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Poll Bludger: Labor’s woes and its effect on a Senate election

Following the Queensland election result and yet another downturn for federal Labor in the polls, there has been talk lately about the likely make-up of the Senate should the Coalition win next year’s election in a landslide, and the potential for such a result to upset long-held assumptions about the political calculus under an Abbott government.

The dynamics of the current Parliament have always made a double dissolution all but impossible, and the prospect of a crisis-induced early election for the House of Representatives only is now looking scarcely more likely.

That leaves us looking at a conventional timetable in which the timing is effectively constrained by the need for a half-Senate election to be held no earlier than the middle of next year.

The window for a normal election is thus between August 3 — the earliest conceivable date for a half-Senate election — and November 30, the last possible date for a House of Representatives election.

As well as a new House of Representatives, such an election will determine the replacements for the 36 state Senators who were elected when Labor came to power in 2007, who will take their seats in the middle of 2014 (together with the two Senators each from the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, whose terms are tied to the House of Representatives).

The Senators elected in 2010 will continue their six-year terms in the new parliament, and the conventional view has been that their partisan composition will present an obstacle for an Abbott government determined to unpick the present government’s legislative agenda.

In such an environment, a Coalition government would have the option of pulling the rug from under the Senate by holding an early double dissolution election.

However, that might not be necessary if the election result looks anything like the current polling numbers.

The easiest way to unpick the complexities of the Senate electoral system is to group the various competing parties into right and left, however much that might offend ideological purists of either stripe.

There remains the occasional unclassifiable such as Nick Xenophon, who is up for re-election in South Australia and presumably likely to win, and potentially even Julian Assange, of whose aspirations we have heard nothing further.

In most circumstances, political parties, be they major or minor, order their preferences to favour those on their own side of the ideological divide, barring the odd significant exception like the Coalition putting One Nation last or the deal between Labor and Family First, which famously delivered Steve Fielding a Victorian Senate seat in 2004.

At half-Senate elections, results in any given state usually split three-left and three-right, with the territories’ two seats never once having failed to go one Labor and one Coalition.

However, four-and-two results have not been unknown, usually when Labor has won three seats and the Coalition two, with the last seat going to the Greens or the Democrats.

Since the 1990 election — the first at which each state returned six Senators — the only four-right, two-left results have been at the 2004 election, at which Queensland (four Coalition and two Labor) and to a lesser extent Victoria (three Coalition, two Labor, one Family First) helped deliver John Howard control of the Senate.

The difficulty for the Coalition in the next parliament is that the 2010 election produced a four-left, two-right result in Tasmania (three Labor, two Liberal and one Greens).

However, in the current environment it is very easy to envision this being counterbalanced at the next election by a four-right, two-left result in Queensland, either through a repeat of 2004 or, perhaps, a Katter’s Australian Party Senator joining three from the LNP.

In the event of three-three results in the other states, this would leave the left with 38 seats and the right with 37 (including the thus-far low-profile John Madigan of the DLP, whose election to a Victorian Senate seat in 2010 you have probably forgotten about), plus Xenophon.

Even on occasions when Xenophon voted with the right, that would still leave the left with a blocking majority, given that tied votes are resolved in the negative, and the President of the Senate unlike the Speaker of the House has a normal deliberative vote rather than just a casting vote.

To overcome this, further four-two results would be required in other states, the most likely candidates being New South Wales and Western Australia.

Assuming no cross-ideological preference deals such as the aforementioned Labor-Family First effort from 2004, a rough benchmark here is that the combined Labor and Greens vote would need to fall to about 40%. Otherwise those two parties, mutually exchanging their preferences, can collectively achieve three quotas (42.9% of the vote) with the preferences of left-wing micro-parties and independents.

At the 2010 election, the Labor-plus-Greens vote for the Senate was 42.2% in Queensland, 43.7% in Western Australia and 47.2% in New South Wales. When the Liberals and Nationals collectively succeeded in winning four seats in Queensland in 2004, it was 37.0%.

