Senate – Australian Capital Territory – Australia 2019

Incumbent Senators

  • David Smith (Labor)1
  • Zed Seselja (Liberal)

1David Smith replaced Katy Gallagher [when?] following the High Court ruling that Katy Gallagher was ineligible to sit.

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.

Gallagher was removed in 2018 when the High Court ruled that she had failed to clear section 44 of the constitution as she had not renounced her citizenship in time for nominations for the 2016 election. She was replaced by her running mate David Smith.

2016 result

Labor 96,66737.9+3.51.1383
Liberal 84,61533.2+0.10.9964
Greens 41,00616.1-3.20.4829
Sex Party10,0964.0+0.50.1189
Liberal Democrats7,4602.9+2.90.0878
Animal Justice4,2511.7+0.50.0501
Christian Democratic Party3,0871.2+1.20.0364
Sustainable Australia2,6781.1+0.70.0315
Rise Up Australia2,5231.0+0.40.0297
Secular Party1,3780.5+0.50.0162


      • A – Zed Seselja (Liberal)
      • B – Penny Kyburz (Greens)
      • C – Anthony Pesec (Independent)
      • D – Shane Van Duren (Conservative National)
      • E – Peter Walter (United Australia)
      • F – John Haydon (Sustainable Australia)
      • G – Katy Gallagher (Labor)
      • Ungrouped
        • Nick Houston (Independent)
        • Gary Cowton (Independent)
        • David Kim (Christian Democrats)

It is very hard to see a result other than one Labor and one Liberal senator. The Greens continue to harbour ambitions to gain a seat here, but it would require a precipitous drop in the Liberal vote. It is also made harder by the change in the preference system which makes it harder to starve the Liberal Party of preferences.
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  1. I think you’ll see the Greens win Canberra and form opposition in the ACT Legislative Assembly before they have a chance here. Their own senate reforms have killed them.

  2. The reform was worth it for the Greens though, they are strengthened in the races that elect 95% of senators (the states).

    2 vacancy elections makes a mockery of “proportional representation” systems.

  3. The result is almost guaranteed to be 1 Labor and 1 Liberal. They really should add a third senate seat for the territories so the results are at least somewhat representative of the way people actually vote.

    Zed Seselja is a terrible representative for the ACT. I’ve never understood why the Canberra Liberals are so right wing.

  4. some guy, it is a curiosity that the Canberra Liberals are one of the most conservative “state” parties. It’s been their Achilles heel in territory elections.

    ACT Branches of political parties will have a relatively high proportion of staffers and party insiders in them. I have also heard that the Gary Humphries supporting moderates left the party after Zed’s 2013 coup for the senate seat. That coup that was successful as a result of Eric Abetz led branch stacking.

    3 senate seats would be a safe seat for each of Labor, Liberal, Greens. It wouldn’t make the race any more competitive, but it would be better representation. On the other hand I think 3 NT seats would be very interesting.

  5. Perhaps with incentive to start campaigning seriously the NT voting tendency would change, but on the history of it Labor + left wing 3rd party (Democrats and now Greens) have outpolled the Country Liberal Party in every election since 1975. This leads me to believe the standard results would be 2 ALP/1 CLP or 1 ALP/1 CLP/1 GRN in anything but the very best national landslide for the Coalition.

  6. And that “or” makes for very interesting campaigning. The CLP’s main draw is competing for the 2 lower house seats (which will be 2 seats for a very long time – even relatively large house expansions don’t put the NT above 2.5 seat quotas).

  7. You are right that both the ALP and Greens would care about that “or,” but from the perspective of senate majority mathematics it wouldn’t matter much. The Labor party is never passing anything without the Greens or the Coalition voting with them unless they increase their national senate primary vote from below 30% to above 40%. 1 seat exchanged between ALP and Greens in that context is not crucial (in contrast to 1 seat exchanged from Coalition or conservative crossbenchers to ALP or Greens which would matter a fair bit, each seat less than a majority “the left” starts with is 1 more crossbenchers you have to get on side).

