Senate – Australian Capital Territory – Australia 2016

Incumbent Senators

  • Katy Gallagher (ALP)
  • Zed Seselja (LIB)

The Australian Capital Territory first elected Senators in 1975 at the election following the dismissal of the Whitlam government. At the first election, the Liberal Party and the ALP each won one seat each. The 1975 election was the only time that the Liberal Party outpolled the ALP. It is the only time the Liberals won over 40% (43.6%) and the only time the ALP won under 40% (37%). The first election also saw former Liberal Prime Minister and Victorian MP John Gorton poll over 11% as an independent.

At the first election, the Liberals elected John Knight while the ALP elected Susan Ryan. In the last three decades, these two parties have consistently split the two Senate seats between them, and in that time only six people, three Liberals and three Labor senators, have served in the ACT.

The 1983 election saw the ALP poll over 50% for the second and last time, reaching a record 55.3%. The same election was the first time that the Liberals ran Margaret Reid, who had taken office in 1981 after the death of John Knight. In 1988, Susan Ryan was succeeded by former ALP National Secretary Bob McMullan.

There have been a number of elections where minor parties have tried to break through and defeat the Liberal candidate. The first real shot came in 1990, when the Democrats polled 17.6% on primary votes, compared to 35.9% for the Liberals. Once you factor in preferences from the ALP, Nuclear Disarmament Party and the Greens, the Democrats get to over 29%, less than 4% away from winning the seat off the Liberals.

In 1993 the Democrats vote collapsed to 6.9%, although most of the vote went to the ALP and Greens, with the Liberal vote only rising slightly. In 1996 Bob McMullan moved into the House of Representatives and Kate Lundy was elected for the ALP. In 1998, the Democrats recovered to 16.7% and the Liberals fell below a quota on primary votes for the first time since 1984. This was partly due to the presence of One Nation, who polled almost 5%. Their preferences protected the Liberal candidate.

Reid resigned in 2003 and the Liberal Party chose former Chief Minister Gary Humphries to succeed her. In 2004, the Greens increased their vote from 5.3% to 16.4%, as the Democrats vote collapsed to 2.1%. While this was an impressive result for a minor party, a swing from the ALP to the Liberals made Humphries’ seat safe on a 37.9% primary vote.

In 2007, the Greens ran former MLA Kerrie Tucker for a second time in an attempt to defeat Humphries. She polled 21.5%. In 2010, the Greens made another attempt, running Lyn Hatfield-Dodds. She managed 22.9%, but failed to win the seat.

Liberal senator Gary Humphries was replaced at the head of the Liberal ticket in 2013 by Zed Seselja, who had led the party in the territory’s Legislative Assembly since 2007. At that year’s election, the Greens ran former GetUp national director Simon Sheikh, but Seselja retained the seat for the Liberal Party. The Greens and Labor collectively suffered a negative swing of over 10%, with most of that vote going to minor parties who had not previously run in the ACT, including the Sex Party, the Palmer United Party and Bullet Train For Australia.

Labor senator Kate Lundy stepped down in 2015, to be replaced by outgoing chief minister Katy Gallagher.

2013 result

Labor 84,97434.4-6.41.0332
Liberal 81,61333.1-0.30.9924
Greens 47,55319.3-3.70.5781
Sex Party8,6163.5+3.50.2443
Palmer United Party5,2132.1+2.10.1477
Bullet Train For Australia5,0662.1+2.10.1435
Voluntary Euthanasia Party3,9631.6+1.60.1127
Animal Justice Party2,9921.2+1.20.0847
Australian Independents1,5920.7+0.70.0455
Katter’s Australian Party1,4160.6+0.60.0399
Rise Up Australia1,3810.6+0.60.0392

Labor candidate Kate Lundy reached quota on primary votes (although much closer to a quota than in past elections.

Liberal candidate Zed Seselja narrowly fell short of a quota on primary votes. Let’s fast forward to the last seven candidates:

  • Zed Seselja (LIB) – 0.9945 quotas
  • Simon Sheikh (GRN) – 0.6125
  • Deborah Avery (SXP) – 0.1333
  • Chris Bucknell (BTA) – 0.0954
  • Wayne Slattery (PUP) – 0.0706
  • Philip Nitschke (VEP) – 0.0536
  • Marcus Fillinger (AJP) – 0.0397

Animal Justice preferences mostly flowed to the Bullet Train party:

  • Seselja (LIB) – 0.9958
  • Sheikh (GRN) – 0.6184
  • Avery (SXP) – 0.1351
  • Bucknell (BTA) – 0.1237
  • Slattery (PUP) – 0.0711
  • Nitschke (VEP) – 0.0553

