Federal parliament’s Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan have agreed to chair a proposed bipartisan working group on how parliament can meet safely during the pandemic.
Labor put forward the working group plan after Scott Morrison cancelled the two-week sitting that was due to start August 4.
The group would comprise the leader of the house and manager of opposition business and their Senate counterparts. The ALP suggested including the chief federal and ACT medical officers but Smith and Ryan said they should be called on as needed.
The group would not decide whether the next sitting, scheduled to begin August 24, goes ahead. The government determines the House sittings, and the Senate (where the government is in a minority) is in charge of its own meetings.
Smith and Ryan said in a letter to Labor: “At the outset, we believe the six parliamentarians should receive a joint briefing from the Commonwealth and ACT Chief Medical Officers regarding the discussions to date, and risks that need to be mitigated.
“Following this briefing, we will be in possession of all relevant facts, and in a position to discuss specific options.
“We will call upon the resources of the chamber departments and the Department of Parliamentary Services as necessary to address issues raised.”
The presiding officers pointed out they had previously engaged with the opposition about the operation of parliament during COVID.
It mightn’t sound much, but it had big consequences. Fifty years ago this week, the Senate voted to set up a system of committees to scrutinise government legislation, activity and spending.
As it has evolved, this network has given teeth to a parliament that in many other ways has declined, even atrophied over the decades.
Question time in the House of Representatives has become a charade (at least, thanks to COVID-19, MPs are now behaving somewhat better during it).
It rarely extracts information. Occasionally – but less often than in earlier years – an opposition can apply the heat to the feet of a minister in trouble. We saw this with the pressure on energy minister Angus Taylor over his use of an apparently doctored document, though he stonewalled and has avoided telling the full story.
The idea that misleading parliament matters has gone out the window long ago.
Outside parliament itself, holding government to account has become more difficult. Freedom of information legislation is of only limited help, with officials and ministers often obstructing rather than fulfilling its spirit. The government has an army of “spinners”, paid for by the taxpayers to manage messages and act as “gatekeepers”. They have bred prolifically.
Public servants, who once were much more accessible to assist journalists on a “background”, non-attributable basis to understand complicated policy, have been locked away from the media by governments anxious to centralise control.
The media itself says more but arguably informs less, despite the 24-hour news cycle. And with the ever-squeezed business models of news organisations as well as around-the-clock filing, journalistic specialisation in particular policy areas has declined while overall work has increased.
While there are significant committees with representation from both houses – the joint committee on intelligence and security is the most important example – in the main it’s the Senate committees that are the real parliamentary watchdogs.
They are where the bureaucrats are regularly grilled, with officials sometimes finding themselves asked to account for what they told their Senate inquisitors previously.
Treasury has just had a particularly searing experience of this. A day after it informed the committee looking at the government’s COVID response that more than six million people were on JobKeeper, it and the Tax Office publicly confessed to a huge error. The latest estimates indicated JobKeeper would only have some 3.5 million recipients and its cost would be $70 billion not $130 billion.
The existence of the COVID committee meant Treasury could be quickly called back for a please explain.
This committee is ranging widely and seeking to interview the main players across the health and economic responses. Predictably, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declined its invitation – following the convention for lower house ministers – but Finance Minister Mathias Cormann fronted.
The COVID committee has questioned government officials on topics such as fraud being perpetrated on people’s superannuation accounts through the early access to super scheme, the working of the COVIDSafe App, the Ruby Princess debacle, the future of JobKeeper, and much else.
Its presence was especially useful given that at one stage, the parliament was sitting only for the odd single day.
The Senate committees vary in type: permanent or set up to investigate a specific matter, focused on legislation or dealing with more general references in a broad policy area, “estimates” hearings to look at spending.
Estimates hearings, held three times a year, give an opportunity to probe public servants about budgetary items and numbers. A great deal of information, trivial or important, some of it embarrassing to the government of the day, is extracted.
The effectiveness of the estimates committees is reflected in the “estimates test” some public servants are said to apply to their actions: “if we do this, how will it play out at estimates?”
But it’s a two-way game. The government and officials are, according to Labor, pushing back, with public servants increasingly asking to take questions on notice, to be answered later. This gains, at the least, breathing space.
Many public servants look a little jelly-like as they face their senator questioners, but a few mandarins enjoy the challenge. The appearances of the secretary of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, who seems to relish matching wits with the senators, are always keenly anticipated.
Some hearings can be fiery, clashes among senators at times spectacular and unseemly, and reports from inquiries simply statements of partisan positions. But other times, the work can be constructive and cooperative, especially behind the scenes, and the outcomes influential in highlighting wrongs and leading to policy change.
Senate president Scott Ryan this week said Senate committees had produced some 120 reports in the 69 years before the new system and more than 5500 in the 50 years since. Public hearings increased from 500 before the change to more than 7000 since.
Good interrogators make reputations at Senate committees that are remembered long after they leave the parliament. Former Labor senators John Faulkner and Robert Ray operated as a tag team that put the fear of god into witnesses from the public service.
Occasionally a senator can effect more lasting reform through committee work than many of their ministerial colleagues do. Former Nationals senator John “Wacka” Williams pursued malfeasance by the banks and other financial institutions with unrelenting tenacity, and was a major player in having these institutions brought to account.
Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Prime Minister’s department, has cleared Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop of breaching the government’s code of ministerial standards with their post-politics jobs. But it’s doubtful the average voter would take such a literal or generous view of their conduct.
Scott Morrison had flicked to Parkinson the row over the part-time positions the two high flyers have taken that clearly overlap their previous portfolios, when the rules provide for a longer separation period.
