Behind the Scenes: The AEC's 1998 Federal Election Report

Updated: 4 December 2007

1998 Federal Election


The Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, announced on Sunday 30 August 1998 that an election for half the Senate and the House of Representatives would be held on Saturday 3 October 1998.

In the half Senate election, eligible electors in each State were choosing six Senators to serve a six year term. Electors in the two Territories were each voting for two Senators to serve a maximum three year term. This meant a total of 40 Senate vacancies were to be filled.

The 1998 federal election was also an election for the 148 vacancies in the House of Representatives. Electors in each of the 148 divisions were electing one Member to the House of Representatives to serve a maximum term of three years.

Electors in the Northern Territory were also to vote in a referendum on a proposal to grant statehood to the Territory. The referendum was not binding and was held to consult with Territory electors regarding their views of Statehood.

Issue of the Writs

The writs for the 1998 federal election were issued on Monday 31 August 1998. The issue of the writ officially triggered the election process.


A total of eight separate writs were issued, one for the election of Senators in each State and Territory. The writ for the Senate election in each State was issued by the Governor of the State to that State's AEO; and the writs for the Senate election in the two Territories were both issued by the Governor-General to each Territory's AEO.

House of Representatives:

The writs for the House of Representatives elections were issued by the Governor-General to the Electoral Commissioner, who in turn advised each of the 148 DROs of the election. A total of eight writs were also issued for the House of Representatives election – one for all the Divisions in each State and Territory.

1998 Federal Election Timetable

An election timetable is determined by the Constitution and the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The Act sets a minimum election period of 33 days and a maximum period of 58 days.

The actual dates for the 1998 federal election are presented in the right column below.
  Min. & max. period 1998 federal election dates
Expiry or dissolution of Parliament
The Prime Minister announces the dissolution of parliament and the intention to hold an election.
  Sunday 30 August 1998
Issue of writs
A writ commands an electoral officer to hold an election and contains dates for the close of rolls, close of nominations, polling day and the return of the writ. (Constitution s.12, 32) (the Act s.151)
0–10 days Monday 31 August 1998
Close of rolls
Electors have until 8pm, seven days after the writs are issued to enrol or update their details on the Commonwealth electoral roll. (the Act s.155)
7–17 days Monday 7 September 1998 (8pm)
Close of nominations
It is not possible to nominate as a candidate for election until the writs have been issued. Candidates must nominate by 12 noon on the date specified on the writs as close of nominations. (the Act s.156)
10–37 days Thursday, 10 September 1998 (12 noon)
Declaration of nominations
The public announcement of nominations received followed by a draw for positions on the ballot paper, 24 hours after the close of nominations. (the Act s.176)
11–38 days Friday, 11 September 1998 (12 noon)
Polling day
The day on which the majority of electors cast their vote at a polling place. It must be a Saturday and at least 33 days after the issue of the writs. (the Act s.157)
33–68 days Saturday, 3 October 1998 (8am to 6pm)
Return of writs
After the Senate polls are declared, the AEO for each State and Territory returns the writ endorsed with the names of the successful candidates to the State Governor (or Governor-General in the case of the Territories).
For the House of Representatives, the Electoral Commissioner endorses on the writ the name of each candidate elected for each Division and returns the writs to the Governor-General.
Writs must be returned within 100 days of their issue. (the Act s.159)
110 days Senate:
  • Qld: 23 October 1998
  • SA: 26 October 1998
  • WA: 27 October 1998
  • NSW: 29 October 1998
  • Vic: 29 October 1998
  • Tas: 29 October 1998
  • ACT: 29 October 1998
  • NT: 29 October 1998
House of Representatives:
  • 29 October 1998 (all States)
  • 1 December 1998 (Newcastle)
Meeting of Parliament
The new Parliament must meet within 30 days of the day appointed for the return of the writs. (Constitution s.5)
140 days The 39th parliament met for the first time on 10 November 1998.

Points of interest – specific to the 1998 federal election

For the first time:

  • the national telephone enquiry service (13 23 26) operated from 8am to 6pm seven days a week and to 8pm on some key days. This was the first time during an election period that the service operated on every weekend.
  • a record number of 533 451 enquiries on the telephone enquiry number were handled throughout the election period, compared to 317 799 calls in 1996.
  • a complex overflow system was set up for the telephone enquiry service to maximise the number of calls that could be answered. The overflow call centre in Canberra handled an average of an additional 15 000 flow-on calls per week.
  • staff at the telephone enquiry overflow call centre used an interactive desktop information-retrieval system. Using this system meant more calls a day could be answered as it replaced the time-consuming paper handling used to access information in the past.
  • a specific youth television advertisement was produced for this election to encourage young people to enrol to vote. It was run on commercial television in the week leading up to the close of rolls.
  • for the first time during an election period, enrolment forms were available on the AEC Internet web site. Electors within and outside Australia were able to download the appropriate form and could send it, fax it or take it to their nearest AEC office or Australian embassy or consulate. In the close of rolls week, 11 500 people accessed the enrolment forms on the site.
  • enrolment from outside Australia was possible for the first time. Following legislative change, eligible Australians who were overseas and not enrolled, but met certain criteria, were able to enrol.
  • due to legislative change, the declaration of nominations and draw for ballot paper positions was held 24 hours after the close of nominations.
  • the national list of candidates was placed on the AEC Internet web site following the declarations of nominations.
  • the AEC was able to conduct the Senate scrutiny through a computerised process. This resulted in considerable time savings with all Senate results being finalised three weeks after the election, compared to six weeks at the 1996 federal election.
  • the results of the 1998 federal election were published on a 'virtual tally room', the largest live Internet event ever in Australia. This virtual tally room published the progressive election results on election night and featured 3D views of the National Tally Room and other areas involved in bringing the results live to the net. On election night alone, over 8.2 million hits were made to the site.

Other points of interest:

  • polling day fell during school holidays in all States except Tasmania and on a long weekend in New South Wales, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory – so the AEC made arrangements to cater for an expected higher number of postal, pre-poll and absent votes. These types of votes accounted for over 17 per cent of formal votes cast at the 1998 election up from some 12 per cent in 1996.
  • the AEC hosted 29 international electoral officials from 12 countries throughout the election period (a list of officials is provided at Appendix A).
  • a record number of 65 086 votes were issued to Australians overseas, compared to 47 968 votes cast at the 1996 federal election. The overseas voting post at London issued the most votes (20 690).
  • public funding paid to political parties and candidates was over $33 million.
  • the House of Representatives election in the Division of Newcastle did not proceed on 3 October because a candidate died before polling day. A supplementary election was held in the Division of Newcastle on 21 November 1998.
  • voters in Northern Territory were given three ballot papers on polling day as they were also voting in a referendum on a proposal to grant statehood to the Territory.