1996 Australian federal election

← 1993 2 March 1996 (1996-03-02) 1998 →

All 148 seats in the House of Representatives
75 seats were needed for a majority in the House
40 (of the 76) seats in the Senate
Registered11,740,568 Increase 3.13%
Turnout11,244,017 (95.77%)
(Increase0.02 pp)
  First party Second party
Leader John Howard Paul Keating
Party Liberal/National coalition Labor
Leader since 30 January 1995 (1995-01-30) 19 December 1991 (1991-12-19)
Leader's seat Bennelong (NSW) Blaxland (NSW)
Last election 65 seats 80 seats
Seats won 94 seats 49 seats
Seat change Increase 29 Decrease 31
First preference vote 5,142,161 4,217,765
Percentage 47.25% 38.75%
Swing Increase 2.98% Decrease 6.17%
TPP 53.63% 46.37%
TPP swing Increase 5.07 Decrease 5.07

Results by division for the House of Representatives, shaded by winning party's margin of victory.

Prime Minister before election

Paul Keating

Subsequent Prime Minister

John Howard
Liberal/National coalition

The 1996 Australian federal election was held to determine the members of the 38th Parliament of Australia. It was held on 2 March 1996. All 148 seats of the House of Representatives and 40 seats of the 76-seat Senate were up for election. The centre-right Liberal/National Coalition led by Opposition Leader John Howard of the Liberal Party and coalition partner Tim Fischer of the National Party defeated the incumbent centre-left Australian Labor Party government led by Prime Minister Paul Keating in a landslide victory. The Coalition won 94 seats in the House of Representatives, which is the largest number of seats held by a federal government to date, and only the second time a party had won over 90 seats at a federal election.

The election marked the end of the five-term, 13-year Hawke-Keating Government that began in 1983. Howard was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Australia on 11 March 1996, along with the First Howard Ministry. This election was the start of the 11-year Howard Government; the Labor party would spend this period in opposition and would not return to government until the 2007 election.

This was the first federal election that future Prime Minister Tony Abbott contested as a member of parliament, having entered parliament at the 1994 Warringah by-election. Future Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and future opposition leader Brendan Nelson also entered parliament at this election.

Future Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were unsuccessful candidates for the House of Representatives and Senate respectively at this election and would eventually be elected to the House of Representatives at the next election in 1998.

Howard became the first Liberal leader to win an election from opposition since Robert Menzies in 1949. (Malcolm Fraser was caretaker prime minister in the 1975 election.) The victory also saw the Liberal Party gain enough seats to not require the support of the National Party, though John Howard opted to stay in the Coalition. As of 2023 this is the last time the Liberal Party has won an overall majority of seats in federal parliament and also the last when both major party leaders born prior to 1946, the first year of the Post-war era.


John Howard, who had previously led the Liberal Party from 1985 to 1989, returned to the leadership in January 1995 following the party's disastrous eight months under the leadership of Alexander Downer. Downer and Peter Costello had succeeded John Hewson and Michael Wooldridge early in 1994 and were touted as the leaders of the new-generation Liberals. In the end, the party opted for the seasoned Howard, perhaps an acknowledgment that he was the only one left standing after a decade of party infighting.

Howard approached the campaign with a determination to present as small a target as possible. Throughout 1995 he refused to detail specific policy proposals, focusing the Coalition's attacks mainly on the longevity and governing record of the Labor government. By 1996, however, it was clear that the electorate had tired of Labor and in particular of Paul Keating. The line "The recession we had to have" resonated with deadly force throughout the electorate. Although Keating's big-picture approach to republicanism, reconciliation with Australia's Indigenous peoples and engagement with Asia galvanised support within Labor's urban constituencies, Howard was able to attract support amongst disaffected mainstream Australians, uniting middle-class suburban residents with traditionally Labor-voting blue-collar workers. He also promised to retain Medicare and hold a constitutional convention to decide whether Australia would become a republic.

The election-eve Newspoll reported the Liberal/National Coalition held an estimated 53.5 percent two-party-preferred vote.[1]


House of Representatives results

Government (94)
  Liberal (75)
  National (18)
  CLP (1)

Opposition (49)
  Labor (49)

Crossbench (5)
  Independent (5)
House of Reps (IRV) – 1996–1998 – Turnout 94.99% (CV) — Informal 3.78%
Party Votes % Swing Seats Change
    Liberal 4,210,689 38.69 +1.92 75 Increase 26
  National 893,170 8.21 +1.04 18 Increase 2
  Country Liberal 38,302 0.35 +0.02 1 Increase 1
Liberal/National Coalition 5,142,161 47.25 +2.98 94 Increase 29
  Labor 4,217,765 38.75 −6.17 49 Decrease 31
  Democrats 735,848 6.76 +3.01
  Greens[a] 317,654 2.92 +1.09
  Independents 262,420 2.41 −0.73 5 Increase 3
Others 208,004 1.91 +1.05
  Total 10,883,852     148 Increase 1
Two-party-preferred vote
  Liberal–National coalition Win 53.63 +5.07 94 Increase 29
  Labor   46.37 −5.07 49 Decrease 31
Popular vote
Two-party-preferred vote
Parliament seats