Pyne, former defence minister, is advising EY, which operates in the defence area. Bishop, former foreign minister, is joining the board of Palladium, a global group working in aid and development.
The code says:
Ministers are required to undertake that, for an eighteen month period after ceasing to be a Minister, they will not lobby, advocate or have business meetings with members of the government, parliament, public service or defence force on any matters on which they have had official dealings as Minister in their last eighteen months in office.
Ministers are also required to undertake that, on leaving office, they will not take personal advantage of information to which they have had access as a Minister, where that information is not generally available to the public.
The government on Monday was quick to gag an embarrassing opposition move in the lower House calling for Parkinson to probe further into the circumstances of Bishop, who told him she didn’t have any contact with Palladium while foreign minister. A video had been posted by the company, labelled “Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, commends Shared Value and Palladium’s Business Partnership Platform”. (Government sources said later that the video – in which Bishop did not use Palladium’s name – was a congratulatory one about a Foreign Affairs initiative.)
In the Senate, the government lacked the numbers to prevent the conduct of Pyne and Bishop being referred to a committee. The motion from Centre Alliance’s Rex Patrick won support from Labor, Greens and non-Greens crossbenchers, passing 35 to 29. The committee has three opposition members, two government senators and a One Nation representative. Pyne and Bishop will be invited to appear and could be required to do so.
The greyest area of the post-ministerial employment provision is the stipulation not to take advantage of private information acquired as a minister.
Parkinson says in his report to Morrison: “a distinction should be drawn between experience gained through being a minister and specific knowledge they acquire through performing the role. It is the latter which is pertinent to the Standards”.
In practice, however, this can fade into a distinction without a difference. As Parkinson also says: “It is not reasonable to think that former Ministers can or will ‘forget’ all information or knowledge gained by them in the course of their ministerial roles”.
Pyne initially said he would be “providing strategic advice to EY, as the firm looks to expand its footprint in the Defence Industry”. EY initially talked up his role but then quickly qualified it in the face of the controversy.
Parkinson spoke to both Pyne (who had already issued a long public written explanation) and Bishop.
In Parkinson’s account, Pyne seems to have done a lot of talking with EY about what he can’t do. EY is paying, of course, for what he can do.
Parkinson says he considers Pyne “has put in place mechanisms to ensure that, whilst his engagement with EY will appropriately draw on his 26 year experience as a parliamentarian, he will not impart direct or specific knowledge known to him only by virtue of his ministerial position”.
Bishop, who will have been out of the ministry for a year next month, has said little publicly about her non-executive directorship. She told Parkinson she had yet to attend a board meeting and that “Palladium does not expect her to engage on any Australian based projects”.
Patrick suggested the terms of reference given to Parkinson were limited – designed to fix a “political problem”.
This is not new ground. Former trade minister Andrew Robb took up employment (annual remuneration of $880,000) with the Chinese Landbridge Group soon after he was trade minister. He has strongly rejected criticism of his action (and since left the group).
Two former ministers with responsibility for resources, the Liberals’ Ian Macfarlane and Labor’s Martin Ferguson quickly accepted positions with the sector. Stephen Conroy, a former communications minister overseeing online gambling laws, came under fire on becoming a lobbyist for the gambling industry – he points out this was three years after he was a minister.
Going back further (when the ministerial code of conduct did not include a post-separation provision) Peter Reith segued from the defence portfolio into advising defence contractor Tenix.
The Senate inquiry, reporting by September 10, will look at “action taken by the Prime Minister and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to ensure full compliance by former Ministers” with the relevant section of the ministerial standards.
At the end of his letter to Morrison, Parkinson highlights the impotence of a PM once members of his team are out in the wide world.
“While there are certain actions available to you when considering the conduct of a current serving Minister, and a possible breach of the Standards, there are no specific actions that can be taken by you in relation to former Ministers once they have left the Parliament”.
Either some way should be found to make the code enforceable or, if that is too hard, let’s skip the hypocrisy and admit it is no more than an exhortation to departees to act properly – complying with not just its letter but its spirit.
His spectacular desertion of the then prime minister has much tarnished Cormann, and it is certainly not pleasant to be asked in a radio interview about being seen as a “political Judas”.
But while Cormann’s personal reputation has taken a big knock from the events of August, his reputation as a Senate wrangler has been retrieved with the Thursday passage of the government’s $158 billion three stage tax plan. Cormann had failed last year to get the then crossbench to pass the tax cuts for big business, which he persuaded Turnbull to hang onto for far too long, costing the government votes in the Longman byelection of Super-Saturday.
Despite Cormann’s insistence there would be “no deals” to secure the income tax package, agreements there were, although there’s some lack of clarity around the edges. Centre Alliance extracted undertakings on gas policy. Jackie Lambie, the last crucial vote, has been promised help for Tasmania on the housing front. There may be debate about what constitutes a “deal” but the government would fail to live up to its word at its peril.
There will also probably be plenty of such deals ahead, even if Cormann declines to acknowledge them as such.
This initial parliamentary week has vindicated the observation that the Senate non-Green crossbench, smaller than the last, is set to be easier for the government to cope with.
Notably, the two Centre Alliance (formerly called the Nick Xenophon Team) senators have a consultative arrangement with Lambie (back in parliament after her time out because of her citizenship problem). This is not an alliance, and they and she are very different politically. (Centre Alliance has shades of the old Australian Democrats, with which the Howard government struck important agreements over legislation, especially on tax and industrial relations.)
But the Centre Alliance-Lambie arrangement to talk on issues should work to the government’s advantage, not least because it will mean the very volatile Lambie won’t be so isolated, and thus angry and alienated, as often in the past. The Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, showed her respect by going to Devonport after the election – and Lambie craves respect.
