration of political parties introduced to permit the printing of party names on ballot papers.
  • Public funding of election campaigns and disclosure of political donations and electoral expenditure introduced.
  • The time polling places close changed from 8pm to 6pm.
  • Australian Capital Territory granted self government, first election held 4 March 1989.
  • First election conducted for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
  • New South Wales lost the seat of St. George, taking the total number of House of Representatives from 148 to 147.
  • AEC's mandate widened to include provision of international electoral assistance.
  • The seat of Namadgi was created in the ACT, taking the total number of House of Representatives from 147 to 148.
  • Constitutional Convention Election conducted as a voluntary postal ballot.
  • The seat of Namadgi (ACT) was abolished in December 1997 with the newly created Division of Blair in QLD keeping the total seats at 148.
  • The introduction of computerised scrutiny of Senate votes.
  • An automated Postal Vote issuing system was introduced.
  • The Division of Hasluck (WA) was created in November 2000, with the Northern Territory also gaining a seat. The division known as Northern Territory was renamed by the two newly created seats of Lingiari and Solomon, taking the total number of House of Representatives seats from 148 to 150.
  • A Virtual Tally Room (VTR) was developed for the AEC website which provides up to the minute results on election night.
  • Electronic voting trials were conducted at the 2007 federal election for people who were blind or vision impaired. Remote electronic voting was also trialled for certain ADF personnel serving overseas.
  • Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was appointed.
  • Australia’s first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt, was elected to represent the division of Hasluck in Western Australia.
  • Telephone voting was trialled at the federal election for voters who are blind or have low vision.
  • Electronic electoral enrolment introduced.
  • The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment and Prisoner Voting) Act 2011 restored the right of prisoners serving a sentence of less than three years to enrol and vote following the 2007 High Court decision.
  • The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 was changed to allow the Electoral Commissioner to directly enrol an unenrolled person or update a voter’s address if information received by the AEC indicates the voter has moved.