Legislative Council – SA 2014

South Australia’s Legislative Council, or upper house, consists of twenty-two members. Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) serve eight-year terms, with half (11) up for election at each four-yearly election, along with the entire House of Assembly.

The Legislative Council has been fully elected since responsible government in 1856, unlike many other upper houses around Australia. For most of that period, the Legislative Council was elected through local electorates that were heavily weighted towards rural areas, with half elected at each election.

After electoral reform in the House of Assembly in the late 1960s allowed the Dunstan government to win the 1970 and 1973 elections, the Legislative Council was reformed. The Council remained on a system of half of the membership being up for election at each election, but with all eleven members being elected to represent the entire state.

The electoral system used from 1975 until 1982 was a system of party-list proportional representation. Since the 1985 election, the Legislative Council has been elected using single-transferable-vote proportional representation, with above-the-line ticket voting. The system is very similar to the system used for the Australian Senate.

Over the ten elections held for the at-large Legislative Council, the share of seats for the major parties has gradually declined. From 1979 to 1993, the Australian Democrats were the only minor party, winning one seat. At the subsequent elections, three crossbench MLCs were elected in 1997, two in 2002, four in 2006 and three in 2010.

At the first election, the Liberal Party had split into two parties, and the Liberal Movement won two seats, with the Liberal Party winning only three.

By the 1979 election, most of the Liberal Movement had merged back into the Liberal Party, and the remnants had joined the new Australian Democrats. The Democrats won a single seat, with the Liberal Party winning six to the ALP’s four. With the Liberal Party winning government in the House of Assembly, they held half of the 22 seats in the Legislative Council.

At three successive elections in 1982, 1985 and 1989, the ALP and the Liberal Party won five seats each, with the Democrats winning one. This meant that, from 1985 to 1993, the Democrats solely held the balance of power. From 1982 to 1985, the opposition Liberal Party held half the seats in the Council.

At the 1993 election, which produced a landslide victory for the Liberal Party in the lower house, the Liberal Party won six seats to the ALP’s four. This gave the Liberal Party half the seats in the Legislative Council – they still required Democrat support to pass legislation, but could block motions.

The 1997 election produced a major shift, with the Democrats polling 16.7%, giving them two seats, for a total of three. The No Pokies party managed to win a seat for Nick Xenophon, on only 2.9%. Both major parties lost a seat in the Council, with the Democrats still holding the balance of power.

The 2002 election saw two minor party MLCs elected: one Democrat and the first member of the Family First Party. The Liberal Party led with five seats to the ALP’s four, but this was still less than the six Liberals elected in 1993, so the Liberal Party still lost ground.

The new Rann Labor government faced a more complicated Legislative Council. For the first time since 1985, the Democrats did not hold the sole balance of power. The ALP needed four votes to pass legislation, including the Australian Democrats’ three members, Nick Xenophon and Family First.

In 2006, Family First gained a second seat, with the Democrats failing to win a seat for the first time in over thirty years. The Greens won their first seat. The big story of the 2006 election was the massive vote recorded by Nick Xenophon’s No Pokies ticket.

Xenophon had scraped in with 2.9% of the vote and a lot of preferences in 1997, but in 2006 Xenophon and his running mate Ann Bressington both won their seats with some votes to spare, with over 20% of the primary vote. The Liberal Party vote plummeted to 26%, which saw the Liberal Party only manage to win three seats, down from five in 2002 and four in 1997.

Despite being elected on the same ticket, Xenophon and Bressington operated as independents from the early days of the new Council. The Rann government gained no seats, so still needed to gain four extra votes to pass legislation. With two Democrats losing their seats, Rann needed four out of six MPs, effectively operating as five separate blocks, to pass legislation.

Less than two years after being re-elected with a massive vote, Nick Xenophon resigned from the Legislative Council in mid-2007 to run for the Senate in South Australia. Xenophon again won a seat with a huge vote for a minor party candidate, and has served in the Senate ever since. His seat was filled by John Darley, who had run in the third position on the No Pokies ticket in 2006.

Prior to the 2010 election, the last Democrats member of the Legislative Council, David Winderlich resigned from the party in late 2009. Winderlich had been appointed to fill the remainder of Sandra Kanck’s term in February 2009.

At the 2010 election, the Greens gained a second seat at the expense of ex-Democrat Winderlich. Family First retained their seat. In addition, a seventh member of the crossbench was elected for the Dignity for Disability party. The D4D ticket was led by Paul Collier, who died eleven days before the election. His running mate, Kelly Vincent, was elected to the seat, with the party only polling 0.6% of the primary vote, and gaining the rest of the 8.3% quota with preferences.

The Legislative Council now has a record number of seven crossbench members, making up almost one third of the Council, compared to seven Liberal MLCs and eight Labor MLCs immediately following the 2010 election. This was the first time in the history of the Legislative Council that the ALP held more seats than the Liberal Party. The ALP’s numbers were reduced to seven in 2011 when Labor minister and MLC Bernard Finnigan resigned from the ministry and was suspended from the ALP when he faced charges related to child pornography.