Whenever the government can work with Centre Alliance and Lambie, it won’t require One Nation’s two votes, something that will infuriate Pauline Hanson, who needs relevance.
The government was desperate to get the tax cuts through this week, despite time being tight due to the ceremonial commitments with the opening of parliament and the tributes to the late Bob Hawke. It wanted the first stage to be available for payment as quickly as possible after the due date of July 1. The money will be flowing in a week or so.
Labor was always going to be placed in a difficult position over the tax package. It felt it could not drop its argument of the election campaign that the third stage, paid from 2024-25 and costing $95 billion, was irresponsible given economic circumstances can’t be known so far ahead.
But to be voting against tax relief on which the re-elected government could be considered to have a clear mandate (if campaign promises mean anything) would leave Labor open to continued attacks.
The opposition’s contortions have been understandable but awkward, making the early days of new leader Anthony Albanese messy.
Inevitably, Labor’s final position, announced shortly before the Senate vote, was that if it couldn’t get its way with amendments it would not oppose the package.
But it also said it would “review” the third stage closer to the election, due in 2022. This sounds unrealistic – would a Labor government be able to roll back legislated cuts anyway? And it is politically counter-productive, keeping the argument alive.
There are some hints of changed dynamics in this parliament compared with the last. While Scott Morrison pours out the harsh rhetoric at his opponent (“this is a Labor Party which has more in common with Jeremy Corbyn than Paul Keating” he told parliament), the Prime Minister invited Albanese to his office on Wednesday to canvass areas of potential bipartisanship, especially Indigenous reconciliation and recognition.
Talk of bipartisanship is an easy gesture at the start of a term and mightn’t last. There have been such suggestions in previous parliaments. But equally it might be another pointer to Morrison’s pragmatic style. He may want to carve out some battle-free areas.
The new parliament’s first question time, which was on Thursday. also gave a hint of the Albanese approach. The opposition questions were framed tightly, without waffly preambles, designed to stop answers being just a rant. It’s a tactic that forces ministers, and the Prime Minister, into greater relevance.
It is to be hoped the opposition and the Speaker Tony Smith can hold the government to the point in answers this term. It has got away with far too much.
The bank wants unemployment and underemployment down and the spare capacity in the economy taken up. Australia is exposed to the risks in the international economy. Historically-low interest rates could be pushed down further. Lowe pointed to the need for more infrastructure spending and structural reforms that “support firms expanding, investing, innovating and employing people”.
The first stage of the tax relief – in the form of an offset for low- and middle-income earners when people submit their returns – will be available as soon as the Tax Office makes the necessary arrangements over the next few days. Getting the legislation through this week means there is only minimal slippage from the July 1 start date that was promised in the budget.
The numbers fell into place with Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie declaring she would vote for the package. She had negotiated with the government on her demand that it forgive the $157 million social housing debt her state owes the Commonwealth. This would save Tasmania $15 million a year, which Lambie wants used to deal with issues of homelessness and social housing.
Lambie said: “The good will is there and they know that we’ve got housing problems down there.”
While Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who had said there would be no horse-trading over the package, was publicly coy about the deal, Lambie is confident it will be delivered.
She said some details still had to be sorted out.
What I don’t want to be doing is rushing out saying here’s the money and that’s it. We want to make sure that that money is targeted […] we’re still dealing on good faith. And I look very forward to that over the next four to six weeks.
Cormann told Sky News: “Senator Lambie has been a very forceful advocate.
She has raised issues with us. We are very happy to work through these issues with her. When we are in a position to make further announcements down the track we will.
The other crossbench votes needed for the package come from independent Cory Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators.
Centre Alliance extracted a deal over action on gas prices.
It said in a Thursday statement that it had “worked with the government on both short- and long-term reforms to deal with gas market concerns.”
The government would announce the full package in coming weeks, it said.
It would include
changes to the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism (ADGSM) to deal with current pricing, market transparency measures, measures to deal with the monopoly nature of East Coast gas pipelines and longer term measures to ensure future gas projects deliver surplus supply to the Australian market.
The gas agreement, canvassed publicly in recent days, has caused some blow-back from the industry.
Faced with the inevitability of the tax package passing, Labor said it would continue to pursue its attempt to split the package and then consider its options.
Eyes are now on Lambie’s position on the government’s bid to repeal the medevac act. Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton on Thursday introduced legislation for the repeal. Lambie said she was still making up her mind on how she will vote when the legislation arrives in the Senate. She is set to be the crucial vote.
In an intervention that would resonate with the late Brian Harradine, who was legendary for extracting concessions for Tasmania in return for his Senate vote, Jacqui Lambie has demanded the federal government forgive the state’s housing debt.
The Tasmanian senator – who has returned to the parliament after being disqualified in the citizenship crisis – is the last vital vote if the government is to rely on the crossbench, rather than Labor, to pass its tax package intact on Thursday.
Lambie refused to be drawn publicly until this week, although she’s had plenty of attention. For example the two Centre Alliance senators, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, journeyed to Devonport to see her. She and they agreed to keep in touch as issues came up.
In the last couple of days, sources have been sure Lambie was in the government’s tax cart.
But on the eve of the vote, she issued a strong statement and video, saying she had “yet to arrive at a final position”. (She supports the first and second stage of the package but is arguing over the final one, delivered years on.)
She condemned homelessness in Tasmania, linking it to the $157 million the state owes the federal government in social housing debt (involving payments of some $15 million a year).
These debts are from funds borrowed by the states and territories from the federal government between 1945 and 1989 to build new housing, maintain existing stock and provide housing assistance.