Senate results

Government (37)
  Liberal (31)
  National (5)
  CLP (1)

Opposition (29)
  Labor (29)

Crossbench (10)
  Democrats (7)
  Greens (2)
  Independent (1)
Senate (STV GV) — 1996–99 – Turnout 95.20% (CV) — Informal 3.89%
Party Votes % Swing Seats won Seats held Change
    Liberal–National joint ticket 2,669,377 24.49 +0.09 6 N/A
  Liberal 1,770,486 16.24 +0.65 12 31 Increase 2
  National 312,769 2.87 +0.15 1 5 Decrease 1
  Country Liberal 40,050 0.37 +0.04 1 1 Steady
Liberal–National coalition 4,792,682 43.97 +0.92 20 37 Increase 1
  Labor 3,940,150 36.15 −7.35 14 29 Decrease 1
  Democrats 1,179,357 10.82 +5.51 5 7 Steady
  Greens[b] 345,513 3.17 +0.67 1 2 Steady
  Others [c] 641,335 5.88 0 1 Steady
Total 10,899,037     40 76
Invalid/blank votes 395,442 3.5
Turnout 11,294,479 96.2
Registered voters 11,740,568
Source: Federal Elections 1996

House of Reps preference flows

Seats changing hands

Seat Pre-1996 Swing Post-1996
Party Member Margin Margin Member Party
Bass, Tas   Labor Silvia Smith 0.03 4.60 4.57 Warwick Smith Liberal  
Bowman, Qld   Labor Con Sciacca 8.14 9.03 0.89 Andrea West Liberal  
Calare, NSW   Labor David Simmons N/A N/A 13.32 Peter Andren Independent  
Canberra, ACT[d]   Labor Ros Kelly 9.56 2.04 7.52 Bob McMullan Labor  
  Liberal Brendan Smyth[e] 6.58 14.1
Canning, WA   Labor George Gear 0.19 0.88 0.69 Ricky Johnston Liberal  
Capricornia, Qld   Labor Marjorie Henzell 2.78 6.40 3.62 Paul Marek National  
Curtin, WA   Liberal Allan Rocher N/A N/A 7.28 Allan Rocher Independent  
Dickson, Qld   Labor Michael Lavarch 2.55 5.72 3.17 Tony Smith Liberal  
Eden-Monaro, NSW   Labor Jim Snow 4.27 9.03 4.76 Gary Nairn Liberal  
Gilmore, NSW   Labor Peter Knott 0.45 6.69 6.24 Joanna Gash Liberal  
Griffith, Qld   Labor Ben Humphreys 5.90 7.37 1.47 Graeme McDougall Liberal  
Herbert, Qld   Labor Ted Lindsay 3.31 9.90 6.59 Peter Lindsay Liberal  
Hughes, NSW   Labor Robert Tickner 6.42 11.31 4.89 Danna Vale Liberal  
Kalgoorlie, WA   Labor Graeme Campbell N/A N/A 10.35 Graeme Campbell Independent  
Kingston, SA   Labor Gordon Bilney 1.45 3.46 2.01 Susan Jeanes Liberal  
Leichhardt, Qld   Labor Peter Dodd 1.33 5.51 4.18 Warren Entsch Liberal  
Lilley, Qld   Labor Wayne Swan 6.18 6.91 0.73 Elizabeth Grace Liberal  
Lindsay, NSW   Labor Ross Free 10.22 11.80 1.58 Jackie Kelly [2] Liberal  
Lowe, NSW   Labor Mary Easson 5.01 7.48 2.47 Paul Zammit Liberal  
Macarthur, NSW   Labor Chris Haviland 1.28 11.97 10.69 John Fahey Liberal  
Macquarie, NSW   Labor Maggie Deahm 0.12 6.48 6.36 Kerry Bartlett Liberal  
Makin, SA   Labor Peter Duncan 3.71 4.79 1.08 Trish Draper Liberal  
McEwen, Vic   Labor Peter Cleeland 0.69 1.50 2.19 Fran Bailey Liberal  
McMillan, Vic   Labor Barry Cunningham 0.53 2.60 2.07 Russell Broadbent Liberal  
Moore, WA   Liberal Paul Filing N/A N/A 15.48 Paul Filing Independent  
Moreton, Qld   Labor Garrie Gibson 0.21 5.30 5.09 Gary Hardgrave Liberal  
Murray, Vic   National Bruce Lloyd N/A N/A 3.70* Sharman Stone Liberal  
North Sydney, NSW   Independent Ted Mack 1.8 17.4 15.6 Joe Hockey Liberal  
Northern Territory, NT   Labor Warren Snowdon 5.31 5.68 0.37 Nick Dondas Country Liberal  
Oxley, Qld   Labor Les Scott 14.65 19.31** 4.66 Pauline Hanson Independent  
Page, NSW   Labor Harry Woods 0.13 4.44 4.31 Ian Causley National  
Parramatta, NSW   Labor Paul Elliott 3.24 7.11 3.87 Ross Cameron Liberal  
Paterson, NSW   Labor Bob Horne 3.30 3.73 0.43 Bob Baldwin Liberal  
Petrie, Qld   Labor Gary Johns 2.15 9.85 7.70 Teresa Gambaro Liberal  
Richmond, NSW   Labor Neville Newell 1.78 8.53 6.75 Larry Anthony National  
Robertson, NSW   Labor Frank Walker 5.56 9.12 3.56 Jim Lloyd Liberal  
Swan, WA   Labor Kim Beazley 0.22 3.93 3.71 Don Randall Liberal  
Wills, Vic   Independent Phil Cleary n/a 4.37 n/a Kelvin Thomson Labor  