  8. The ACT really deserves more than two Senators, it almost has the same population as Tassie after all and will be larger in no time if growth trends in Canberra continue as they are. The Greens are apparently set to mount a challenge for the 2nd Senate spot and knock off the Liberal. It’s a big ask but if both Labor and the Greens polled high enough and the preferences flowed the right (left) way then it is possible. Canberra is a VERY progressive/left leaning city, probably even more so than Melbourne as a whole. It’s an outside chance but not beyond the realms of possibility.

  9. Firefox, as progressive as Canberra is, it has a pretty solid Liberal vote in the low 30s. It would take a serious campaign to get it much below that.

    The Greens were much more competitive under the old system, where they hoped to get Liberals just below quota and get up on near perfect preference flows. They never quite managed it. In 2010 they got an incredible 23% primary vote (ALP getting 40%) but Liberals managed to keep above quota by just a handful of votes.

    3 seats would be much fairer as odd numbered systems always are for proportional systems, and the 3rd seat would actually be a competition between Greens and a 2nd ALP seat (AlexJ on here calculated that the 2nd ALP candidate would have gotten the 3rd seat on 2016 results).

  10. Knocking the Libs off would require a pretty substantial swing.

    By my calculations, in 2016 in the ACT the:

    – Greens Senate 3PP was 16.53%
    – Labor Senate 3PP was 45.31%
    – Liberal Senate 3PP was 37.50%

    So to knock the Liberals out you’d want about 5% off their 3PP *and* for none of it to come back in Labor preferences. (Or for their 3PP to drop so badly it’s not enough).

    In 2016 in the ACT, about 13% of Greens voters and 26% of Labor voters preferenced the Liberals over the other left-wing party.

  11. Considering the Greens got 16.1% primary, that’s an astonishingly weak preference flow to Greens. They only got 4% of minor party preferences, especially bad considering many of those minor parties at least have some overlap with the Greens and were likely to preference Greens in the old Group Voting Ticket system (at least before AJP and Rattenbury had a falling out)

  12. I was polled by the ReachTel poll here the other night (despite being a Melburnian. I did register my phone number when on a business trip to Canberra nearly ten years ago I lost my other phone and had to replace it quick, so presumably that was it).

    It apparently showed Labor safe in the three lower house seats but the Green pushing for Zezelja’s Senate seat.

    I have suspicions – it was a pretty blatant push poll. The first three questions were along the lines of ‘Given Zezelja’s role in rolling Malcolm Turnbull and supporting Peter Dutton, are you more or less likely to vote for him?’. Very negative framing toward Zezelja.

    This was then followed by ‘If you thought Labor was assured of three seats in the ACT, would you consider supporting the Greens winning one? And then the classic ‘list of priorities’ question, which only listed pretty specific Greens campaigns (Adani, change the date, more financial support for uni students etc), but didn’t have, you know, health, education, jobs or the economy.

    Put it like this, while I expect the Greens to do about as well as last time in the ACT, possibly a bit better, there was no doubt in my mind that it was a Greens commissioned poll (which it turned out to be), which suggests to me that their results may be overstated.

    I can’t see Labor losing any of the lower house or their Senate seat in the short to mid term. As for the Libs losing their Senate seat – it could happen if Zezelja really disgraced himself (he’s a bad fit for the ACT, but he’d have to basically do a Jaymes Diaz or a David Feeney to lose). Canberra is left, but the Libs only need about 30% of the vote to hold their Senate seat. Could happen, but I doubt it.

  13. As they always do.

    The interesting info for the Greens is:

    1. What portion of the people who said they were voting Liberal, Other, or Undecided would consider voting Greens when told about Zed Seselja’s role in the roll, him voting against territorian rights to legislate on euthanasia etc.

    2. What portion of Labor voters could shift Green if they certain no lower house ACT seat can be won by a Liberal.

    3. What particular Green issue those potential new Green voters care most about (e.g. what issue should the Greens campaign on).