“Tasmania is paying 50c in every dollar of our state housing budget back to the federal government in interest and debt repayments. That means we are building half as many homes, helping half as many people,” Lambie said.
“This debt is holding Tasmania back and denying shelter to thousands of Tasmanian families. The Commonwealth coffers don’t need $15 million a year from the Tasmanian budget,” she said.
“It’s only by having the balance of power for Tasmania in the Senate that real debt relief is going to happen and that’s what I am here to fight for.
“There is no way in good conscience I can vote for substantial tax cuts without making sure that the people who so desperately need a roof over their heads aren’t left to go without.”
The Tasmanian Liberal government has been pressing the federal government to forgive the debt, although Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz has opposed that, saying it would lead to demands from other states.
The Morrison government has claimed it won’t do any deals in its push to get the tax package through. In fact, this has not been true – Centre Alliance is confident, following detailed negotiations, there will be measures on gas policy to help smooth the way for its votes.
But Lambie’s demand is a very direct quid pro quo.
Senate leader Mathias Cormann, the government’s negotiator on the tax package, declared on Wednesday: “We are always happy to engage with senators in relation to issues of concern to them and their constituents”.
Australian elections have been won in outer metropolitan and regional electorates, but Labor did badly in swing terms in those types of seats at the May 18 election. In inner metropolitan areas, where Labor had swings in its favour, most seats are safe for one side or the other.
You can see this particularly in Queensland. The provincial seat of Capricornia blew out from a 0.6% LNP margin to 12.4%, the outer metropolitan seat of Forde from 0.6% to 8.6% and the rural seat of Flynn from 1.0% to 8.7%.
In NSW, the rural seat of Page went from a 2.3% to a 9.5% Nationals margin, and the provincial seat of Robertson from a 1.1% to 4.2% Liberal margin. Even in Victoria, the only state to swing to Labor in two party terms, the outer metropolitan seat of La Trobe, went from a 3.5% to a 4.5% Liberal margin.
Ignoring seats with strong independent challengers like Warringah and Wentworth, the biggest swings to Labor occurred in seats already held by Labor, or safe conservative seats. There was a 6.4% swing to Labor in Julie Bishop’s old seat of Curtin, but the Liberals still hold it by a 14.3% margin. The Liberals hold Higgins by a 3.9% margin despite a 6.1% swing to Labor.
After the election, the Coalition holds 77 of the 151 seats and Labor 68. Assuming there is no net change in the six crossbenchers, Labor will require a swing of 0.6% to gain the two seats needed to deprive the Coalition of a majority (Bass and Chisholm). To win more seats than the Coalition, Labor needs to gain five seats, a 3.1% swing. To win a majority (76 seats), Labor needs to gain eight seats, a 3.9% swing.
As Labor won 48.5% of the two-party vote at the election, it needs 49.1% to deprive the Coalition of a majority, 51.6% to win more seats than the Coalition, and 52.4% for a Labor majority. Mayo and Warringah were not counted in swings required as they are held by crossbenchers. Warringah is likely to be better for the Liberals in 2022 without Tony Abbott running.
It will be a bit harder for Labor than the 0.6% swing notionally needed to cost the Coalition a majority, as the Liberals now have a sitting member in Chisholm and defeated a Labor member in Bass. The Liberals will thus gain from personal vote effects in both seats.
There will be redistributions before the next election, which are likely to affect margins. But unless Labor improves markedly with the lower-educated, they risk losing the seat count while winning the popular vote at the next election.
Had the polls for this election been about right and Labor had won by 51.0-49.0 (2.5% better than their actual vote), they would have added just three seats – Bass, Chisholm and Boothby – and the Coalition would have had a 74-71 seat lead.
The Electoral Commission will eventually release details of how every minor party’s preferences flowed between Labor and the Coalition nationally and for each state, but this data is not available yet. However, we can make some deductions.
Nationally, Labor won 60.0% of all minor party preferences, down from 64.2% in 2016. This partly reflects the Greens share of all others falling from 44.0% in 2016 to 41.2%, but it also reflects more right-wing preference sources like One Nation and the United Australia Party (UAP). Had preferences from all parties flowed as they did in 2016, Labor would have won 49.2% of the two party vote, 0.7% higher than their actual vote.
In Queensland, Labor’s preference share dropped dramatically from 57.9% in 2016 to just 50.2%, even though the Greens share of all others rose slightly to 34.8% from 34.1% in 2016. Of the 29.6% who voted for a minor party in Queensland, the Greens won 10.3%, One Nation 8.9%, the UAP 3.5%, Katter’s Australian Party 2.5% and Fraser Anning’s party 1.8%. The flow of these right-wing preferences to the LNP almost compensated for Greens preferences to Labor.
Parties like One Nation and the UAP would have attracted most of their support from lower-educated voters who despised Labor and Bill Shorten. As I wrote in my previous article, there was a swing to the Coalition with lower-educated voters.
Final Senate results: Coalition has strong position
In the Senate that sits from July 1, the Coalition will hold 35 of the 76 senators, Labor 26, the Greens nine, One Nation two, Centre Alliance two, and one each for Cory Bernardi and Jacqui Lambie. The final Senate results were the same as in my June 3 preview of the likely Senate outcome.
The table below gives the senators elected for each state at this half-Senate election. A total of 40 of the 76 senators were up for election. The one “Other” senator is Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania. The table has been augmented with a percentage of seats won and a percentage of national Senate votes won at the election.
There was a small swing in late counting against the Coalition. When I wrote my previous Senate article, they had 38.3% of the national Senate vote (up 3.1%). They ended with 38.0% (up 2.8%).
