Senatorial Mathematics

There are few things sexier in this universe than a discussion of Senate electoral mathematics, and psephologists across the country couldn't help but be a little excited in the downstairs department over the discussion of the lie of the land in the Senate after FedElec04.

The piece by former Greens staffer Ben Oquist in Crikey last week is a good starting point, and Oquist argues that the coalition only need to repeat their 2001 Senate results this time around, and they will have 38 of the 76 Senate seats. If the Libs get over the line in the House of Reps, they will fall short of a Senate majority after they appoint one of their number as the Senate President (37 of 75). Should the ALP win in the lower house, and therefore need to provide the President, then the Lib/Nats would have a Senate majority (38 of 75), and hence an effective veto on all bills. Such a situation is unusual in a proportional representation system, but occurred in Victoria during the first term of the Bracks government, when a single-member electorate system was in place.

The general rule when it comes to determining who will win the 6 Senate seats for each state at each election is to presume that they will split with 3 to the conservative parties (Libs, Nats, One Nation, Harradine) and 3 to the progressive parties (ALP, Democrats, Greens, Murphy, Lees). The territories will split one each along similar lines. Any deviation from this is most unusual.

In 2004, this general rule is likely to hold true. Fortunately for the coalition, with Harradine and One Nation unlikely to make an impact, they have the conservative 20 seats all to themselves. The ALP, however, will need to contend with the Greens, who, like the Democrats before them, will feel quietly confident of picking up a seat in almost every state. If this is to hold true, then in the next parliament the coalition would indeed have 38 Senate seats, and the power to block supply if in opposition. The Libs would never do that. In the Senate. Surely not.


Brent said…
How much does the Senate Presidency get paid? Wouldn't be a chance of a Lib defector (ala Big Bad Mal Colston) would there? :)

And, if Labor was to win the election overall (say 52-48?) then wouldn't there be a fair chance of the Libs/Nats falling well below 3 quotas as in the Senate race in NSW, 1998? I would've thought that's the most likely option unless the ALP won really narrowly... In that election, the ALP won 40.12% of the HoR vote, and the Libs and Nats 38.19% combined.

Ari Sharp said…
Brent makes a fair point, although I think there is a crucial reason who 2004 will be closer to 2001 than 1998. In '98 the most significant non-major party in terms of primary votes was One Nation, and looking at the NSW Senate figure that Brent linked to, it was those votes that deprived the Lib/Nats of a third quota. In '01, however, One Nation was a spent force, and the final seat in each state was a tussle between Greens and Democrats, which are both likely to harm the ALP primary vote rather than the Lib/Nat vote. '04 will be similar to '01, except that the Greens dominance over the Democrats will be more pronounced (pronounced as what?).
Alan said…
The Senate president votes on all issues and there's no convention that the government provide the president. I've had a bit more to say at Southerly Buster.

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