When Is A Mandate Really A Mandate?


Former PM Kevin Rudd campaigning in Brisbane : David Hass/FusionVision

The new government has won a handsome majority in the lower house of parliament, and failed to secure control of the Senate. But there’s an even better reason why the claims of a “mandate” rest on shaky ground.

The results are almost all in, and the incoming Liberal/National coalition will have a large lower house majority over the departing Labor/Green coalition, a least in terms of seats. But they have won it on a swing to them of 1.7% – less than half the 4.1% swing against Labor, and the 3.4% swing against the Greens.

The major beneficiaries of the flight from Labor and Greens were not the Liberals, but the “Others”, principally Clive Palmer. Altogether the Other vote is up a massive 5.7%, to 12.4% of the total.

Now you can slice and dice the figures any number of ways, but one fact is clear. The Coalition secured less than half the vote – 45.4%. The rest went elsewhere, or nowhere. 5.89%  across Australia voted informally.

Primary Votes Swing Seats Won Predicted
Labor ALP 33.8


51 57
Liberal LIB 45.4


83 89
Green GRN 8.4


1 1
Others OTH 12.4


2 3

Now that doesn’t sound too bad – 45%, that’s not far off half. But look closer, and the percentage starts to shrink before your eyes.

A record number of people either did not enrol, or if enrolled, could not bring themselves to vote. So the Coalition can’t count them as supporters.

According to the Australian electoral commission (AEC), around 1.2 million (7.6%) of eligible voters – 15,905,419 – are not enrolled. Of the 14,705,419 who are enrolled, only 77.45% voted.

The Coalition ‘mandate’ therefore rests on having persuaded 4,866,576 voters to support them, out of a total of 14,705,419.

Liberal 3,405,767 31.78 +1.32
Liberal National Party 934,145 8.72 -0.40
The Nationals 489,128 4.56 +0.83
Country Liberals (NT) 37,536 0.35 +0.04

Our new government therefore represents 33% of enrolled voters. If you include those who aren’t enrolled, the percentage drops to around 30%. Barely one third. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

I daresay an analysis of previous election results would throw up somewhat similar figures for previous governments.

But I think it is very dangerous for this particular government to claim a clear mandate to make big changes, when fully two thirds of the electorate voted for someone else, or for no-one at all.

There is a bright side. You get to keep more of your friends. Because when things inevitably go belly-up, and they say “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for them,” there’s only a one in three chance they’re lying to you!

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)