The NSW Legislative Council race is looking likely be one of the most complex and difficult to predict since the current system was first used in 2003.
In addition to the major parties and four larger minor parties which currently hold seats in parliament, we have a number of high-profile challengers, and not enough seats to go around.
All of this comes on top of a political environment very different to when the Liberal/National coalition won 11 out of 21 seats in 2011, suggesting the current government will face a much less friendly upper house after this election, even if they do hold onto power.
This table shows the results of the last two elections in terms of seat counts.
|Party||Won 2011||Won 2015|
|Shooters, Fishers and Farmers||1||1|
|Christian Democratic Party||1||1|
|Animal Justice Party||0||1|
- These results left the the government just two votes short of a majority, and they’ve largely been able to govern just with the support of the Christian Democratic Party (led by Fred Nile).
- The Shooters party, who had previously been crucial to the government’s legislation, have drifted away from the government and become very critical in the last term.
- Recent polling has put the government around 36-39% of the primary vote in terms of the lower house race. It’s hard to see them doing better in the upper house. This result would likely give them eight seats in the upper house, which would see the coalition lose three seats, and need five votes to pass legislation.
- Labor’s primary vote is around the same position. If they were to win eight seats, that would be an increase of three seats but would still leave them seven votes short of a majority. In comparison, the last four terms of government have seen governments needing no more than four extra votes. This reflects an overall increase in the share of the vote taken up by minor parties, which has clear knock-on effects in a proportional house.
- So let’s take a look at these other parties.
- The Greens remain the biggest party, but recently lost one of their MLCs when Jeremy Buckingham resigned from the party.
- The Greens are defending three seats, but will likely only win two. Sitting MLC David Shoebridge is heading up the ticket following his victory over Jeremy Buckingham in a party preselection. New candidate Abigail Boyd should win the second seat, while sitting MLC Dawn Walker looks likely to lose from third place.
- The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers have consistently won a seat at every election since 2003. Since the last election they have performed strongly in western NSW by-elections and appear to be in a stronger position. They recently dumped their incumbent MLC Robert Brown in favour of Mark Banasiak.
- Beyond these three seats, it’s hard to predict what will happen. There is a contest both on the left and the right.
- On the right, former federal Labor leader Mark Latham is heading up Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, and it seems very likely he will pick up enough of the vote to win.
- In addition to the Shooters and One Nation, other right-wing minor party candidates with a chance of winning include Christian Democrat MLC Paul Green (an ally of Fred Nile) and recently-resigned Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm.
- Fred Nile’s party has won a seat in the upper house at every election since 1981, but lost ground at the 2011 and 2015 elections. It seems quite plausible that increased competition on the right could see them squeezed out in 2019. Leyonhjelm won’t benefit from voter confusion with the Liberal Party, which has helped his party in the past, as he drew a low-ranking position on the ballot, and doesn’t have as high a profile as the Shooters or One Nation.
- On the left, ex-Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham is heading up an independent ticket. While he has some profile, he will be running without a party name (or even his own name) above the line, and it doesn’t appear that he has much of a campaign infrastructure. There were early claims that he would be running candidates in the lower house, but this did not eventuate.
- The Animal Justice Party, Sustainable Australia and Keep Sydney Open are all running a large number of candidates in the lower house which could suggest a stronger campaign. Animal Justice in particular won their first parliamentary seat in 2015 (and have subsequently won a seat in Victoria) so are worth watching.
- If each major party were to win eight seats, that leaves five seats for the remaining parties. Possibly six or seven if the major parties perform worse.
- Assuming the Greens hold two and the Shooters hold one, this leaves 2-4 seats for the other parties competing. On the right there will likely be a tight contest. I can’t see Latham, Leyonhjelm and Paul Green all winning seats.
- Finally, preferences may well be crucial to the outcome. At the first two elections under our current voting system (2003 and 2007) preferences played no role in deciding the result – the candidates leading for the final seats ended up winning in every case.
- At the last two elections we have had a candidate miss out despite a stronger primary vote. Pauline Hanson (running as an independent) was overtaken by Jeremy Buckingham and the Nationals’ Sarah Mitchell for the final two seats in 2011, and No Land Tax’s Peter Jones was overtaken by Mark Pearson of the Animal Justice Party in 2015.
- At the 2015 election, 83% of voters simply marked a ‘1’ above the line. 15.3% of voters marked multiple preferences above the line, and the remaining 1.7% voted below the line.
- There was some variation in preferencing: minor party voters were more likely to mark preferences. The Greens in particular encouraged preferences on their how-to-vote and a large proportion of Greens votes flowed to Animal Justice when the third Green was eliminated. This trend could mean that preferences will be crucial in deciding which minor party candidates end up on top.
- It will also be worth watching to see if the new Senate voting system has an effect. While the formality rules are similar for Senate and Legislative Council elections, the federal system requires the ballot to encourage voters to number six boxes. This requirement was backed in with an advertising campaign and instructions to voters from polling clerks. This resulted in a very high proportion of voters marking six boxes above the line. If some of these people continue this practice at the state election it could see a big increase in the amount of preferences flowing.
Also if you are looking to vote below-the-line, my friend Tom Clement at Geeklections has built a new tool to help you build a how-to-vote. Basically you can rank the parties you like, and it then orders those candidates in reverse order (to maximise the value of your vote by preventing it being used up in quotas unnecessarily). I personally will just be voting above the line, but if you’re into this check it out.