The recent Newspoll breakdowns had Labor plus the Greens at 39% in Queensland, 41% in Western Australia and 42% in New South Wales. This was in the context of figures that produced a national two-party preferred result of 54-46 to the Coalition, whereas more recent polling has had it at 56-44 or 57-43.

Four-right and two-left results in any two out of three of Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales would very likely enable a Coalition government to repeal the carbon tax, given the likely support of Xenophon.

Such results in all three states would put a Coalition government in a fairly comfortable position similar to that of its state counterpart in New South Wales, where Labor and the Greens can be overruled in the upper house with the support of the Shooters Party and the Christian Democratic Party.

  • 1
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    The author going public with his wish list for next year. Still waiting for that phone call from Rupert?

  • 2
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Resignation of a Police Minister,a Senior Advisor,scrapping of Litery Awards jobs for the boys for costello,costing more than the dumped litery awards ,equals more expenditure ,not savings,,not an awesome start to LNP in Qld in just 3 weeks,as newman is an abbott clone,think people will come to realise a coalition federal government could be uncontrolled rabble.

  • 3
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    @ WO 2 Snhappi Tom

    What about Bligh resignation hours after the poll and a by election later this month.

  • 4
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I think given the carbon tax will exact its damage on the economy for over 12 months, people will have more than baseball bats out in 2013 and a double dissolution as you say may not be needed

  • 5
    Michael de Angelos
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    more wishful thinking.

    Aussies may be led by the nose ccassionally but if anyone thinks that after a year of QLD & NSW huge majority Coalition governments that federally they will do like wise they underestimate the citizens desire to protect themselves from Abbott’s desire to erase whatever protections they now have for job security.

    The carbon pricing is still the media’s wet dream.

    Get out there and talk to the general public and they couldn’t give a toss about it. Come closer to the GE in 2013 and see what happens when Abbott is pinned down and must reveal his policies.

  • 6
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink


  • 7
    Steve Gardner
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Abbott won’t be forced to reveal his policies. He’ll just keep saying “We’ll reveal our policies in good time before the next election” until about 2 weeks before the election. Then he’ll reveal a bunch of vague uncosted promises with no detail. A few people will point out that this is completely irresponsible and shows that the Libs are not fit to govern and of course they will be right, but no-one will care.

  • 8
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Bligh was there for years blake,newman for minutes.

  • 9
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Thanks William

    Good post

    Not linked to PB????

  • 10
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Baseball Bats SUZANNE BLAKE,seems your the same as abbotts forehead targets ,you both want people to do your dirty work and assassinate people.

  • 11
    rinaldo hernando
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    @steve gardner - just like queensland. looking forward to hearing all the pensioners bleat when they realise they voted for a reduction in their pay, and everyone else whose going to lose out, wail like qld “but we didn’t think it was going o be like that, …”

  • 12
    rinaldo hernando
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    fortunately victorias had plenty of time to see that a liberal talks tough in opposition, then falls well short of delivering when faced with the reality of government. the nation will see it soon enough too.

  • 13
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    @ Schnappi Tom

    Baseball bats was coined by ABC election coverage team. Red Kerry and Antony Green. Propable before that as well.

  • 14
    Thalas Loramar
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Serious question:

    Has anyone ever tried to find out who the sock puppet SUZANNE BLAKE belongs to? Can it be traced back to the Coalition party room? Or the Young Liberals perhaps?

    The absurd propaganda spouted by it suggests an intimate connection to Abbott.

  • 15
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    @ Thalas Loramar

    The ‘sock puppet’ is one voter in a marginal seat, who has taken an interest in politics in recent years and who is sick of the waste, dishonesty and incompetence of the present Labor Government.

    Further, who believes that neither Gillard nor Abbott are fit to be PM

  • 16
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Do not care how baseball bats were coined BLAKE ,your meaning was as clear as abbotts.

  • 17
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Baseball bats” was in fact coined by Wayne Goss following his own government’s defeat during the last throes of the Keating years, in 1995/96.

    This is a pretty crappy comments thread, BTW. Does anyone have anything to say about the Senate? Failing that, nothing at all would be preferable.