The Senate results are not very proportional, but this is mostly a consequence of electing six senators per state. If all 40 senators were elected nationally, the outcome would be far more proportional to vote share.
The Coalition and Greens benefitted from having large fractions of quotas on primary votes, which Labor and One Nation did not have in most states. Lambie was the only “Other” to poll a large fraction of a quota, and so she is the only Other to win.
Changes in Senate seats since the pre-election parliament were Coalition up four, Lambie up one, Labor, Greens and One Nation steady, and the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston, Derryn Hinch, Tim Storer and Fraser Anning all lost their seats.
Ignoring Bernardi’s defection from the Coalition, changes since the 2016 double-dissolution election were Coalition up six, Labor and Greens steady, One Nation down two, and Family First, Liberal Democrats, Hinch and Centre Alliance all down one.
Senate preference flows for each state
In the Senate, voters are asked to number six boxes above the line or 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are now voter-directed.
With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota was one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. In no state was there a narrow margin between the sixth elected senator and the next closest candidate. Preference information is sourced from The Poll Bludger for Queensland, Victoria, WA and SA here, for NSW here and for Tasmania here.
In NSW, the Coalition had 2.69 quotas on primary votes, Labor 2.08, the Greens 0.61 and One Nation 0.34. Jim Molan won 2.9% or 0.20 quotas from fourth on the Coalition ticket on below the line votes, but was excluded a long way from the end. The Greens and third Coalition candidate each got almost a quota with One Nation trailing well behind.
In Victoria, the Coalition had 2.51 quotas, Labor 2.17, the Greens 0.74 and One Nation and Hinch both 0.19. Hinch finished seventh ahead of One Nation, but was unable to close on the Coalition, with the third Coalition candidate elected just short of a quota. The Greens crossed quota earlier on Labor preferences.
In Queensland, the LNP had 2.72 quotas, Labor 1.57, One Nation 0.71 and the Greens 0.69. One Nation and the LNP’s third candidate, in that order, crossed quota, and the Greens extended their lead over Labor’s second candidate from 1.8% to 2.7% after preferences.
In WA, the Liberals had 2.86 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.41. The third Liberal, second Labor and Greens passed quota in that order with One Nation well behind. The Liberals beat Labor to quota on Nationals and Shooters preferences.
In SA, the Liberals had 2.64 quotas, Labor 2.12, the Greens 0.76 and One Nation 0.34. The Greens and third Liberal, in that order, reached quota well ahead of One Nation.
In Tasmania, the Liberals had 2.20 quotas, Labor 2.14, the Greens 0.87, Lambie 0.62 and One Nation 0.24. Lisa Singh, who won from sixth on Labor’s ticket on below the line votes in 2016, had 5.7% or 0.40 quotas this time in below the line votes. On her exclusion, Labor’s second candidate and Lambie were elected with quotas, well ahead of One Nation; the Greens had crossed quota earlier.
Analyst Kevin Bonham has a detailed review of the Senate system’s performance at this election, after it was introduced before the 2016 election. One thing that should be improved is the issue of preferences for “empty box” groups above the line. Such boxes without a name beside them confused voters, and these groups received far fewer preferences than they would have done with a name.
UK Conservative leadership: Johnson vs Hunt
On June 20, UK Conservative MPs finished winnowing the field of ten leadership candidates down to two. In the final round, Boris Johnson won 160 of the 313 Conservative MPs, Jeremy Hunt 77 and Michael Gove was eliminated with 75 votes.
Johnson and Hunt will now go to the full Conservative membership in a postal ballot expected to conclude by mid-July. Johnson is the heavy favourite to win, and become the next British PM. I will have a fuller report for The Poll Bludger by tomorrow.
The Coalition is likely to win 19 of the 40 Senate seats up for grabs at the 2019 election. As they hold 16 of the 36 that are not up for election, they will probably have 35 of the 76 total seats (up four since the pre-election Senate). The new Senate sits from July 1.
Labor is likely to have 26 total seats (no net change), the Greens nine (steady), One Nation two (steady), the Centre Alliance two (steady). Cory Bernardi was not up for election, and Jacqui Lambie regained her Tasmanian seat following her disqualification on Section 44 grounds. While One Nation lost a WA seat, they probably regain Malcolm Roberts after his disqualification.
The likely losers were Fraser Anning, Derryn Hinch, the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston (who had shifted from One Nation to United Australia Party), and Tim Storer, who did not contest his SA seat.
The Coalition plus One Nation and Bernardi is 38 seats for the right. To pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens, the Coalition’s best path will be these 38 votes, plus either Lambie or the Centre Alliance.
With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota is one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. With two to be elected in each territory, a quota is one-third of the vote, or 33.3%. Voters are instructed to number at least six boxes above the line, or at least 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are voter-directed.
The Senate count is now at 84% of enrolled voters, while the House count is at 91%. The last few percent in the house count have been good for the Greens and bad for the Coalition, but this is unlikely to make a difference to the Senate seat outcomes. Senate results will be finalised by a computer preference distribution, probably by late next week.
Here is the table of likely Senate results for each state and territory. The Coalition was defending just two seats in each state except SA, where it was defending three seats.
In NSW, the Coalition has 2.70 quotas, Labor 2.10, the Greens 0.60 and One Nation 0.34. Labor preferences should assist the Greens, with One Nation too far behind to catch either the Greens or Coalition. Both Labor and the Coalition gain at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and Burston.
In Victoria, the Coalition has 2.54 quotas, Labor 2.19, the Greens 0.73 and One Nation and Hinch Justice both on 0.19. The Coalition appears too far ahead of everyone else to be caught. The Coalition is likely to gain at the expense of Hinch.
