State of the Senate: crossbench boom


There is a lot still up in the air in the Senate, but it is the more interesting element of the election at this point and is producing the most incredible results, with the likelihood of an increase in Greens numbers despite a national swing, the election of multiple Palmer United Party candidates, and the possible election of multiple micro-parties off tiny votes.

Labor looks set to be reduced to one seat only in two states, something that has never happened before in even one, and looks likely to narrowly avoid the same in a third state.

At the moment, it looks like what can broadly described as the minor right-wing parties are set to win a seat in every state, while the Greens will win seats in more states than 2007, although not as many as 2010.

On current figures, the result will be:

  • Coalition – 33 (31-35)
  • Labor – 25
  • Greens – 10 (10-12)
  • Palmer United Party – 2 (1-3)
  • Xenophon – 1
  • Family First – 1
  • Australian Sports Party – 1 (0-1)
  • Australian Motoring Enthusiasts – 1 (0-1)
  • Democratic Labour Party – 1
  • Liberal Democratic Party – 1

In the ACT and four out of six states, there is one seat which isn’t entirely decided. Two of these seats (ACT and NSW) are races where a Green is trailing a Liberal – not by an insurmountable margin but in both cases the Liberal is the favourite. In Western Australia and Victoria a party off a tiny vote (0.2% to 0.5%) wins a seat, but if they are excluded earlier in the count the race will be entirely different. In Tasmania, the Liberal Party and Palmer United Party are tied with the LDP just behind. If the LDP overtakes the Palmer candidate, Palmer’s preferences will elect the Liberal.

The best case scenario for the Coalition sees them gaining only one Senate seat, with a risk of losing up to three. In the best-case scenario, the Abbott government will have a choice of four out of five right-wing minor party senators, as well as the option of Nick Xenophon and ten Greens senators.

In the worst-case scenario, the Liberal Party will require all eight non-Greens crossbenchers, or twelve Greens senators, to pass legislation, and would probably struggle with a bloc of three Palmer United Party senators.

Follow me below the fold for analysis of each individual race.

Australian Capital Territory

This race is simple – between Liberal Zed Seselja and Green Simon Sheikh. At the moment Seselja leads by 1.43% ahead of Sheikh at the final exclusion point. That gap could be closed by late counting and counting of below the line votes, but it could also widen. Antony Green’s ABC Senate calculator assumes that all votes follow above-the-line preference flows, which were favourable to Simon Sheikh.

Interestingly, the preferences of the Animal Justice Party, which flowed to the Liberal over the Green, would have been enough to put Sheikh ahead if they flowed in the opposite direction.

New South Wales

In New South Wales, the ALP has retained two of their three seats, and lost a third. The Liberal/National coalition have definitely retained two of their seats.

The Liberal Democratic Party, who had the first position on the giant ballot paper, polled a massive 8.9% primary vote and will elect a Senator. This will net the party somewhere in the vicinity of $800,000 in public funding. It’s worth emphasising that they haven’t won due to preference trickery, but due to a large primary vote. This is presumably strongly influence by their name’s similarity to the party winning yesterday’s election, and the donkey vote on the biggest ballot in Australian history.

Northern Territory

The ALP fell below a quota on primary votes in the NT, but will retain their seat. The closest rival is the Palmer United Party, but Greens preferences will protect Labor from this threat.


The ALP has lost a seat in Queensland to the Palmer United Party, who have polled over 10% in the Senate in Queensland. Bob Katter’s Australian Party polled a dismal 2.76%, with the Greens knocked down to 6.22%.

South Australia

Like in 2007, Sarah Hanson-Young looks set to win off a relatively low vote thanks to preferences and thanks to Nick Xenophon taking a big chunk out of the Labor vote.

The ALP was pushed to third on primary votes in South Australia, with the Liberal Party currently on 26.7%, Nick Xenophon on 25.9% and the ALP on 22.8%. Sarah Hanson-Young polled just over 7%, with Family First’s Bob Day on 3.8%.

After the election of Penny Wong, the ALP’s second senator, Don Farrell, leads Hanson-Young by 1.41% on primary votes. The Greens narrow the gap on Democrats preferences then jump over the top of the ALP on Palmer preferences.

Ultimately the ALP is knocked out and the Greens are elected on Labor preferences. Both Greens and Labor preferenced Family First ahead of Nick Xenophon, electing Bob Day over Nick Xenophon’s second candidate, with Simon Birmingham of the Liberal Party then defeating Nick Xenophon’s second candidate by 2.47%.