  • 18
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink


    Maybe a real on topic comment

    Seems to me that Labor is fairly secure in keeping control of the senate in 2014 UNLESS either WA or NSW falls below say 41% (I assume that senate voting is always less than reps so I have added in an error.
    Do you think that Labor might think long term ie to the 2017 senate. A second term Lib government could potentially have control (once the 2010 good Tas result washed out)?

  • 19
    James K
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    labor are their own worst enemy. They quickly ditched Rudd to save themselves from being wiped out in 2010. Why are they so prepared to be utterly smashed in 2013 by holding onto Gillard? I just dont understand their suicidal attitude at the moment. They have lost touch.

    Indeed, their positive pundits say “but other govts have turned around in a year after bad polling”. True. But find me any past govt that started with a political assassination of the sitting PM and that has ALWAYS had the bad polls… it has never had majority public support (unlike the egs they will point to). It has nothing TO GO BACK TO with its current leader. She has always been unpopular and will continue to be.

    Labor are idiots. If they allow this nation to be ruled by Abbott, they are fools to the extreme. They must replace Gillard to win the next election. Nothing can save them with her at the helm (unfortunately). It does not have to be Rudd. But it has to be someone other than Gillarrd (or anyone who can be associated with the carbon tax).

  • 20
    James K
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Daretotread - after three years of Abbott (in 2016), the Libs cant possibly do as well as they will in 2013. People will have put up with him for 3 years! They wont be flocking to him to be rid of a PM they distrust any longer. It will be him they distrust!

  • 21
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Well WB a south aussie senator has taught all senators how to do the Hokey Pokey,then escaped certain charges,perhaps you could inform us of what else they have done that is amusing.

  • 22
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    DTT, you get quite a few Labor voters who switch to the Greens in the Senate, but the Labor plus Greens vote doesn’t change much. I don’t care to speculate what might happen in 2017 (or even much in 2013, for that matter).

  • 23
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    AH JAMES K ,would not matter who labor appointed as the media would immediately attack one way or another ,and still use phantom leadership challenges,suggest Carr would challenge the PM was their best yet.

    Have not written the PM off ,as abbotts economics do not stack up,and believe he lost the last election wanting to destroy the NBN

    Dumb as he is he is even dumber still wanting to destroy the NBN,any one can see that a lot of libs and nats want the NBN,so could lose another unlosable election as per newspolls.

  • 24
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I dont think Gillard will lead Labor to the next election.

    She will step down for Bill Shorton six months out from the election.

    Fortunately for the ALP any new leader would do a lot better than Gillard and most likely get at least a 5% boost in the polls and anyway by that time she will have achieved most of the things she wanted to.

    If my prediction proves to be right the Senate wont be a problem for the ALP or Greens as their vote will hold.

    ATM Gillard is the best thing going for the LNP.

  • 25
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Ho hum.

    I don’t mean to be offensive or rude, but this is just another prophetic political article speculating on hypothetical situations and their possible conclusions, based on fixed criteria determined on or before 18 April 2012.

    It makes me scratch my head, because we aren’t even halfway through the current Federal parliamentary term. Surely many things can and will happen between now and the election. Polls go up as well as down. It would be a gamblin’ man who put their money on TA this far out from the post. Look what happened last time.

    Perhaps it is prudent to wait another few months - let’s say 12 - before speculating again. You will then have a much clearer picture of the likely outcome.

    Cheers, Pedro

  • 26
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    You’re not being offensive or rude, Pedro - just wrong. There is not a single thing in this article which is “prophetic”. It explains what might happen in the Senate if particular scenarios play out, as they may nor may not do, given the rules by which the system operates. My guess is that you yourself don’t understand those rules terribly well, and that you could have learned a few things if you had made the effort to read or understand what I was saying.

  • 27
    James K
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Pedro - usually what you say is true. But for Gillard there is no”polls going up”. They are bad or worse.

  • 28
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    @JAMES K ,

    Please do not give your crystal ball to abbott,he is already unbelivable.

  • 29
    James K
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I soooo hope you are right Schnappi. I just dont see the voting public being discerning enough. They hate Abbott but they hate Gillard more. Bummer hey….