In Queensland, the LNP has 2.75 quotas, Labor 1.59, One Nation (Roberts) 0.71 and the Greens 0.68. Whoever finishes last out of the final four after preferences misses out, and that is likely to be Labor. The LNP and One Nation are likely to gain at the expense of Labor and Anning.
In WA, the Liberals have 2.90 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.39. The top three are too far ahead. The Liberals gain at the expense of One Nation.
In SA, the Liberals have 2.65 quotas, Labor 2.13, the Greens 0.75 and One Nation 0.33. The Liberals and Greens are too far ahead. Labor gains at the expense of Storer.
In Tasmania, the Liberals have 2.21 quotas, Labor 2.15, the Greens 0.88, Lambie 0.61 and One Nation 0.24. The Greens and Lambie are too far ahead. Lambie gains at Labor’s expense.
In the ACT, Labor has 1.18 quotas, the Liberals 0.97 and the Greens 0.52. The Liberals will win the second seat. There will be no change.
In the NT, Labor has 1.11 quotas and the Country Liberals 1.10. Preferences are not required for either seat. There will be no change.
The reason for the right’s three-seat lead over the left is Queensland, where six of the 12 senators are likely to be LNP, One Nation two, Labor just three and the Greens one. All other states are likely to split evenly between the right and left, except for Tasmania (6-5 to the left plus Lambie). SA is tied 5-5 with two Centre Alliance.
The table below shows the seats up for election at the next half-Senate election, due by early 2022. While state senators have six-year terms, territory senators are tied to the term of the House.
The Coalition will be defending three seats in every state except SA, where they are defending just one seat. A bad Coalition performance would put their third seat in some states at risk. However, if the Coalition does as well as they did in 2019 in the mainland states, and wins a third Tasmanian seat, the Coalition and One Nation combined would have a Senate majority (39 of 76 seats).
The three senators most likely to lose at the next election are Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators, all in SA. At this election, Centre Alliance won just 2.6% or 0.18 quotas and Bernardi’s Conservatives had 1.5% or 0.10 quotas.
The Greens will be happy with their defence of the six senators they had up for election. A similar performance in 2022 would give the Greens 12 senators – the most they have had. But Labor needs to improve greatly to give the left a chance to gain the four senators they would need in 2022 to control the Senate.
Coalition’s national Senate vote increased over 3%
Senate vote shares are currently 38.3% Coalition (up 3.1%), 28.9% Labor (down 0.9%), 10.1% Greens (up 1.5%), 5.4% One Nation (up 1.1%), 2.4% UAP, 1.8% Help End Marijuana Prohibition, 1.7% Shooters, 1.2% Animal Justice and 1.1% Liberal Democrats. Vote shares in the House are 41.5% Coalition (down 0.5%), 33.3% Labor (down 1.4%), 10.3% Greens (up 0.1%), 3.4% UAP and 3.1% One Nation (up 1.8%). One Nation contested 59 of the 151 House seats.
One reason for the increase in the Coalition’s Senate vote is a favourable ballot paper draw. In all states and territories, the Coalition was placed to the left of the Liberal Democrats, so they were not hurt by name confusion. In 2016, the Coalition was to the right of the Liberal Democrats in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
By state, the Coalition’s vote was up 2.8% in NSW, 3.2% in Victoria, 4.2% in Queensland, 1.7% in WA, 5.3% in SA (helped by the collapse of Centre Alliance since 2016) and up 0.2% in Tasmania. The Coalition’s gain in Victoria could be due to a 3.3% drop for Hinch Justice and a 9.7% drop for Senate groups that stood in 2016, but not 2019.
Another explanation for the Coalition’s vote jump in the Senate is that those with a lower level of educational attainment disliked both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten in 2016, and were thus likely to vote for other right-wing parties. In 2019, these people liked Scott Morrison. There are many parties to choose from in the Senate, so the Coalition’s higher vote should be seen as an endorsement of Morrison.
In the House, the Coalition’s vote is down 0.5% from 2016. Far fewer right-wing parties stood for the House in 2016 than in 2019, so voters’ choices were more limited in 2016. If the same sorts of candidates had stood in the same seats at both elections, the Coalition’s primary vote would probably have increased in the House too.
Turnout for House increases on 2016
Contrary to this article in Nine newspapers that suggested turnout had fallen to its lowest level since compulsory voting was introduced, official turnout for the May 18 election is currently 91.07%, up 0.06% from 2016. There are many votes outstanding, so turnout will increase further.
As the electoral roll is more complete than it has ever been, this increase in turnout is more impressive than it seems.
It is likely that Labor will hold Macquarie, the last seat in any doubt. That will give the Coalition 77 of the 151 seats, Labor 68 and six crossbenchers.
The national two party count is currently at 51.63-48.37 to the Coalition; the Coalition’s peak was 51.77% on May 30. There are 15 “non-classic” seats that are excluded from this count – ten are likely to favour the Coalition and five Labor. The current two party count therefore understates the Coalition.
Conservatives and Labour smashed at UK’s European elections
I wrote for The Poll Bludger that at the UK’s European Union elections held on May 23, the Brexit party won 32% of the vote and 29 of 73 seats, the Liberal Democrats 20% and 16 seats, Labour just 14% and ten seats, the Greens 12% and seven seats, and the Conservatives 9% and four seats.
Theresa May will resign as Conservative leader on June 7, and the next PM is likely to be a hard Brexiteer.
In the European Union overall, the Liberals and the Greens performed well.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version on an article that was published in 2016 when the new Senate voting rules were first introduced.