Voluntary Euthanasia votes mostly flowed to the Sex Party, but enough votes leaked to bring Seselja less than fifty votes away from the quota:

  • Seselja (LIB) – 0.9996
  • Sheikh (GRN) – 0.6292
  • Avery (SXP) – 0.1671
  • Bucknell (BTA) – 0.1297
  • Slattery (PUP) – 0.0735

Palmer United votes mostly helped the Bullet Train party, but enough preferences flowed to Seselja, electing him:

  • Seselja (LIB) – 1.0050
  • Sheikh (GRN) – 0.6327
  • Bucknell (BTA) – 0.1890
  • Avery (SXP) – 0.1721

It’s worth noting that most Bullet Train and Sex Party votes would have flowed to Sheikh (although not all – votes originally from the Animal Justice Party would have ended up with Seselja), making the result closer than it appears.


  • A – Matt Donnelly (Liberal Democrats)
  • B – David Edwards (Secular Party)
  • C – Katy Gallagher (Labor)
  • D – Sandie O’Connor (Rise Up Australia)
  • E – John Haydon (Sustainable Australia)
  • F – Zed Seselja (Liberal)
  • G – Deborah Field (Animal Justice)
  • H – Christina Hobbs (Greens)
  • I – David Kim (Christian Democratic Party)
  • J – Steven Bailey (Sex Party)
  • Ungrouped
    • Michael Hay (VOTEFLUX)
    • Anthony Hanson (Mature Australia)

The ACT Senate race has always produced the same result: one Labor and one Liberal.

There have been multiple efforts by centre-left minor parties to poach the Liberal seat, without success.

The Greens have built up a strong vote in the territory, and that’s unlikely to change in 2013, but Greens chances of victory will be significantly damaged by the change to the Senate voting system.

The Greens have come close to victory thanks to preferences, with a much lower primary vote than the Liberal Party. Most minor parties, along with the ALP, have solidly preferenced the Greens ahead of the Liberal Party. Under the old system, this meant few votes would exhaust or leak, and the Greens could rely on most of these votes.

Under the new system, some of those Labor and minor party preferences will exhaust or leak to the Liberal Party, so the Greens will need to get a lot closer to the Liberal Party on primary votes to win.

Until recently, few minor parties ran for the Senate in the ACT. It seems likely that the number of minor parties will be less than the number who contested the ACT in 2013, but still more than in the past. If less parties run, the Greens may be able to consolidate votes cast for the Animal Justice Party, the Bullet Train for Australia party, the Voluntary Euthanasia Party and the Sex Party.

While progressive minor parties may make preferences more complicated for the Greens, the Liberal Party has avoided right-wing minor parties biting into its primary vote. If that changes, the Greens could have a better shot in the future.

But the Greens will continue to have a problem with the size of the Labor surplus. Generally the Greens have not had to worry about winning votes off Labor – those surplus votes would solidly flow to the Greens as preferences. But under the new system the Greens will be looking to win more of these votes as primary votes.


  1. what is interesting is the difference between the ALP senate vote at 34.4% and their vote in the Reps- 41.1% in Canberra and 44.7% Fenner. That’s ticket splitting on a fairly large scale. I have anecdotal evidence of quite a few on the left of the party enthusiastically ticket split to record dissent from their party’s stance on asylum seekers while voting loyally in the Reps.

    Compare to the Liberals 33.1% in the Senate, 31% in Fenner and 37.9% in Canberra – minimal ticket splitting. suggesting that it’s very hard to peel votes off from the conservative side of politics because it is basically at rock bottom and very little by way of loosely attached Liberal voters – very rusted on.

  2. Interesting to note that both incumbent senators were the opposing leaders at the last ACT general election in 2012 (which says something about the nature of Territory politics)

  3. Well yes it does – though Katie Gallagher left after a reasonable run as Chief Minister – Zed left after failure to win the Chief Minister position in the 2012 election. No other political options if you are a Liberal and have higher ambitions – knocked off a fellow liberal Gary Humphries as the sitting Senator.

  4. (Himself also a previous Chief Minister!)

    I suspect at least some of the erstwhile ALP voters voting Green in the Senate in the ACT was an attempt at tactical voting to improve the Greens’ chances of knocking off the Liberal.

  5. Kme – a few of my Labor voting Canberra friends vote green in the senate because theyve been convinced it’s a tactical way to beat the Lib (when I’m fact voting Labor 1 and Green 2 would have much the same effect).