Two Labor, two Liberal and one Green are elected without too much trouble.

At the key exclusion point, the third Liberal and the Palmer United and Liberal Democrat candidates all sit between 9% and 10%. If the LDP or the Liberal Party come third at this point, then Palmer’s candidate wins. If Palmer’s candidate comes third, the Liberal candidate wins.


The Greens have safely gained a second Victorian Senate seat off the ALP – their only likely gain of the night. In addition to the ALP losing a seat, the current scenario has the third Liberal losing to the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts.

The AME gets elected on the calculator off an obscenely small 0.52% of the primary vote. The AME don’t get any early preferences, but at the point where they are on 0.57% they gain preferences from the Fishing and Lifestyle Party, on 0.46%.

If AME are excluded, then the Liberal Party’s Helen Kroger will likely be re-elected.

Western Australia

In Western Australia, the combined Labor-Greens vote has dropped sufficiently that one of them will definitely lose a seat. At the moment it seems close to certain this will be Labor’s Louise Pratt, so Labor and the Greens each win a single seat. The Liberals will retain their three seats.

On the current count the sixth seat goes to the Australian Sports Party off only 0.22%.  At the key exclusion point, the ASP are on 0.31% and Rise Up Australia are on 0.29%, and Rise Up’s preferences pushes the Sports Party up and starts the snowball rolling.

If the ASP gets excluded, then the Palmer United Party wins the final seat, and the Greens margin over Labor is narrowed.

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  1. Do you see any downside to changing the rules of senate elections to require a minimum threshold of primary votes, say 2%, before they can receive preferences?

  2. Question to Ben: In the ACT there are probably at least 30% of the vote as pre-poll – is the critical issue whether the proportion of the vote going to parties in this pool is significantly different from the proportion for parties caste on the day?

    Is there any significance in the fact that the ACT has traditionally had a higher level of voting below the line? (though I suspect this proportion will have dropped with the larger number of parties)

  3. maybe this is an arguement for pr in the lower house or abolition of the senate
    the micro parties worry me off no support to win a senate seat on prefs

  4. Mick – it’s an argument for tweaking the senate voting process.

    The Greens have been calling for the ability for people to number all groups above the line, rather than having to either do a “1” above or numbering everything below the line. If this were implemented, many more people would be willing to give their own preferences, which would reduce the power of the microparties to win seats through accumulation of preferences and reduce the strength of preference deals.

    Perhaps we could also add a rule that says you must get at least 1% primary vote to win a seat in the senate – all parties that fail to reach 1% would immediately have their preferences distributed to parties that did.

    I like the idea of minor parties winning a fair few seats in the senate, and forcing the major parties to actually work for votes, but micro-parties don’t deserve seats.

  5. somebodyiusedtoknow – it’s slightly inaccurate. Greens preferenced Xenophon himself above Family First (and many others). But they put his second candidate below them.

    Labor actually did preference Family First ahead of Xenophon (right before him – Family First were their third preference after Labor and Greens candidates, followed by Xenophon himself as the fourth preference). Don’t ask me why.

  6. You could fix most of these problems with OPV with above the line preferences being marked by the voter, as in NSW.

    1) It would reduce the influence of parties over preferences, particularly parties that no-one has ever heard of with no organisation being able to control 100% of their voters’ preferences.
    2) This would then make it very hard for parties with tiny votes to get elected, as leakage would stop the ‘snowball’ effect. Preferences would make a difference where parties with significant presences issued HTVs recommending preferences, or in very close races.
    3) Removing the benefits of group voting tickets will end the ‘candidate lotto’, and a bunch of those parties will cease to have a purpose, and others will only run in some states. At the moment parties have an incentive to run in multiple states to have preferences to trade off, but those preferences would be worthless without booth workers handing out HTVs.

  7. Glen, your threshold 1% of first preferences could mean that a lot of my preferences get completely ignored because the parties I like almost as much as my number 1 are only liked “almost as much” by lots of people. They could be a great compromise result, but are excluded by an arbitrary threshold of how many other people like them more than my (and the other voters) first choices.
    I believe there was an attempt to reduce the micro party effect by increasing the cost of running, but that needs to be balanced against the opportunity to have one’s own voice if none of the major parties represent one’s views.

  8. Cheers Glen.

    I don’t have a problem with micro’s getting elected if the preferences were as indicated by the voters. And if we should be so lucky to get OPV out of electoral reform, we should just abolish the “above the line”. Get rid of those stupid columns and group voting and redesign the ballot. You could fit 200 candidates no problem and with optional pref it doesn’t matter how many candidates there are.