  • 30
    Meguire Bob
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    James K

    The people have stopped listening to abbott a a while back, the polls are not getting strong enough for the coalition or supporters to suggest they will start to listen to him.

    polling are closer then the opinion polls suggest

  • 31
    Meguire Bob
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    The opinion polls are down on labor policy, if the opinion polls start to give the alternative government’s polices like the direct action, etc

    the polls would likely be completely different

  • 32
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Even with the then recent backlash against the ousting of Rudd, Queensland got 2 ALP and 1 GRN easily in 2010. I can’t see the numbers for the left side of politics going down. By that stage, they’ll have one year of Newman to compare against Abbott. Not everyone can disassociate state and federal parties.

    I reckon it would be 2 LNP, 2 ALP, 1 KAP, 1 GRN in 2013.

    By the way, if the ALP want to cut their own throats, they can nominate Bill Shorten for PM. The same guy who thinks $16 a day is survivable sans rent? That’s the dude. In this case, “evil” or “stupid” are distinctions without a difference.

  • 33
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    What happened to Howard when he won control of the Senate? He lost Government and lost his seat at the next election.

    Abbott would be better off not winning control of the Senate. That way, he can blame the Senate for the Carbon Tax. If he has the numbers to repeal it, his more expensive and ineffective option will become law (unless it becomes a non-core promise). Same with many other messy commitments, like the Nanny Subsidy.

  • 34
    Modus Ponens
    Posted Wednesday, 18 April 2012 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Quite a crappy thread indeed! Did anyone read the article? It is not prophecy, but an inference from previous polling data. I always felt reassured that the conservatives would not control the Senate, but my ignorance was bliss…. Under 40% in two states is very possible.

    I just hope the media turn their spotlight onto the tories’ (lack of) policies before it is too late. FFS, they are only one-two seats away from forming government right now and they receive no scrutiny in the slightest!

    Obi-wan, that is our only hope.

  • 35
    Sausage Maker
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    @Beachcomber. Yes, gaining control of the Senate gave Howard the rope to hang himself. But if the Coalition get control of the Senate theres a good chance they will make IR reform stick like they did with the GST the second time around.

    Currently the Coalition are on 34 seats in the Senate after losing 3 in 2010. While the numbers provided prove there is a real chance the conservative side of politics can form a majority the real threat comes in 2017 Senate makeup.

    The 2016 election (most likely date) will have the Senators that were elected in 2010 up for re-election. Conservative side won (excluding the 3 year term territory senators) 17 seats , assuming the DLP and Madigan will side with the Coalition on most voting issues, and the left won 19, 6 of which were from the Greens.

    Assuming that the conservative of politics will pickup a Senate seat or two in the next election the right only has to win 50% of the Senate seats in 2016 to pickup another seat.

    Rudd’s biggest problem with the Senate is that he still had to deal with all the conservative senators elected from the Latham debacle in 2004.

    Like NSW its hard not seeing the Coalition gaining a majority in the upper house in their second term.

  • 36
    Edward James
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    Why when your vote is your own to preference as you wish would you permit shonky politicians who have run Australia into a fiscal ditch, to direct your preferences to suit them? Your vote is your own to direct as you see fit. How to vote cards are guides for political simpletons who are unable to direct their elected representatives to act on their behalf. Edward James Umina CBD 0243419140

  • 37
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Thalas Loramar

    A little googling shows that Ms Blake is a real person.

    A graphic designer, she has done work for Fortescue Mines.

  • 38
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Firstly I always appreciate Suzanne Blakes comments.

    Secondly, on the senate numbers I have to chuckle when I read there is no way the Libs can control the senate after the next election. I mean it’s all just a matter of votes… and if there is a landslide win, which is looking on the cards, then the Libs maybe able to control the senate in their own right

  • 39
    Thalas Loramar
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink


    Hmmm, interesting.

    In that case, game on.

  • 40
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Howard had full control of the senate and he lost government and his own seat,some people think for themselves,
    Joe Hockey admits howard went to far with welfare,but does not say what he wants cut back,just liberal bleat to please elect us ,we gave it to you,now we want your vote to take it back off you.

