Legislative Council – SA 2022

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 twelve 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 each election. At the subsequent elections, three crossbench MLCs were elected in 1997, two in 2002, four in 2006 and three in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

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 served in the Senate until 2017. 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.

Family First merged with the Australian Conservatives, the party led by ex-Liberal senator for South Australia Cory Bernardi, in 2017, with the party adopting the Conservatives branding.

Nick Xenophon also launched a new party, SA-Best, to win seats in South Australia, with Xenophon targetting a lower house seat but also running an upper house ticket. Darley was initially a member of the new party but resigned in 2017 to form his own party, Advance SA.

At the 2018 election, the Australian Conservatives lost their one seat, as did Kelly Vincent of the Dignity party. The Greens retained their one seat, while SA-Best won two upper house seats. The major parties each retained four seats.

Sitting MLCs

Term expires 2022 Term expires 2026
Nicola Centofanti (Liberal), since 20202 Connie Bonaros (SA-Best), since 2018
John Darley (Advance SA), since 2007 Emily Bourke (Labor), since 2018
John Dawkins (Independent), since 19973 Tammy Franks (Greens), since 2010
Dennis Hood (Liberal), since 20061 Heidi Girolamo (Liberal), since 20215
Ian Hunter (Labor), since 2006 Justin Hanson (Labor), since 2017
Michelle Lensink (Liberal), since 2003 Jing Lee (Liberal), since 2010
Rob Lucas (Liberal), since 1982 Frank Pangallo (SA-Best), since 2018
Kyam Maher (Labor), since 2012 Irene Pnevmatikos (Labor), since 2018
Tung Ngo (Labor), since 2014 Clare Scriven (Labor), since 2018
Robert Simms (Greens), since 20214 Terry Stephens (Liberal), since 2002
Russell Wortley (Labor), since 2006 Stephen Wade (Liberal), since 2006

1 Dennis Hood, who had been elected as a member of Family First member in 2014 and then became a member of the Australian Conservatives in 2017, joined the Liberal Party shortly after the 2018 election.
2 Nicola Centofanti was appointed on 7 April 2020 to replace Andrew McLachlan, who had resigned to take up a seat in the Senate.
3 John Dawkins was expelled from the Liberal Party in September 2020 after successfully running for President of the Legislative Council against the official Liberal candidate.
4 Robert Simms was appointed on 4 May 2021 to replace Mark Parnell
5 Heidi Girolamo was appointed on 24 August 2021 to replace David Ridgway.

2018 result

Group Votes % Swing Quota
Liberal 338,700 32.2 -3.8 3.8676
Labor 304,229 29.0 -2.0 3.4740
SA-Best 203,364 19.4 +6.5 2.3222
Greens 61,610 5.9 -0.6 0.7035
Conservatives 36,525 3.5 -0.9 0.4171
Liberal Democrats 25,956 2.5 +1.9 0.2964
Animal Justice 22,822 2.2 +1.3 0.2606
Dignity 20,337 1.9 +1.0 0.2322
Child Protection 15,530 1.5 +1.5 0.1773
Stop Population Growth Now 12,878 1.2 +0.8 0.1471
Independents 4,602 0.4 -1.3 0.0525
Advance SA 4,227 0.4 +0.4 0.0483



Labor and Liberal have reliably won four seats each for the last three terms. It’s unlikely either of them will drop below that number in 2022. The Greens will also be in a strong position to retain their one seat.

Family First consistently won a single seat at four straight elections before renaming as the Australian Conservatives and being squeezed out in 2022. That party no longer exists, and the sitting MLC joined the Liberal Party after the 2018 election. That vote may instead help the Liberal Party win a fifth seat, or may create space for a different right-wing minor party.

Finally SA-Best are a big unknown factor. They did very well in 2018 on the coat-tails of a very significant lower house campaign, and with Nick Xenophon heading the ticket. Xenophon is out of politics, now, and his federal party Centre Alliance has had little success since he departed. They could be a contender to win the eleventh seat, or room may be opened up for another party. It seems unlikely John Darley will be able to pull a sufficient vote to win.


  1. Hey Ben

    Paragraph 16 ‘Less than two years…’ it says ‘Xenephon…has served in the Senate ever since’, might need to be changed ;P otherwise a great analysis and read as always Ben!