Overall the coalition won 29 seats from Labor while the ALP won 4 seats from the Liberals. These 4 seats were Canberra and Namadgi in the ACT and Isaacs and Bruce in Victoria. The ACT seats, which had been won by the Liberals in a by-election, fell to Labor due to a strong return to the ALP in a traditional Labor town by public servants fearing conservative cuts. The division of Brendan Smyth's seat of Canberra into the two new (of the three) ACT seats limited his campaign to the southernmost Tuggeranong seat of Namadgi where the ACT Labor right wing stood former MLA Annette Ellis who ran a tight grassroots campaign. Isaacs and Bruce fell to Labor due to demographic changes due to a redistribution of electoral boundaries.

The Gallagher Index result: 11.14

Labor lost five percent of its two-party vote from 1993, and tallied its lowest primary vote since 1934 (an additional eight percent coming from preferences). The swing against Labor would not normally have been enough in and of itself enough to cause a change of government. However, Labor lost 13 of its 33 seats in New South Wales, and all but two of its 13 seats in Queensland. The 29-seat swing was the second-largest defeat, in terms of seats lost, by a sitting government in Australia. Three members of Keating's government – including Attorney-General Michael Lavarch – lost their seats. Keating resigned as Labor leader on the night of the election, and was succeeded by former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kim Beazley.

Due in part to this large swing, Howard entered office with a 45-seat majority, the second-largest in Australian history (behind only the 55-seat majority won by Malcolm Fraser in 1975). The Liberals actually won a majority in their own right at this election with 75 seats, the most the party had ever won. Although Howard had no need for the support of the Nationals, the Coalition was retained. As of 2022, this was the last time the Liberals have won a majority in their own right at a federal election.

Exit polling showed the Coalition winning 47 percent of the blue-collar vote, compared with Labor's 39 percent; there was a 16-point drop in Labor's vote among members of trade unions. The Coalition won 48 percent of the Catholic vote and Labor 37 percent, a reversal of the usual figures.[3]

See also


  1. ^ The Australian Greens were founded in 1992, but not all local organisations immediately affiliated. The Greens total includes Australian Greens, Greens Western Australia, Victorian Greens, Tasmanian Greens, Central Coast Green Party, and Richmond/Clarence Greens.
  2. ^ Includes votes for the federal Australian Greens (261,677) as well as Greens Western Australia (57,006) and the Tasmanian Greens (26,830), which had not yet aligned with the federal party.
  3. ^ The independent senator was Brian Harradine (Tasmania).
  4. ^ Ros Kelly (Labor) had won Canberra at the 1993 election, however she resigned in 1995 and Brendan Smyth (Liberal) won the seat at the resulting by-election.
  5. ^ Brendan Smyth (Liberal) had won Canberra at the 1995 by-election, however he contested the new seat of Namadgi.


  1. ^ "Newspoll archive since 1987". Polling.newspoll.com.au.tmp.anchor.net.au. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016.
  2. ^ Kelly conceded that she was incapable of being chosen as a member of the House of Representatives while serving as an officer of the RAAF and won the subsequent by-election with an increased margin: Holland, I (2004). "Section 44 of the Constitution". Parliamentary Library of Australia.
  3. ^ John Stone (15 March 1996). "Remember, it was Paul Keating". The Australian Financial Review.