The voting system for the Australian Senate combines both preferential voting and proportional representation counting.
This system produces an upper house comprised of eight electorates (six states and two territories), each represented by multiple senators. As a group, these senators much more fairly represent the diversity of opinions in their electorates than the system in the lower house, where each of 151 electorates is represented by only a single member.
you can express preferences for candidates in the order you prefer them, writing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and so on
if the candidate for whom you vote “1” is elected with more first preference votes than the quota needed for election, the surplus votes received are transferred to the next chosen candidate at a value that ensures as much as possible of your voting power of one vote counts towards electing a senator
a quota is the number of votes a candidate requires to be elected. In each of the states, in this half Senate election, the quota is 1/7 of all the formal votes plus 1
if the candidate for whom you vote “1” fails to be elected, the full value of your vote passes to the candidate to whom you gave your “2”. And if that candidate fails to be elected, to your “3” and so on
the number of candidates elected for each party is, as closely as possible, directly proportional to the support that party’s candidates receive after preferences
a big majority of voters will be represented by either a senator they voted “1” for, or a senator they gave an early preference to.
So, what do Australians need to know when they go to vote to choose their senators in this year’s federal election?
The ballot paper requires you to choose from one of two ways of marking it. Voting above-the-line means that you let your vote support parties’ candidates in the order on the ballot paper, whereas voting below-the-line means that you decide the order in which you support candidates.
The order is important because the chance of a candidate being elected decreases the later his or her name appears in that order of priority.
The instructions on the ballot papers will tell you that a valid above-the-line ballot will show at least six party boxes, numbered 1 to 6, for at least six party groupings. However, your vote will have potentially more effect if you number more boxes.
In the example below, if you put a “1” in the Liberal box, the first Liberal to gain from your vote will be Malcolm Turnbull, then secondly Alexander Downer, then Tony Abbott, and so on. If you are a Liberal voter that wants to put Tony Abbott first, you can do this, but you have to vote below-the-line (read on for how to do that).
The example we show here is a formal (valid) vote that places the major parties last. This voter supported first the “Climate Sceptics”, but then ranked other minor parties and then the larger parties in the order: Liberal, Labor, Green.
It could happen that when this voter’s preferences are finally transferred, all the candidates for the first six parties chosen had been elected or excluded. Their vote is then used to help decide the final contest, between Labor and the Greens – in this case favouring Labor. But if the voter had not numbered all the boxes, their vote would have become exhausted: in other words, not further counted towards the election of a candidate.
An above-the-line “vote savings provision” means that even if you mark only one box, your ballot will still be counted. But (for example) if you had marked “1” in the square for Climate Sceptics – and only that square – and the Climate Sceptics candidates had failed to get enough votes to remain in the count, your ballot would have become exhausted, meaning your vote did not count towards electing a senator.
That is why it is best to number as many squares as possible.
Below-the-line voters rank individual candidates in the order such voters prefer. You will be instructed to number at least 12 boxes below-the-line.
Suppose you are a Liberal voter, but you don’t like the order of the Liberal candidates on the ballot paper. You may number the boxes of the six Liberal candidates in any order – provided the numbers are sequential and each numeral is different.
If you then want to preference the Shooters and Fishers candidates (numbering 7 to 12), then Palmer United candidates (numbering 13 to 18), but dislike the remaining parties, you may leave their candidates’ squares blank. Your ballot is still formal and will be counted – as in the mock voting paper below.
Suppose you want to support particular candidates from different parties – and want to rank Penny Wong, Sarah Hanson-Young and Jacqui Lambie ahead of all the other candidates. You may certainly do that – again provided your ballot includes 1 to 12 and those preferences are sequential.
You might want to rank everyone except the main parties first. Let’s say that you also prefer the Hemp Party and Socialist Alternative first, but then want to vote for the Shooters and Fishers. If you then think Labor is the least bad of the main parties, the best way to use your ballot is to preference all of the small parties’ candidates and then Labor’s. That way, even if all the smaller parties’ candidates are excluded from the count, your next choice gains the value of your vote.
Note that you can rank the candidates of a particular party in any order. In the example below, the voter prefers Donald Trump to the other Shooters and Fishers candidates.
The more genuine preferences you express, the more likely a candidate you favour will be elected rather than one you disfavour.
The rules allow a vote to be counted provided that the first six consecutive numbers are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. If you omit or repeat a number, the ballot will still be counted. So a ballot that has the preferences 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 would be formal – but only preferences one to nine would count.
Your vote is most effective when you express as many preferences as you can or want to – either below or above the line.
In the wake of the far-right terrorist atrocity in Christchurch on March 15, there has been much condemnation of independent senator Fraser Anning’s anti-Muslim comments. Anning won just 19 personal votes below the line, so how was he fairly elected?
In the Senate, voters can either vote “above the line” or “below the line”. Above the line votes will go to the party’s candidates in the order they are placed on the ballot paper. Below the line votes are personal votes for a candidate.
At normal federal elections, six senators per state are elected, and a quota is one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. As the 2016 election was a “double dissolution”, where all senators were up for election, 12 senators per state were elected, and the quota was reduced to one-thirteenth of the vote, or 7.7%.
Electoral reforms were implemented at the 2016 election. Voters were asked to number at least six boxes above the line, though a “1” only vote would still be accepted. The effect was that voters would direct their own preferences once their most preferred party was excluded from the count. Previously, parties controlled their voters’ preferences, and still do in Victoria and WA, leading to bizarre results.
Voting below the line was also made easier. Voters were asked to number at least 12 boxes, though only six numbers were required for a formal vote. Previously, every box below the line needed to be numbered.