  2. Family First exists, again. Former Labor MPs Tom Kenyon and Jack Snelling re-started it, and Kenyon is apparently running for the upper house. Meanwhile, Bob Day (former FF senator) has started something different called the Australian Family Party. That could get messy.

  3. Looking at 2018, there were 11 parties contesting the LC Ballot along with independents.

    Currently there are 10 parties with registrations approved and 5 more currently received. The list is as follows:
    Registered – ALP, LIB, GRN, NAT, SA-BEST, AJP, Advance SA, Child Protection Party (CPP), PHON and Australian Family Party (Bob Day, ex FF, creation). The latter two being registered 16/9/21 and 11/11/21.

    Those currently received and awaiting registration are:
    Family First Party (FF) ** objections closed late December, so barring any objections being upheld, I’d assume they would be officially registered soon.
    SA Party – Stop Overdevelopment & Corruption, Real Change SA, Legalise Cannabis and LDP. If no objections are found and upheld over these registrations, they’ll all should be registered by the last weekend in January.

    I initially had down of the 11 seats – 4 LIB, 4 ALP, 1 GRN 2 Toss-up
    I had considered only locking in 3 ALP, but don’t see the SA-Best vote being as high this time and expect some flow back to the majors, securing a 4th ALP. I agree with Ben on the assessment so far and that a 5th LIB is quite plausible… however… there’s a lot of right-wing parties joining in with PHON, LDP, AFP and FF it’s quite a crowded field. It could be last party standing really with the right-wing vote, and even possible with such a splinter and preferences that Libs could still get a 5th. With Legalise Cannabis, it’s possible some of the GRN vote could instead go to this party, putting their last seat at risk (Something we saw in the WA Election), but still think 1 GRN will get over the line, with help from AJP. Advance SA, SA Party, Real Change SA, CPP and NAT I don’t expect to have any real effect (remember NAT [if they decide to run in LC] aren’t that strong in SA).

    Last 2 seats is anyone’s guess…I’ll go out on a limb and say 1 SA-BEST and 1 FF.
    [Side Note: most PHON had in LC was just under 2% previously, and SA had the lowest vote of all the states for HOR 2019 and 4th best state for PHON in Senate 2019 but only at 4.87%… so a chance but don’t see them as the biggest threat for the last seat. Whereas FF has the branding in SA and done well in the past. SA-Best vote to collapse ala PHON QLD 2020, but still think enough to keep them a seat.] Just over 2 months to go!

  4. I wondered what happened to the alumni of candidates that was SA-Best. Seems two have gone to the Nationals… (Lower House-Hammond) and the lead candidate for the Nationals in the LC is Gary Johanson. He formerly contest the Lower House seat of Port Adelaide in 2018 for SA-Best, having been the former Mayor for the respective council in the area.

  5. Is SA Best a non-entity with no Xenophon or will his potential comeback buoy the Upper House vote.
    Other than SA Best and the Greens, will be interesting to see how other minor parties like AJP and One Nation do.
    If I recall a few elections back, Antony Green had even said that One Nation had a small chance to get a Senate seat a while back. But that may have reduced
    Also are the Nationals a dead entity here, like they are in Tasmania? Strange considering the sizeable rural areas in the state.

  6. LJ Davidson, it is true that the Nationals in SA are quite weak because the Liberal Party state branch is considered the ‘successor’ to the old Liberal and Country League (LCL) party, unlike the other eastern states which maintained separate Liberal and National parties.

    The Nationals in SA did get two members elected to the Leg Assembly after the dissolution of the LCL – Peter Blacker in Flinders and Karlene Maywald in Chaffey. Surprisingly Karlene Maywald acted more like an Independent MP and backed Labor rather than the Liberals.

  7. @Yoh An I could see them resurfacing in the form of a WA Nationals rather than their East Coast counterparts. It’d be pretty easy for them to get 1 or 2 Upper House seats with a concentrated campaign in the North

  8. Well Liberal Democrats pulled Group A! So begins another round of ‘the voters got confused between Lib Dems and Liberals’. Will be interesting to see how they go but Liberals are only Group E, so I don’t expect too much of a vote for the LDP. 19 groups + 1 independent, that’s a big jump in the number of groups from last time!

  9. PHON seems to be polling 7% in the seats they have run in early. If that transpires into upper house votes they may win a seat


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