  6. PJ: Voting 1 Green did make a very minor difference – it reduced the loss from the ALP transfer value due to BTL leakage.

  7. People need only look at the ACT to see that it wasn’t in the Greens’ self interest to vote for the senate reforms. It would have been very possible to win the 2nd seat here due to Katy Gallagher’s successful recent tenure as chief minister and Zed being a largely inactive senator and Abbott loyalist.

    Katy Gallagher is running a low profile campaign and spending a lot of time outside the ACT, which pretty much seals the Greens’ fate. It’s as if behind the scenes Labor would prefer a Liberal to a Green (even if their HTVs preference Greens to avoid upsetting the base).

    Christina Hobbs seems like a very strong candidate but she’d need to get the Greens’ best result ever at the same time as Labor having their best result ever and Liberals having their worst.

    Best shot for changing what Canberra sends to parliament is Gary Humphries coming back and running as an independent, splitting the Liberal senate vote.

  8. Level of ALP vote in the Senate doesn’t matter greatly – it’s whether there is a substantial drop in the Liberal vote. Best chance of that is if there were to be a minor party candidate on the right that ate into the Liberal vote – the new Senate system would then work against the conservatives by reducing the flow back of preferences – haven’t hear od oe at this stage

  9. Doug you’re right that it doesn’t directly matter how well Labor does, unless Labor does astoundingly well to the point where they can make a legitimate case for Greens to tactically vote for their 2nd senate candidate.

    However Katy Gallagher going full tilt on Zed would definitely be enough to sway the outcome. There’s a lot of animosity towards Zed from all corners (anecdotally, I know people who voted below the line, put the 2nd Liberal candidate first and Zed Last.) and “raising awareness” of how bad Zed has been would be very powerful.

    Best shot the Greens have is to get a poll commissioned including approval/disapproval for Katy and Zed, and hope it implies a scenario where the 2nd senate seat is winnable for Labor.

  10. Seselja barely got over the line on preferences in 2013. I can’t see the Liberals doing better this time, so I think Greens are in with a chance, still. I think the Greens will regain the primary vote they lost in 2013 to come back up to 23% primary. That leaves them needing about 10% more to take the second seat.

    Sex Party will probably end up getting about 4%, most of which will flow to the Greens. Sustainable Australia will probably grab about 1.5%, and I’d say about 1% will flow to Greens with the remainder flowing to Liberals. Similar numbers for Animal Justice, so Greens are up to about 29%. The remaining 4%, I think, will flow from Labor overflow (I see Labor getting to about 37-38%, regaining a little less than half of what they lost in 2013), putting Greens within striking distance.

    The Mature Australia party is the hard one to call. My instinct says that their preferences will flow roughly equally to Liberal and Greens. LDP and CDP will probably both favour Liberals over Greens.

    If John is right about voters specifically voting against Seselja, and it remains true at this election, the small extra swing should be enough to push the Greens into the seat. But it’s on a knife-edge – I’m going to say Greens will end up, when all is said and done, with about 1.002 quotas.

  11. I think it will be closer this time around between the Libs and the Greens.
    There isn’t the same animosity towards the Greens which was the case at the last election. Another thing which helps them is that Seselja is one of the most conservative senators in one of the most progressive parts of the country.

    If a chunk of progressive Labor voters tactically changed to vote Green, maybe 5-7% that could actually topple Seselja whilst still electing Gallagher with excess votes still to be distributed.

    Even I think thats not actually plausible, so 1 Labor – 1 Lib as per usual.

  12. Looking at the Senate candidates for the ACT the spread of candidates offers opportunities and risks for the Green tilt at the Senate – there are four candidates who may siphon votes off the Liberals on the conservative side – but several who may do the same for the Greens.

    However the ALP is preferencing the Greens in the Senate though not in the Reps. Libs are spending money on media for Zed as though they are worried. Hard to think why they would spend the money otherwise.

  13. The Zed specific Liberal party advertising has seriously intensified even though we’re in the Eden-Monaro TV market. Zed is worried and/or Liberals have conceded Eden-Monaro (no way in hell they think they’ve won it).

  14. The Liberals (in fact, probably all the parties) focus their resources on the Senate here, because the House seats are safe Labor. So it’s no surprise if you’re seeing that contest flogged to death.

    The Canberra TV market extends out to cover a large part of E-M, so you’re probably just seeing the ACT ads. When I was in Canberra, I know we got bombarded with E-M advertising constantly.