Sitting MLCs

Term expires 2014
Term expires 2018
Ann Bressington (IND), since 2006Robert Brokenshire (FF), since 2008
John Darley (IND)1, since 2007Bernard Finnigan (IND)2, since 2006
John Dawkins (LIB), since 1997 Tammy Franks (GRN), since 2010
Dennis Hood (FF), since 2006 Gail Gago (ALP), since 2010
Ian Hunter (ALP), since 2006John Gazzola (ALP), since 2002
Michelle Lensink (LIB), since 2003Gerry Kandelaars (ALP)3, since 2011
Rob Lucas (LIB), since 1982 Jing Lee (LIB), since 2010
Kyam Maher (ALP)4, since 2012 David Ridgway (LIB), since 2002
Mark Parnell (GRN), since 2006 Terry Stephens (LIB), since 2002
Russell Wortley (ALP), since 2006 Kelly Vincent (D4D), since 2010
Carmel Zollo (ALP), since 1997 Stephen Wade (LIB), since 2006

1 John Darley was appointed on 21 November 2007 to replace Nick Xenophon, who resigned on 15 October 2007.
2 Bernard Finnigan was suspended from the ALP on 2 May 2011.
3 Gerry Kandelaars was appointed on 13 September 2011 to replace Paul Holloway, who resigned on 15 August 2011.
4 Kyam Maher was appointed on 17 October 2012 to replace Bob Sneath, who resigned on 5 October 2012.

2010 result

The Greens63,3586.62+2.340.79
Family First42,1874.41-0.570.53
Dignity for Disability11,2711.18+0.570.14


The ALP is running:

  1. Russell Wortley MLC
  2. Ian Hunter MLC
  3. Tung Ngo
  4. Kyam Maher MLC

The Liberal Party is running

  1. Rob Lucas MLC
  2. John Dawkins MLC
  3. Michelle Lensink MLC

Other candidates running as lead candidates are:

  • Mark Parnell MLC – Greens
  • Dennis Hood MLC – Family First
  • John Darley MLC – Independent Nick Xenophon Team
  • Esther Simbi – Dignity for Disability
  • Paul Kuhn – F.R.E.E. Australia Party
  • Andrew Desyllas – Fair Land Tax – Tax Party
  • Tony Musolino – Katter’s South Australian Party
  • Michael Noack – Liberal Democratic Party
  • Trish Nguyen – Multicultural Party
  • Michael Hudson – Shooters and Fishers Party
  • Neil Armstrong – Fishing & Lifestyle Party
  • Bob Couch – Stop Population Growth Now
  • Grantley Mason Siviour – The Nationals
  • Colin Thomas – Independent Animal Justice
  • Karyn Prelc – Independent Environment Education Disability
  • Joseph Masika – Independent Joseph Masika
  • Stephen Kenny – Independent Legal Voluntary Euthanasia
  • Mark Aldridge – Independent Mark Aldridge Alliance
  • Annette Elliot – Independent No Domestic Violence
  • Ngoc Chau Huynh – Independent Palmer United
  • Mark Henley – Independent Powerful Communities
  • Bill Denny – Independent Your Voice Matters
  • John Browne – Independent SA Change


The major parties should each elect at least three MLCs, with both parties possibly winning a fourth seat. It will be difficult for either party to reach five seats.

Apart from major party MLCs, not one of the sitting crossbench MLCs is guaranteed of re-election.

The Greens and Family First have regularly elected one MLC at each election since 2006, and since 2002 for Family First. However neither party’s vote is high enough to be comfortable in holding a seat.

The Greens polled 0.8 quotas in 2010, which was enough to give them a seat. A relatively small decline in this vote would put Parnell in substantial danger of missing out.

Family First barely polled half a quota. While their vote will not necessarily go down, any decline in the vote would be dangerous. It is likely that other small right-wing candidates will be competing for the same votes and could endanger the Family First candidate.

Darley will benefit from Nick Xenophon’s endorsement and political machine, but he has never faced the voters and it is not clear how strong Xenophon’s vote will be at an election where he is not running. If Darley can poll as strongly as Nick Xenophon at the 2006 state election or the 2013 federal election, he will elect his running mate and possibly a third candidate.


  1. Darley is not likely to get elected himself in my opinion let alone elect anyone else. Darley is not Xenophon. He needs about 6% to have a good chance of election – can’t see it happening. Look out for Powerful Communities Mark Henley – advocate for SACOSS or Uniting Church for last 20 years or so. Sweeps up the preferences of most of the centre and left of centre micro groups.

  2. I’m inclined to tip: Liberals 4, Labor 3, Greens 1, Family First 1, who-knows-who 2. I agree with Wakefield about Darley – unless Darley has made a name for himself by taking stands on principles, being a Xenophon “person” alone probably won’t help him. The Senate result in South Australia at the last Federal election, which had Xenophon and the Greens and Family First together winning 3 of 6 seats, makes me think that minor players will do well here, but at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised to see either the Liberals or Labor gain an extra seat.

  3. Xenophon,Xenophon Xenophon. They should change the name to “the all talk no action “Team.
    What has the original “no Pokies” team Manager achieved in State and Federal Parliament?
    What has Darley achieved? He is already in his late sixties, if re-elected will he serve out his full term? Surely the S A voter has woken up to the Xenophon antics.
    Dignity for disability Kelly Vincent needs a mate in the upper House for her hard work over the last four years.Likewise for Mark Parnells’ hard work over the last 8 yrs.
    Lets be radical instead of voting Lib/Lab party hacks into the leg council we should elect Mark Henley to enable him to continue his work with our community.

  4. I tell you what really annoys me with the SA voter.
    I believe so many voters are far too politically ignorant and if their not ignorant their plain out right traitors!
    Why on earth do you fools keep voting for the two party brainwashing major parties.
    Especially in the Senete!
    How dare you 500,000 + ignorant fools!
    You all will be held accountable!
    Community strike is a must!

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