Some pundits are picking the Coalition to win the 2014 Victorian election on the basis that first-term governments simply don’t lose. History suggests otherwise.
Australian politics can be divided into two eras: pre and post 1945. This marker is not based on the end of World War II but rather the creation of the Liberal Party, which ushered in a period of, for the most part, stability through a two-party system.
In the first 45 years of federation, Australian politics was dominated by the growing pains of a new nation and dealing with two world wars and a global depression. One-term governments were a regular feature of state politics principally due to constantly shifting political alliances.
One-termers became less common after the Liberal Party provided a unifying voice for conservative interests, but the phenomenon didn’t disappear.
Australia saw one-term state governments continue during or across most of the subsequent decades:
- the 1950s (Cain Snr, Vic 1952-55)
- the 1960s (Hall, SA 1968-70 and Bethune, Tas 1969-72)
- the 1970s (J.Tonkin, WA 1971-74 and D.Tonkin, SA 1979-82)
- the 1980s (Field, Tas 1989-92), and
- the 1990s (Borbidge, Qld 1996-98).
These governments often had very close, or no, parliamentary majorities. Day to day governing was difficult and ultimately for some, impossible.
Various stages of the government’s term saw the departure of one or more of its MPs, making government impossible to even continue, or so consumed with its perilous situation it became unelectable soon after.
These governments were regularly distracted by continuous management of the often tense alliances that were fundamental to their parliamentary survival, sometimes within the context of an unpopular federal government.
These are frightening similarities for Victoria’s Coalition government.
Today, Denis Napthine has the polls to worry about, but his bigger concern might in fact be history – who would have thought?