I thought it would be interesting to look back at the federal election 100 years ago. It was spookily similar. A conservative government seeking re-election after a lengthy time in office.

Leader of the Nationalists Billy Hughes was dubbed The Little Digger. As Prime Minister he had led Australia through WWI and the 1918 flu epidemic.

In the lead-up to the December 16 poll, he began his address to the nation;

The Parliament elected by the people in 1919 has run its course; a new one has to be chosen; the Government to whom you then entrusted the reigns of power again appeals to you for a renewal of your confidence. We have held office for nearly six years. As we have borne the heat and burden of the day during the most trying period in the history of the Commonwealth, it is only proper I should review our record, remind you of the principles for which we stand, and declare the policy upon which we again seek your support.


We have been the target of much hostile and splenetic criticism. Everything we have done has been misrepresented by the extreme sections. Bolshevists on the one hand and reactionaries on the other, whose ideal Government is one that acts as a servile tool to advance their interests, have alike denounced us. We are not at all disturbed by their denunciation. To have won their approval would have been the most crushing condemnation of our policy.


Owing to the unprecedented dislocation caused by the war, the industrial and economic machinery of the world has broken down, Unemployment is prevalent in all countries and starvation in many. Standards of living established after years of patient effort have been destroyed, and industrial chaos is threatened. Most of the countries of the world find themselves in an almost hopeless financial position in consequence of the obligations undertaken during the war….

Even vaccines got a mention;

The Serum Laboratories have progressed to a point where antitoxin, sera, and vaccines are produced of a quality and quantity sufficient to supply the needs of Australia and New Zealand.

The antagonists in the 1922 election.

And what did Labor’s Mr Charlton have to say? Well, a lot of course, but here is the essence of it…

The Nationalist Party appears before the country covered with three years of accumulated dissatisfaction. Men (no women Mr Charlton?) who previously supported the ‘Nationalist’ Government now repudiate it. A large section of the daily press assail it. One asserts that ‘no Government can be worse’, and another that ‘its political offences reek high in Heaven’. In short, this Government that won place and power by promises never kept, or openly violated, is now crumbling to pieces by reason of its legislation, its administration, its questionable methods, and its final results.

Oh, and a little bit more;

The outstanding objectives of the Nationalist Party were to reduce wages; to lengthen the hours of labour, and to abolish all forms of publicly owned enterprise that came in conflict with the predatory interests of its capitalistic supporters.

There was also a pointed reference to the waste involved in the buying and selling of ships. My word, that sounds familiar.

The transcripts of the speeches are held at The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Government House.


We all think the 2022 election campaign has been long and full of angst, but a century ago it was no better.

It’s not easy to read the wording on the cartoon below, but John Citizen felt he was battling the demons of sectionalism, sectarianism (Protestants v Catholics) selfishness and waste.

Cartoon of election day 1922

So what was the outcome of the 1922 election?

Well, the Nationalist Party lost its majority. However, the opposition Labor Party led by Matthew Charlton did not take office, as the Nationalists formed a coalition with the fledgling Country Party.

There was one problem for Hughes. He had become very unpopular within his own party and this had been creating dissention well before the election. The price for coalition demanded by the Country Party was that he be replaced as leader by fellow Nationalist Stanley Bruce, who thus became Australia’s 8th Prime Minister.

Stanley Bruce who became Prime Minister after the 1922 election

If you want to read more of the speeches….well some people might 😆 CLICK HERE

  1. I’ve sometimes voted in the past to who I think would do the ‘least’ damage to the country! Reading the above, I understood all the words, but had never heard the word ‘splenetic’ used before.

    • Pauline

      I hadn’t heard it either, but I might use it quite a lot now. 😍

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