  15. I’m in Canberra and it may just be the campaign timeline but there has definitely been a big spike in activity for Zed. At very least they don’t think they’re going to walk it in.

    Since the voting reforms happened, the senate seat would be safe Liberal if they could put forth a generic candidate from the Turnbull faction without a checkered history.

    Also seeing quite a few signs for minor party senate candidates along roads even though they definitely have no chance.

    Best hope for the ACT is to get a 3rd lower house seat. The central seat will be a Greens target (in the “come 2nd then get Liberal preferences” sense) and the southern seat a Liberal target.

  16. One of the few genuine draw backs of the new system is its very hard to vote against someone just because of those exhausting preferences. Long term goal for the Greens to try to build up to a 28% primary here and get a decent chance of winning.

  17. Canberra Times on Saturday has a series of profiles/interviews with No1. Senate Candidates for all the parties standing for the Senate. Helpful reading to get a handle not only on the parties but also the people.

  18. Zed is putting up a lot of advertising based on his name. I think he’s scared of shy Liberal voters accidentally bullet voting for Liberal Democrats (in lucky first) instead of following a Liberal HTV. It could get him below quota.

    People have written off the Greens due to preference leakage but there are only 3 left wing minor parties on the ticket this time (Sex, Secular, Animal Justice), 1 ambiguous (Sustainable Australia’s left wing name, right wing logo), and 3 right wing (Lib Dems, Christians, Rise Up) so that effect could end up about even between the two. Rise up have been the only active microparty at prepolls.

    Greens must be in with a chance.

  19. John – from what I hear, that could be a counterproductive move. I have an aunt in Canberra, and she says that Zed is not well-liked down there. She implies that he gets in from people who vote Liberal above the line, and the changes to the rules mean that those who tolerate Zed might instead choose to number below the line in order to not put him first.

    Just to demonstrate, consider that, in 2013 in the Canberra electorate, 91% of Liberal voters voted above the line, and then, of the rest, almost 21% voted for the Liberals’ second candidate. For comparison, for Labor, it was 84.6% above the line… and then about 4% of the remainder voting for Labor’s second candidate.

    Here’s another way to see it. The second candidate for Liberals got about 1.87% of the total Liberal vote. Labor’s second candidate got 0.66%, and Greens’ second candidate got 1.55%. Considering that the proportion generally gets lower as the total number of voters gets higher, Liberals should be around 0.7% or so… but it’s 1.87%. Under the old system where you had to number every box, rather than just 12.

    Liberals might actually be at risk in ACT, due to vote exhaustion. If they drop by, say, 5% due to the LDP and the CDP, and those votes exhaust instead of flowing back to the Liberals (which could happen if those voting for those parties don’t want majors), then I could see a situation where preferences flow even more strongly to the Greens.

  20. There has been little discussion of this Senate seat as it should be out of reach with the Liberal vote just too high and that probably is the case. However … Zed is very conservative Liberal in a jurisdiction where Liberals who prosper, e.g. his predecessor Gary Humphries relatively speaking are usually less socially conservative and centrist and Marriage Equality plebiscite by the Liberals is definitely out of tune with local sentiment. there is also a feeling around that he has not seriously stood up for the electorate.

    There are also lots of complaints around about his inaccessibility as a Senator and he has just had an incident with his volunteers which will leave an odour around. (See the above link).

  21. All I want is a list of candidates for the senate and a one liner of what they stand for e.g. same sex marriage + euthanasia.

    I don’t care what party they are in, just what they stand for. Any chance of such a list?

  22. So Zed appears to have gone backwards and is now a bit short of a quota, although this gap will probably close on postals.

    It’ll be interesting to see whether he gets elected on a quota or as the highest remaining of the last two candidates.

  23. Big swing for Katy in the Senate – Greens improved in the HoR and went backward by an equivalent amount in the Senate. While the issues differ Both ALP and Greens should be at least encouraged in the run up to the ACT poll.

  24. This will definitely be interesting to watch. As I said before, Zed isn’t very well-liked, so he might not have enough quota to get himself across the line.

    The current quota for the Liberals is 0.9557. In 2013, the below-the-line vote for the second candidate was 0.02 quotas, so let’s suppose that Zed ends up with 0.9350. He needs to get the remaining 0.0650 from preferences or stay ahead after exhaustion.

    When we consider that Zed had trouble making it to a full quota from 0.9927 (needing only 0.0073), this could be interesting to watch.

    If we estimate using the how-to-votes, then Liberals will get preferences from Rise Up Australia, while Greens will get preferences from Labor overflow. So from those, we’re at

    Liberals at 0.9642, Greens at 0.6564.

