Australian Electoral Commission

By-Elections and Supplementary Elections

Updated: 17 July 2015


Whenever a vacancy occurs in the House of Representatives because of the death, resignation, absence without leave, expulsion, disqualification or ineligibility of a member, a writ may be issued by the Speaker for the election of a new member. A writ may also be issued when the Court of Disputed Returns declares an election of a member of the House of Representatives to be void.

A by-election may be held on a date to be determined by the Speaker, or, in the Speaker's absence from Australia, by the Governor-General in Council. The polling must take place on a Saturday.

The Acting Speaker performing the duties of the Speaker during the Speaker's absence from the Commonwealth may also issue a by-election writ. The Chairman of Committees as Deputy Speaker has also issued a writ during the Speaker's absence from the Commonwealth, and the Chairman of Committees as Deputy Speaker has informed the House of the Speaker's intention to issue a writ.

There are no constitutional or statutory requirements that writs be issued for by-elections within any prescribed period.

The following cases have occurred:

  • with a federal election pending, the Speaker has declined to issue a writ in order to avoid the need for two elections within a short period of time, and
  • a writ has been issued and then withdrawn by the Speaker when a dissolution of the House of Representatives has intervened.

The guiding principle in fixing the date of a by-election has always been to hold the election as early as possible so that the electors are not left without representation any longer than is necessary.

Source: House of Representatives Practice 5th Edition, p90.

Supplementary elections

A supplementary election must be held if a candidate for a House of Representatives election dies in the period between the close of nominations and election day. A new writ is issued for another election in that division, but the election is held using the electoral roll prepared for the original election. This provision is found in section 181 of the Act.

This provision was introduced in its current form in 1928 following the automatic election of Nationalist Party candidate, Grosvenor Francis, in the division of Kennedy. Mr Francis was elected after the death of the Labor candidate, Charles McDonald, who died the day before election day in 1925. Mr McDonald had represented the division of Kennedy from 1901 to 1925. As only two candidates nominated for the seat, the Nationalist member was automatically elected under the law of the day.

The first supplementary election occurred in the division of Hume in 1972. It was held on the same day as the 1972 federal election so was not classified as a separate election. This can no longer occur because of the minimum 33 day timetable between the issue of the writ and election day.

If a candidate for a Senate election dies in the period between close of nominations and election day, and the number of remaining candidates is not greater than the number of candidates to be elected, those candidates are declared elected. However, if the remaining candidates are greater in number than the number of candidates to be elected, the election proceeds. A vote recorded on a Senate ballot paper for the deceased candidate is counted to the candidate who received the voter's next preference.

List of supplementary elections held

Supplementary elections
  Original election dates Supplementary election dates
Hume 1972 election
Close of nominations 10 November 1972 21 November 1972
Election day 2 December 1972 2 December 1972
Return of writ 31 January 1973 31 January 1973
Dickson 1993 election
Close of nominations 19 February 1993 26 March 1993
Election day 13 March 1993 17 April 1993
Return of writ 16 May 1993 16 June 1993
Newcastle 1998 election
Close of nominations 10 September 1998 29 October 1998
Election day 3 October 1998 21 November 1998
Return of writ 9 December 1998 27 January 1999

The return of writ date represents the date specified in the writ not the date it was actually returned.