    It would make zero sense to ask voting intention last, then you’d have washed away any useful information.

  14. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a swing against Seseljia. Pretty much every major decision he’s made has been contrary to the majority of ACT voters: supporting Dutton’s rolling of Turnbull, voting against the ACT (and NT) being able to legislate voluntary euthanasia, his firmly anti-ssm stance, his sitting back and doing nothing during that whole “decentralisation” debacle (which was just blatant pork barreling at the expense of Canberrans).

    He’ll probably mange to hold on, but I wouldn’t rule out him losing the seat to the Greens or Labor. I’d guess a fair few Liberal-leaning voters are strong supporters of voluntary euthanasia. Politicians really need to be careful about taking their seat for granted, even seemingly safe seats – not many people expected Sophie Mirabella to lose her seat in 2013.

  15. ^ Anthony Pesec was out campaigning in Civic this morning. He seems like a good candidate, I could definitely see him appealing to the kind of moderate liberals who are alienated by Seselja. I guess the biggest challenge (as with pretty much all independents) will be building up enough of a profile.

  16. If Pesec can get ahead of the ALP second candidate and ALP preferences and then get ahead of the Greens and Green preferences, he might be in with a chance. At the last election the ALP second candidate had 4.9% when the counting stopped last time, so getting ahead of the ALP is possible. Getting ahead of the lead Green candidate would be more difficult. Both preference requirements are possible, unless there is something that would cause him not to be preferenced.

  17. Just read the feature in the City News March 28,2019 on Anthony Pesec he definately appeals to a voter unsure who to vote for in this election especially on Climate change and renewables being in the Solar business, and yes the fact that Zed Seseljia voted against the right of Territorians right to legislate for Euthanasia. Not speaking out against the moving of Government Departments way from Canberra. Need to know where he stands on other important issues, Strong Border Protection and cutting back immigration environmental issues such as the Murray/Darling Basin Plan. If he gets into the Senate his vote could be crucial in getting important Government Bills thru on these issues. The Coalition is strong on the economy, border protection and security, but poor on addressing climate change and environmental issues in this country. We need a candidate who stands up for Canberra.

  18. I don’t see any independents getting too much traction, but they might help the general campaigns in the area to get rid of Zed by stripping votes off liberals that don’t go back to him. Candidates that could do well in the very anti-Green areas of tuggeranong would be particularly useful to the “Dump Zed” effort.

    I thought this seat was impossible for anything other than the status quo until I saw the poll on RiotACT that had Zed’s vote in the low 20s. People in Canberra follow political news much more than in other areas, and Zed’s role in the Dutton coup could be his undoing among moderate Liberals… maybe.

    It seems like Labor are running dead, with just a token effort in Canberra to keep the Greens at bay. Katie Gallagher made her first public appearance since she was section 44’d this week.

    Labor are very good at moving their members around to where they’re needed most so I assume many of them have gone down the coast (to Gilmore), or are up in Sydney working Reid, Banks and Lindsay. A very active Labor campaign could whittle down Zed’s vote even further, but since ALP’s 2nd candidate is unlikely to be the beneficiary of that, they don’t seem to care.

  19. I think we need to know where each Independent Candidate stands if Labor achieves Government by a slim margin, or form a minority Government. What support will there be for the issues such as Franking Credits, Negative Gearing and many of the other measures that labor must rely on to fund their elections promises. Anthony Pesec could be a good choice but will he get sufficient support?

    As far as Zed is concerned: I think there will be a huge backlash from otherwise dyed-in-the-wool Liberal voters because of his role in supporting Dutton against Turnbull; his anti-euthenasia stance and the SSM issue. Don’t assume that all Liberal party voters are hard-line conservatives and ‘vote like lemmings’ regardless of the circumstances. Mr Seselja seems to have taken his previous support for granted – something no politician in their right mind can afford to do.

  20. Under the current Constitution the territories get 2 Senators each only and the states (yes even Tasmania) get 12 Senators each forever.


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