    Now, I think we can all agree that Sustainable Australia, Secular Party, Sex Party, and Animal Justice Party will go to Greens almost entirely. So now we’re at

    Liberals at 0.9642, Greens at 0.8830.

    Which means it’ll come down to how preferences end up flowing from CDP, LDP, and the ungrouped. CDP would probably flow more to Liberals, but I’d imagine that not all of it would. LDP is a tough one to call – they weren’t present in 2013, and their HTV is open.

    If CDP were to flow entirely to Liberals, then they’d have an extra 0.0388 to add to their value, just getting them across the line… but CDP don’t have a HTV, so it probably won’t all flow to Liberals. I suspect that LDP might flow strongly to Greens, on the basis that LDP’s voters tend to be more socially liberal (that is, compared with economically liberal – the social aspect is more important to them), from what I’m observing.

    Ultimately, I’m predicting that, if Zed gets elected, it will be due to vote exhaustion, rather than getting a full quota.

  25. Glen, looking at the latest figures, you have Liberals on 0.9557, LDP on 0.0809, CDP on 0.0388 and RUA on 0.0292. On the fairly conservative assumption that 20% of LDP votes and 50% of CDP/RUA votes flow to the Liberals, that gives the Liberals a quota.

    And that’s before you allow for any leakage to the Liberals from the other minors, or the Liberals being likely to improve their position from postal votes.

  26. Ben – I’m assuming preference flows comparable to 2013, I think. Zed had 0.9924 quotas going into the count, and only managed to break the full quota mark by 0.005 quotas with four candidates left, all of which were left-wing parties.

    I do realise that the senate voting reform might mean that preferences flow less strongly… but I also think that ACT voters aren’t inclined to vote for Zed, even on preferences.

    Edward – I don’t think you’re allowing for dissatisfaction with the Liberals amongst minor party supporters, as they view the change in senate rules to be aimed at harming those minor parties. Plus, as I said, you need to account for below-the-line votes for Liberals that put the second candidate at 1 and then have Zed much further down.

  27. Glen, there were only 10 groups in ACT, of which 4 are pretty left-wing: Greens, Sex Party, Secular Australia and Animal Justice. So an above the line voter for LDP, RUA or CDP had the following options:
    1) Include the Liberals in their top 6, ahead of or omitting those left-wing parties, meaning their ballot will reach Seselja in the final Liberal vs. Green count
    2) Preference a left-wing party above the Liberals, even though their first preference was for a right-wing party
    3) go against the ballot paper instructions and number less than 6 squares

    I’m pretty confident at least 50% of CDP, 50% of RUA and 20% of LDP voters voted above the line and went with option 1, despite Seselja’s profile.

  28. Edward – I think disaffection with major parties has been a stronger force at this election than ever, and I could honestly see the CDP voters doing something like CDP, RUA, LDP, Sustainable, Animal Justice, and then the final position either not being filled, or filled randomly.

    And I honestly seeing quite a few of the right-wing voters ignoring the instructions.

    As for LDP, it’s worth remembering that they’re only *economically* right wing. LDP voters are actually quite likely to favour the left-wing minor parties over CDP or Liberals (if you look over their HTV in the various states, you will find neither CDP nor Liberals anywhere in their lists – and they have an open HTV in ACT because none of the other parties are close enough to them). I think 20% flowing to Liberals is actually rather optimistic.

    But then, all of my argument hinges on the question of how many people vote for Liberals below the line, skipping Zed to preference the second candidate. And how many other below-the-line votes happen. So we should probably at least wait until the count starts distributing between candidates and tickets before continuing the argument.

  29. Zed has pulled ahead by quite a lot on postal votes. Unless there’s widespread overestimation of his vote from BTL’s he’s in safe.

  30. Has there been any word on BTL rates from scrutineers in the ACT? The other Hare-Clark jurisdiction is apparently seeing 20% BTL rates.

  31. It now appears that Zed will be short of a quota on first preferences (approximately one third of Liberal BTL votes going to his running mate).

  32. I wonder about two hypothetical scenarios.

    1. If the Greens had a little more success last time and won this seat then had to defend it under the new system, and

    2. If the old senate system had continued and the Greens had decided to seriously contest this seat again.

    Winning under the old system would require a lot of luck, but this election would have been a closer defeat if (as I expect) the Greens would have got almost all the preference flows.

  33. The Greens were much better off under the old system – they got close to perfect preference flows, whereas under this system there will be considerably weaker flows, for example from the ALP excess.


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