    Instead, I fear we will end up with something like Daniel suggests, or attempts to price alot of the smaller parties out of the election (recouped to parties getting above 4%) which I think is less democratic. My biggest disappointment from the hung parliament was this issue. I had hope.

  9. At least with PUP, the excuse for them being in parliament is lots of votes from people like my colleague from Townsville, who’s a Lib voter but doesn’t like Abbott, and basically voted Palmer for the lulz. (She reckons Joe Hockey’s gonna be PM eventually.) We don’t even have that excuse with the Sports Party – I come from a town too small to have traffic lights or a senior high school, and the number of people who voted for them is less than the population of that town. Assuming no double dissolution, this Dropulich guy would serve more than a day in the senate for every vote he received. The system is broken.

    Ben: since you’re from NSW, it’d be worthwhile writing a post about the careers of the various MP’s who were elected in the 1999 tablecloth ballot. It’d be interesting for us in the state of excitement, who have to figure out what we’re about to put up with.

  10. Ooh and Ben or anyone else, given the LDP win in NSW, do you think the party name rules will change or does Robson Rotation stand a chance of being implemented?

  11. Scott – I would assert that, if you can’t at least get 1% of the primary vote in the entire state, then the only reason you can reach a full quota is that you did preference deals with other parties. What this means is that most of the votes that would move to you were not given to you by voters who consider you “almost as good” as their first choice, but by the parties they voted for.

    And if we’re going to keep this system where you can just number 1 above the line, then this effect will remain in play for the foreseeable future, unless we place some “arbitrary” minimum.

    But I agree with the Greens, that simply changing the above-the-line vote from “just vote 1” to party preferential voting (number all above the box) will simultaneously reduce the number of microparties running (not much point running if most people aren’t going to vote for you and you can’t influence preferences without HTV cards, which microparties typically can’t afford to put at most polling stations) and reduce the chance of a party getting a small fraction of the vote getting launched into the senate through preferences – such a party would need to prove to the people that they’re worth giving decent preferences to, rather than doing backroom preference deals.

  12. Its theoretically possible for all parties to get less than 1% and in that case no one would be elected. As it is there is 2 quotas going to preferences in NSW and almost a quota in the parties that get below 2%.

    Abolish group voting + optional preferencing. Still benefits the majors/minors because of the exhaust rate.

  13. Personally, I say that we should allow partial preferencing in the Senate. You number 1 through whichever number you want to stop at, either above or below the line, and your vote exhausts beyond that. Number of ballots that give a preference to each party/candidate is calculated, and the first candidates knocked out are those that are incapable of getting enough quota, rather than just the ones with the least primary vote.

    If this were done manually, though, it would be an unwieldy counting process, so it would be something to bring in alongside electronic voting, thereby also preventing informal votes.

    Anyway, that’s what I’d like to see.

  14. QO – that’s why using a computer is pretty much necessary. I’d imagine that the quotas adjust in size to suit the number of ballots that don’t exhaust. That’s why you don’t start by removing those that reach a full quota, before clearing things.

    Alternatively, it could just follow a “rising tide” approach, having exhausted ballots spread evenly amongst the remaining candidates.

  15. There was a letter to the ed that suggested that you only start distributing preferences from parties that get over 2% of the vote. That would cut back on overlapping micro/shadow parties. What would the process be in changing the senate voting rules?

  16. I don’t think eliminating small parties is the answer – after all, unless you have millions to throw at advertising, all parties have to start from somewhere. Some of them actually have full policies, do not have confusing names, do not register shadow parties and do not do backroom preference deals!

    Changing the voting process so that people actually know where their vote is going to is the answer – I suggest preferential above the line voting, or changing the minimum number of boxes for below the line voting to 10 or 12.

  17. “Some of them actually have full policies, do not have confusing names, do not register shadow parties and do not do backroom preference deals!”

    Well, yes, but the ones that don’t do backroom deals don’t get elected. I guess it depends on whether you consider a party getting elected off 0.2% of the vote and a whole lot of preferences a concern to the democratic process or not. Honestly, when it gets to the point it did at this election, I’d be tempted to say that the process of preference harvesting is undemocratic in itself. If I voted for the Sex Party, for example, is it fair that they then decide where my vote goes next? (Yes, I appreciate that people can vote below the line, but I do not consider that to be a viable option given the sheer number of boxes to fill out – the line at my polling booth was huge as it was!).

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