Legislative Council – SA 2018

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 eleven 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 and 2014.

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 Liberal Party regained a seat in 2014. Both major parties won four seats each, along with the Greens, Family First and John Darley running as Nick Xenophon’s ally. Independent MLC Ann Bressington did not run for re-election.

Sitting MLCs

Term expires 2018Term expires 2022
Robert Brokenshire (CON)1, since 2008John Darley (IND), since 2007
Tammy Franks (GRN), since 2010John Dawkins (LIB), since 1997
Gail Gago (ALP), since 2010Dennis Hood (CON)1, since 2006
John Gazzola (ALP), since 2002Ian Hunter (ALP), since 2006
Justin Hanson (ALP)2, since 2017Michelle Lensink (LIB), since 2003
Jing Lee (LIB), since 2010 Rob Lucas (LIB), since 1982
Peter Malinauskas (ALP)3, since 2015 Kyam Maher (ALP), since 2012
David Ridgway (LIB), since 2002Andrew McLachlan (LIB), since 2014
Terry Stephens (LIB), since 2002 Tung Ngo (ALP), since 2014
Kelly Vincent (DIG), since 2010 Mark Parnell (GRN), since 2006
Stephen Wade (LIB), since 2006 Russell Wortley (ALP), since 2006

1 Family First merged into the Australian Conservatives on 25 April 2017, and Family First MLCs Robert Brokenshire and Dennis Hood thus joined the Conservatives.
2 Justin Hanson was appointed on 28 February 2017 to replace Gerry Kandelaars, who resigned on 17 February 2017.
3 Peter Malinauskas was appointed on 1 December 2015 to replace Bernard Finnigan, who resigned on 12 November 2015.

2014 result

Nick Xenophon Team130,28912.9+12.91.55
The Greens65,2156.5-0.10.77
Family First44,0154.4-0.00.52
Dignity for Disability9,3670.9-0.30.11


  • Labor
    1. Leesa Vlahos
    2. Irene Pnevmatikos
    3. Justin Hanson
    4. Clair Scriven
    5. Mahanbir Grewal
  • Liberal
    1. David Ridgway
    2. Stephen Wade
    3. Terry Stephens
    4. Jing Lee
    5. Bernadette Abraham
    6. Clementina Maione
  • SA Best
    1. Connie Bonaros
    2. Frank Pangallo
    3. Sam Johnson
    4. Andrea Madeley
    5. Peter Vincent
  • Tammy Franks (Greens)
  • Robert Brokenshire (Conservatives)
  • Kelly Vincent (Dignity)
  • Peter Humphries (Advance SA)

Voting system
This will be the first election since the abolition of Group Voting Tickets. The reform is similar to the change to the Senate voting system prior to the 2016 federal election.

In the past, parties lodged preference tickets, and all above-the-line votes were distributed in line with those preferences.

Voters now have the option to mark their own preferences, either above or below the line. Above-the-line votes only need to have a ‘1’ to be formal. Below-the-line votes must be numbered up to 12 to be formal.

The two major parties are defending four seats each, with minor parties the Greens, Conservatives and Dignity each defending a single seat.

Nick Xenophon’s SA Best should do well, winning at least one and possibly as many as three seats. This will squeeze the other incumbent parties. It’s hard to see either major party winning more than three seats.

The Greens will be likely to maintain their one seat, although they are unlikely to do so with a full quota. Family First (now the Conservatives) and Dignity polled much less than a quota at the last election. These two parties will also struggle with the new voting system, which reduces the value of preference deals with other minor parties.
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  1. Last night, Anthony Green said that the major parties had won four seats each, which is above the “no more than three seats each” as quoted above. What does this mean for the minor parties? I know I will be hugely disappointed if Dignity don’t retain their seat. They are a force for good in a wilderness of silence and empty words about a better society for people living with a disability.

  2. Dignity won’t retain their seat. They only won in 2010 thanks to the group ticket voting system and favourable preferences. They have never had enough support to win a seat without massive preference flows, which is no longer a viable path to victory thanks to reform of the voting system.


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