Dangerous liaisons: the lessons of election 1940

WHILE the nation has not been faced with a hung parliament since 1940, it has occurred at times throughout the states and territories in the decades since then. Some of the resulting marriages of convenience have been pragmatic and steady, and some poisonously volatile.
The seeds for the 1940 stand-off were sown the year before when prime minister Joseph Lyons died in office. His United Australia Party eventually elected Robert Menzies as leader, who became prime minister.
After his first election as leader, in September 1940, Mr Menzies’ UAP-Country Party coalition won 36 seats. This created a stand-off with the ALP, which had 32 seats, and the four members of Lang Labor, a breakaway group loyal to sacked NSW Labor premier Jack Lang. There were also two independents, Arthur Coles and Alexander Wilson, who came from seats traditionally non-Labor. They held the balance of power.
Mr Coles and Mr Wilson backed Mr Menzies but support for him as leader collapsed within his own party. He was forced to stand down as prime minister in August 1941 and he was replaced by the Country Party’s Arthur Fadden.
Mr Coles and Mr Wilson disliked this government and, in October 1941, they blocked the budget. This gave power to Labor’s John Curtin, who became prime minister and went on to romp home in the 1943 federal election.
Victoria faced a minority government in 1999, when the ALP’s Steve Bracks had to rely on three independents.