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.
|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.
|Stop Population Growth Now||12,878||1.2||+0.8||0.1471|
- Robert Simms (Greens)
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.