The NSW Legislative Council consists of 42 members, with 21 members elected by proportional representation every four years for an eight year term. All MLCs represent the entire state.
The Legislative Council was directly elected for the first time in 1978. Since then the Council has been elected by a system of proportional representation, with the balance of power held by a variety of minor parties.
The 1995 and 1999 elections produced results with a large number of minor parties winning seats. In 1995, single seats were won by the Christian Democratic Party, the Greens, the Democrats, the Shooters and A Better Future for our Children. In 1999, a seat was won by the CDP, Democrats, Greens, One Nation, Unity, Outdoor Recreation Party and Reform the Legal System.
Following the 1999 election result, the electoral system was changed to abolish ticket voting and allow individual voters to cast preferences for whole parties above the line.
At the 2003 election, the balance changed markedly, with the sole Christian Democrat and Shooters MLCs both re-elected, as well as the sitting Greens MLC. The Greens gained an extra seat.
In 2007, the same result was produced, with the two minor right-wing parties each winning a single seat in addition to the seat they won in 2003, while the Greens won two seats.
Following the 2007 election, the Legislative Council included 19 Labor MLCs, 15 Coalition MLCs, 4 Greens MLCs, 2 Shooters, and 2 Christian Democrats.
Since the last election, a large proportion of the Council has been replaced through casual vacancies, but in all those cases the vacating MLC was replaced by an MLC from the same party. Two changes have been made to party affiliations.
Christian Democratic Party MLC Gordon Moyes was expelled from his party in 2009 after an extended conflict with fellow MLC Fred Nile. Later in 2009, he joined the Family First party as their first NSW parliamentary representative. Moyes’ current term expires at the upcoming election.
In October 2010, the President of the Legislative Council, Amanda Fazio, was suspended from the ALP after crossing the floor and voting in favour of a Greens amendment on legislation to do with classification of x-rated pornography. Her term does not expire until the 2015 election.
The upcoming election seems set to produce a significant shift in the Legislative Council. The Greens have been consistently polling over 13.65%, which they would need to elect three MLCs (an increase of one) with full quotas. If the Greens were to poll around 2% in surplus over three quotas (15.7%) they would begin to have a chance of electing a fourth MLC. Recent polls have regularly put the Greens on around 15%, and some polls have gone as high as 16% or 17%.
The Shooters Party has won seats in the Legislative Council in 2003 and 2007 with a vote of less than 3%. They certainly stand a good chance of winning a seat, but with a vote that low there is always a danger they could fall below that level. Since 2007 the party has changed its name to the Shooters and Fishers Party. The issue of marine parks and fishing was a key election issue on the north coast in the federal election, and the party will certainly look to mop up some of that vote. With a resurgent Coalition, however, they may struggle for attention.
The Christian Democratic Party has been hurt by internal divisions since the 2007 election. Many supporters and activists left the party when sitting MLC Gordon Moyes was expelled in 2009. Moyes is up for re-election, and will be competing against a new Christian Democratic Party candidate. The CDP are running Paul Green, Mayor of Shoalhaven.
Moyes will have the higher profile, but his profile is minimal compared to that of Fred Nile (who is not up for re-election). Family First has always been particularly weak in New South Wales, and it will be interesting to see how the two conservative Christian parties stack up.
It is a plausible scenario where the parties divide the conservative minor-party vote in a way which locks out both parties (if both parties poll 2%), or both squeeze in with the perfect vote (say 3% for each party).
As far as the major parties go, the ALP is set to lose a large number of seats. In 2003 the ALP won ten seats. Six full quotas would require 27% of the primary vote, and yet that may be too much for a party that has managed to poll only 20% in January 2011.
It will be a tight contest to see whether the combination of the Coalition and minor right-wing parties can achieve a majority in the Legislative Council. In 2007 Labor and the Greens collectively won 11 seats, while the Coalition, Shooters and CDP won 10 seats. Eleven conservative seats would tie the Council at 21 seats each, but twelve would give them an outright majority.
If the ALP is dropping to six seats, the Greens would need to win four seats to tie the Council. That would be a very strong result for the Greens. If the ALP drops to five seats (approximately under 25%) then conservative MLCs would definitely gain a majority.
A Council with the balance of power in the hands of right-wing minor parties would be very different to one where the Coalition government was forced to get the votes of either the ALP or the Greens. The Shooters and the CDP in particular have been happy to support most of a government’s agenda in return for support of their pet issues. The Greens, on the other hand, would likely be a much tougher force to hold the balance of power.