In the Senate system, any candidate who has a quota is immediately elected, and their surplus is distributed. Major parties elect multiple senators by this method, as almost all of the top candidate’s surplus goes to the second candidate, and so on.
When there are no more surpluses to distribute, candidates are excluded from the count starting with the candidate with the smallest number of votes, and their preferences distributed. During this process, candidates that reach quota are elected, and their surpluses distributed.
With the current Senate system’s semi-optional preferential voting, there will often be two or more candidates short of a quota with all preferences finished. In this case, the candidates further ahead are elected.
How this applies to Anning
The whole One Nation ticket had over 250,000 votes (9.2% or 1.19 quotas) in the Queensland Senate. Over 229,000 of these votes were above the line ticket votes, and virtually all the rest were personal votes for lead candidate Pauline Hanson.
Hanson was immediately elected, and her surplus was passed on to One Nation’s second candidate, Malcolm Roberts, who had just 77 below the line votes. In the race for the last seat, the Liberal Democrats started the preference phase of the count with 0.37 quotas, and Roberts (0.19 quotas) was also behind Nick Xenophon Team (0.27 quotas), Family First (0.25 quotas), Katter’s Australian Party (0.23 quotas) and Glenn Lazarus Team (0.22 quotas).
With nine candidates left, two of whom were certain to be elected (Labor’s Chris Ketter and the LNP’s Barry O’Sullivan), Roberts already had 0.45 quotas, thanks to voter-directed preferences from Australian Liberty Alliance (0.14 quotas) and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (0.14 quotas). At this point, Roberts was tied for the lead with Family First from the seven contenders for the last seat, and ahead of everyone else.
With assistance from Glenn Lazarus Team and Katter’s Australian Party preferences, Roberts defeated Family First for the last seat by 0.78 quotas to 0.69.
When Roberts was disqualified by the High Court in October 2017 over Section 44 issues, he was effectively replaced in the count by Fraser Anning, One Nation’s third candidate. That is how Anning won his seat despite earning just 19 personal below the line votes.
Although the new Senate system makes it easier to vote below the line, above the line votes were still over 90% of all formal Senate votes in all jurisdictions except Tasmania and the ACT at the 2016 election, according to analyst Kevin Bonham. Only one candidate was elected against the party ordering of candidates on personal below the line votes: Labor’s Lisa Singh in Tasmania.
Anning’s 19 personal votes and Roberts’ 77 are far fewer than those received by any other winning candidate in Queensland. The other 11 winners (five LNP, four Labor, one Green and Pauline Hanson) all received at least 1,000 personal votes. Prior to the election, there was no interest in any One Nation candidate other than Hanson.
Can the major parties prevent the election of extreme candidates?
In Queensland 2016, the major parties were not responsible for Roberts’ election. Both Labor’s fourth candidate, Ketter, and the LNP’s fifth candidate, O’Sullivan, started the preference phase of the count well short of a quota. O’Sullivan eventually made quota, but Ketter was elected with 0.97 quotas. O’Sullivan’s tiny surplus assisted Family First rather than Roberts.
In general, the total vote for the major parties has been declining in the past two decades, and as a result, their influence on who wins has been reduced. The combined share for the two major parties in the Queensland 2016 Senate was just 61.7%. By contrast, the last time One Nation was strong, gaining 10.0% of the Queensland Senate vote in 2001, the total major party vote was 75.1%.
In the lower house, Labor will put One Nation behind the Coalition on its how to vote cards, but there has been some infighting within the Coalition over whether to return this favour.
On March 28, Scott Morrison announced that the Liberals would preference Labor ahead of One Nation in all seats; this applies only to the Liberals, not the Nationals, and it is not clear what the Queensland LNP will do. There had been pressure on the Liberals following revelations that One Nation solicited donations from the US National Rifle Association.
One Nation won one seat at the 2017 Queensland election because the LNP preferenced it above Labor, so putting One Nation below Labor will assist Labor in any seats where One Nation is ahead of the Liberals.
In the Senate, neither major party is likely to put the other major party in its top six preferences for above the line voters. It is likely that, as far as vote recommendations go, both major parties will treat the other major party the same as One Nation in the Senate.
Even if the major parties placed the other major party in the top six preferences on their how to vote material, the follow the card rate was low in 2016. According to Bonham, about 30% of Coalition voters in the mainland states followed the card, 14% of Labor voters and 10% of Greens voters. No other party had a follow the card rate above 10%.
Coalition wins majority at NSW election
The ABC has called all 93 lower house seats for the March 23 New South Wales election. The Coalition won 48 of the 93 seats (down six since the 2015 election), Labor won 36 seats (up two), the Greens three (steady), the Shooters three (up three) and independents three (up one). The Coalition will have a three-seat majority.
Seat changes are compared with the 2015 election results, and do not include Coalition losses in the Wagga Wagga and Orange byelections. If measured against the pre-election parliament, the Coalition lost four seats.
Brexit delayed until at least April 12
On March 21, a European leaders’ summit was held. Leaders of the 27 EU nations, not including the UK, agreed to delay the date of Brexit until April 12 (originally March 29). If UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal passes the House of Commons, Brexit would be delayed until May 22 to allow necessary legislation to pass.
European parliament elections will be held from May 23-26. If the UK were to participate in these elections, a longer extension could be given, but the UK must inform the European Commission of its intent to participate by April 12, hence the new deadline.
I wrote for The Poll Bludger about Brexit on March 22. House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has ruled that May’s deal cannot be brought back to the House, but there is a workaround – if May had the votes. May’s deal was defeated by 149 votes on March 12, after a record 230-vote loss on January 15.