By Malcolm Mackerras

The 43rd Parliament (which I sometimes call “Julia Gillard’s parliament”) ran from 2010 to 2013. Among its several distinctions is this unusual fact. There was no federal by-election during the 43rd Parliament. Every one of the 150 members of the House of Representatives held on to her/his seat, neither dying nor resigning.

One needed to go back to the 19th Parliament (1949-51) to find another case of no by-election – and it was prematurely dissolved. The 19th Parliament was, indeed, the third shortest ever. So, for parliaments running full term, one must go back to the 18th Parliament (1946-49) to find a full term with no by-election, and there were only 74 members then.

Back in July 2011 I wrote this in a daily newspaper: “Politicians do not die these days. By contrast, up until about 1970 politicians DID die and by-elections were typically caused by death. Why the change of pattern? The essential reason is the generosity these days of parliamentary superannuation schemes and the ease with which former politicians get good jobs post-politics. Since parliamentary salaries were good there was a great incentive for the politician to stay in his seat as long as possible. Also medical advances mean that longer lives are now normal.

A current Labor member in any of about 30 marginal seats killed in a car crash would, of course, wreck the Gillard Government. Surely Labor could not win a by-election in such a circumstance. However, such an occurrence is very unlikely.”

My prediction was correct and Gillard was prime minister for three years and three days, not losing to Tony Abbott but instead losing her office to Kevin Rudd.

In that same article I also wrote this, referring to the current infrequency of deaths: “I acknowledge an exceptional case. In the 39th Parliament (elected in October 1998) there were two deaths in the House of Representatives. However, in the 33rd, 34th, 35th, 36th,37th, 38th, 40th and 42nd Parliaments there was not a single death among the members of the lower house.”

Now to the current term, the 44th Parliament. Electoral historians will record the fact of there having been three or, at most, four by-elections, which is pretty average these days. What is unusual is that the middle one, Canning (WA), was caused by a death. It was an exceptionally good result for the Liberal Party in which regard it was like Aston (Victoria) in July 2001. In my article on this website “Same-sex plebiscite a waste of money”,  I predicted that Canning would go the way of Aston – and so it turned out to be.

The other two by-elections are absolutely normal for these times, both caused by the resignations of distinguished former members, Kevin Rudd (Griffith in February 2014) and Joe Hockey (North Sydney on 5 December). Clearly North Sydney is the least interesting of the three by-elections this term. Both Griffith and Canning were contested by Liberal and Labor candidates. Not so North Sydney. So let me give my confident prediction.

North Sydney will be won by the Liberal candidate, Trent Zimmerman, who will get the biggest primary vote. Coming second will be the Greens candidate, Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, who was once a Democrat member of the NSW Legislative Council but who, like so many former Democrat politicians, has since switched to the Greens. He served in the Council from 1998 until his defeat at the 2007 election when the Democrats were wiped out. The candidate with the third largest vote will be Dr Stephen Ruff. He is an Independent who is being promoted by former member, Ted Mack, who held the seat from 1990 until his retirement in 1996 when Hockey re-gained this blue-ribbon seat for the Liberal Party. The other ten candidates will poll so poorly as to lose their deposits.

Electoral historians will note that this is the second North Sydney by-election. The first was caused by a death and it was held in March 1911. In those days the federal seat of North Sydney encompassed the whole of the eastern North Shore, covering what is now Mackellar, Warringah and North Sydney combined. Given the big population rise in that part of Sydney (consequent upon the opening of the harbour bridge in 1932), the increase of the size of the House of Representatives in 1949 (from 74 to 121) had the effect that North Sydney became a notional Labor seat on 1946 adjusted figures.

So the Liberal member, former prime minister Billy Hughes, left North Sydney for blue-blue-ribbon Bradfield where a by-election was held in December 1952 consequent upon his death in October 1952. It was (at thirteen years of age) my first engagement in politics, putting leaflets for the Liberal candidate, Harry Turner, in Turramurra letter-boxes.

Turramurra was where I was born and I lived there for the first 25 years of my life. When Turner retained Bradfield with a greatly reduced majority I noted that, if Hughes had stayed in North Sydney, then it would have had a Labor member from 1952 to 1954. However, it was not to be. The more territory was added in each subsequent boundary change the more blue-ribbon Liberal North Sydney became. It is still weaker for the Liberal Party than Bradfield but, with margins as big as those, it makes little practical difference.