NSW 2019 – the race for the upper house

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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.

PartyWon 2011Won 2015
Liberal/Nationals119
Labor57
Greens32
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers11
Christian Democratic Party11
Animal Justice Party01
    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.

Check out my guide to the Legislative Council for more background on this contest.

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.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I’ll make a prediction, just for fun.

    ALP & Lib/Nats to get 8 each, Greens 2, Shooters and One Nation one each.

    Hard to be sure on the final seat. There won’t be as many Greens preferences to help boost Animal Justice this time, but AJP primary might be higher which could be enough for them to get the last seat again anyway. With any luck the far right will splinter enough amongst CDP, LDP, One Nation, Shooters and the rest for there not to be surpluses or high enough primary votes so they all miss out on the last seat.

    That would also give ALP/Green/AJP 21 seats, which would be enough to block L/NP government measures.

  2. Bem

    A fair comment but the issue of LEft/ RIght surfaces again. MY old Concise Oxford (1964) has a typical academic attitude to Right in political sense and ignortes this meaning. LEft on the other hand just defines it as radical and sittingbto left of President.

    Mu feeling is that LEft and RIght are used primarily in SOcialist vs Capitalist comnnotation ie Economic rather than social. THIs places Greens, DLP, (Sanatamaria and NCC as well) Katter, Nationals and ALP as Left wing and Australian Conservatives, Liberal Democrats , Family First on Right.

    Using a 2 dimensional classification clearly has its problems was Hitler Left Wing or Right wing. Brzezinski’s analysis in 1950’s classified both Stalin and Hitler as Totalitarian.
    If you take AUthoritarian to be right wing (not something I Wouykd do) you have Greens, DLP, (Sanatamaria and NCC) Katter, and Nationals all moving from LEft to Right and certainly LIberal DEmocrats and IPA moaving from RIght to Left.

    IN effect I think we can safely say that LEft and Right are useless in descriptors of politivval [parties although they arer still usefull in describing the intermnal fighrts within LEft WIng political parties.

    However you will note that I have fallen into thre trap of LEdt andcRIght in preceding paragraph wehen what I maent to say is “IN effect I think we can safely say that LEft and Right are useless in descriptors of politivval [parties although they are still useful in describing the internal fights within ALP and Greens political parties.

    It is parties which generally are regarded as right wing that are strong advocates of Government owned Coal powered Electricity Generators.

    I found it really difficult when Keating Government became more right wing than me economically. PRior to that I would have been relatively unconcerned about Left Wing commentators referring to me as Right wing.

    I am happy to refer to everyone too far to the Left or Right of me as subversives and my position as Right (as in its “correct” connotation)

    IT is worthwhile notion that Left itself is derived from Middle East and originally meant weak, worthless or paralysed. (Concise Oxford Dictionary 5th Edition 1964 p 691) I may think Greens and Chinese Communist party are worthless but I do not think they are weak they are far too powerful.

    Andrew Jackson
    apjackson2@bigpond.com

  3. Bem

    A fair comment but the issue of LEft/ RIght surfaces again. MY old Concise Oxford (1964) has a typical academic attitude to Right in political sense and ignores this meaning. Left on the other hand just defines it as radical and sitting to left of President.

    My feeling is that Left and RIght are used primarily in Socialist vs Capitalist comnnotation ie Economic rather than social. THIs places Greens, DLP, (Sanatamaria and NCC as well) Katter, Nationals and ALP as Left wing and Australian Conservatives, Liberal Democrats , Family First on Right.

    Using a 2 dimensional classification clearly has its problems was Hitler Left Wing or Right wing. Brzezinski’s analysis in 1950’s classified both Stalin and Hitler as Totalitarian.

    If you take AUthoritarian to be right wing (not something I Wouldn’t do) you have Greens, DLP, (Sanatamaria and NCC) Katter, and Nationals all moving from LEft to Right and certainly LIberal Democrats and IPA moaving from RIght to Left.

    IN effect I think we can safely say that Left and Right are useless in descriptors of political [parties although they arer still usefull in describing the intermnal fighrts within LEft WIng political parties.

    However you will note that I have fallen into thre trap of Left and RIght in preceding paragraph when what I maent to say is “IN effect I think we can safely say that Left and Right are useless in descriptors of political l [parties although they are still useful in describing the internal fights within ALP and Greens political parties).

    It is parties which generally are regarded as right wing that are strong advocates of Government owned Coal powered Electricity Generators.

    I found it really difficult when Keating Government became more right wing than me economically. PRior to that I would have been relatively unconcerned about Left Wing commentators referring to me as Right wing.

    I am happy to refer to everyone too far to the Left or Right of me as subversives and my position as Right (as in its “correct” connotation)

    IT is worthwhile notion that Left itself is derived from Middle East and originally meant weak, worthless or paralysed. (Concise Oxford Dictionary 5th Edition 1964 p 691) I may think Greens and Chinese Communist party are worthless but I do not think they are weak they are far too powerful.

    Andrew Jackson
    apjackson2@bigpond.com

  4. On your last point about the influence of the Senate advertising for 6 preferences, it should be noted that this seemed to have an impact at last year’s South Australian election, which adopted a ballot paper like the NSW one saying “one or more” preferences above the line. 42% gave preferences.

  5. I agree with the prediction of Chris Black (above), except that i think there’s a chance the ALP might miss out on an 8th seat. Sustainable Australia, Greens and Animal Justice are in positions C, D & E which will surely help with preferencing. Might make the difference in Animal Justice getting the last seat instead of CDP or LDP or alternately (and less likely) give them the ALP’s would be eighth seat.

  6. I think preferences are going to be important in the Upper House. Particularly given how few people preference. Those who know they matter can even them to pick the best of a bad bunch for their final numbers.

  7. I’ve tried to find this info out on the NSWEC website but it dosn’t seem to be there.

    1. What is the maximum number of above the line numbers you can fill in on the NSWLC ballot paper? For example, could I number 1-9 in squares above the line, or is there a limit?

    2. Can you combine ‘above the line’ numbers with ungrouped candidates (I want to vote for Danny Lim – anyone who gets away with publicly calling Tony Abbott a c*nt should hold public office in my opinion)? Or if I vote for an ungrouped candidate do I have to vote below the line?

  8. My Prediction:

    LNP: 7
    ALP: 7
    SFF: 2
    Grn: 2
    ON: 1
    SA: 1
    KSO: 1

    I think we’ll see a repeat of the phenomenon of ppl voting major party in the LA and minor party in the LC, which – along with optional preferential – will affect the result in the favour of minors.

  9. 1. You can number every above-the-line box if you’d like. There is no limit.

    2. You can’t combine above-the-line preferences with below-the-line preferences. If you want to vote for ungrouped candidates you need to vote below the line. I believe if you vote both above and below the line, the BTL vote is counted if it’s formal (1-15+), and if not then the ATL vote is counted.

  10. My prediction:

    Coalition – 7
    Labor – 7
    Greens – 2
    One Nation – 2
    Liberal Democrats – 1
    SFF – 1
    The Remaining seat could go to any minor party – i.e. CDP, CON, KSO or AJP.

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