Two Bob watch

Fending off a thorny question about the role One Nation preferences played in putting Kerry Nettle into the Senate at the 2001 election, Bob Brown has recycled the canard that Bob Menzies won the 1961 election on Communist Party preferences. This is a great story for those unready to forgive Pig Iron Bob for his crimes against the working class, but the truth is more complicated. The election in question saw Menzies returned with a one-seat majority, the Coalition’s narrowest victory being Jim Killen’s 130-vote win in the Brisbane seat of Moreton which is still with us today. Electoral historian Adam Carr, curator of the indispensible Psephos election results archive, explains it thus:

There are several myths about this famous contest. The first is that Menzies sent a message saying "Killen, you’re magnificent" (he didn’t). The second is that Killen, a fierce anti-Communist, received Communist preferences (he did not: he did benefit from the small drift of Julius’s preferences, but this was cancelled out by the bigger drift of QLP preferences to the ALP). The third is that the ALP would have won the election if it had won Moreton (it would not have: the state of the parties would then have been 61-all. There would probably have been a minority Menzies government followed by a fresh election).

The element of truth within the story is that Labor would indeed have won the seat if about 70 fewer of the 676 Communist Party voters had put Liberal ahead of Labor, but as only about 100 voters had actually done so this would have been a rather unlikely outcome. There was indeed a view among some Marxists that conservative governments were preferable as they would hasten the revolution, but Communist Party preferences were not "directed" to the Liberals on this occasion and the majority of them did in fact go to Labor. And as Carr says, even if the result had gone the other way Labor could not be said to have won the election.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.