One-term state and territory governments in Australia

by Bill Browne

Received wisdom suggests that one-term governments are rare in Australia. New governments benefit from incumbency, the “sophomore surge” and perhaps a reluctance among voters to change directions twice in a short period of time.

The Napthine Government entered the 2014 Victorian election the underdog, argued election analyst Antony Green, “a unusual situation for a first term government in a country that traditionally gives governments at least two terms in office.” The 2014 Victorian election upset was celebrated by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who said “the conceived wisdom is that first term governments never lose”, and reportedly shocked Liberals in other states: “First-term governments that have broadly managed to avoid major scandal are supposed to be returned”.

The one-term Napthine Government turned out to be a harbinger, rather than a blip. It was followed by the one-term Newman Government in Queensland in 2015, the one-term Giles Government in the Northern Territory in 2016 and the one-term Marshall Government in South Australia in 2022. Of the four first-term state/territory Coalition Governments facing elections after the Napthine Government’s defeat, only the Hodgman Government in Tasmania was re-elected.

There has not been another 10-year period in Australian history in which there were four one-term state/territory governments of the same party since 1924–1933, the decade encompassing the beginning of and most severe parts of the Great Depression. In that time, there were five Labor and four non-Labor one-term state governments (as well as a one-term federal government, the Scullin Labor Government).

Since 1970, there have been 10 one-term state/territory governments, eight of which were Coalition governments.

For further discussion, see this week’s episode of Democracy Sausage with Mark Kenny, Marija Taflaga and Bill Browne.

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