  • 41
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Schnappi there is plenty of welfare to cut back there are so many bludgers out there it isn’t funny.

    Basically we need to force all bludgers to start working by systematically cutting their welfare payments back for every week they are on them.

  • 42
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Yeah notice abbott and supporters are against private health insurance for those on $150,000 and also want parental leave for women on $150,000.
    Hardly think hockey and now abbott are talking about those on the dole,or newstart etc,as if anything they need an increase.

    Not all on the bludgers you refer to geewizz are in fact your bludgers ,a lot now are old people who have worked hard an are redundant through no fault of their own ,and employers do not employ them.

    Can see this as another con job,not even an aspiration,baloney knows he could not win an election cutting pensions ,the dole,or newstart,as it would be political suicide.

    Appears whats left is family benefits or the baby bonus,Bwahaaha.
    Yet abbott is increasing welfare so where could he cut it?

  • 43
    Michael de Angelos
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    We got a major ‘policy’ release from Joe Hockey in the UK (on a taxpayer funded trip) yet it really is getting scant reportage.

    Apparently Asia is the way to go-no welfare net. Nothing. Zip.

    Millions of beggars in the street.

  • 44
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Just saw Lateline M DE A,

    Hockey totally evaded Tony Jones questions,hockey would not say what entitelments would be cut,neither would he say what would be means tested,just spin with not even a core,non core,or even an aspiration,also appeared abbotts parental leave for those on $150,000 and not means tested is ok,other things have to be looked at.

    Greatest load of spin and bullshit,not just for the gullible ,but the certified insane.

    Abbott has backed hockey ,I await his wriggle out in the coming days let alone weeks.

  • 45
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Schnappi the problem isn’t employers the problem is unions blocking reform on workplace reform for older workers.

    As you know younger workers can be paid signficantly less than a an adult on an award wage, this is so employers have a benefit in employing young workers to train them up and young employee’s get work experience.

    With people over 60 you have no system despite older workers becoming slower at doing their work and having more sick days. Now the solution is quite a simple one… allow individuals over 60 to work for FULL-TIME wages, but for PART-TIME hours… say 20-30 Hours a week. This will help both employers and employee’s as employers will have an incentive to hire older workers and the older employee’s have the incentive of only having to work part time(semi-retirement) while still getting a wage.

    Of course the Unions and their Union heavy bosses on $330K a year won’t have a bar of it.

  • 46
    Michael de Angelos
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Union bosses fees are paid of worker’s union fees so put a cork in that one GEEWIZZ.

    I’d like to know alternative reality you speak off where all these jobs are coming from for young or older workers.

    As for Hockey who sees Third World Asian countries as perfection-odd that the West has to funnel billions of dollars in aid to them if they are doing so well.

    Hockey who has bludged off the taxpayer since eternity and accepts numerous entitlements is obviously a believer in the ‘trickle down’ thoery not evident in Asian countries.

    I hope this is just talk for the troops and the rusted on Coalition supporters. If they truly believe what he says as Abbott has confirmed-heaven help us. First to go-propertyprices plummeting.

    As usual Abbott and Hockey dribble nonsense as Hockey pontificates about Asian family values where generations live together out of necessity. Farewell the building trade as Abbott moulds society in his vision.

  • 47
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    @ Michael de Angelos

    Union bosses fees are paid of worker’s union fees “

    Yes we know their snout is in the trough, see that loud and clear at HSU

    Also with the “six hour lunches in Chinatown before Union meetings in Sydney”.

    Do as I say, not as I do

  • 48
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Suzanne it’s amazing isn’t it the whining of the Union heavies about “corporate greed” when some of these union piggies are getting paid more than the Prime Minister of Australia.

    You wonder how they complain about corporate excess while keeping a straight face.

  • 49
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Just saw a message on Twitter stating the Greens are collapsing.
    Big fights in NSW branch. The black widow Rhianon is going feral.
    Anyone have news on that?

  • 50
    Posted Thursday, 19 April 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Bullshit geewizz I am 75 and bet I would not be slow or slow down ,to run down unions you rubbish the elderly ,probably run rings around you 15 year old liberal staff aprentices,