Never in the course of political reporting have so many column inches been filled on the basis of so little information as has been the case over the last week in the conduct of the Senate count. Speculation has run rife on all sorts of mad theories about who will get up in each state. Let’s cut through some of the rubbish published this week to set out the facts of what is going on.
New South Wales
The funny deals Labor did to try and save its third Senator have worked a treat. Most of the preferences directed towards the Greens were first sieved through Liberals for Forests. The result is that at the end of the count, the flow of preferences to the Greens has been choked off. The vote for Liberals for Forests has risen from 0.04 of a quota to 0.81 quota, Labor from 0.59 to 0.65 and the Greens from 0.50 to 0.54. With many Green preferences locked up by Liberals for Forests, the Greens are excluded at the final count, electing the third Labor Senator. The result in NSW, 3 Coalition, 3 Labor, a gain of one National Senator at the expense of the Democrats.
Even if Liberals for Forests fall behind the Christian Democrats at a key count, Labor still wins the final vacancy.
The Lead of Family First has been increasing throughout the week. On Saturday night, Labor trailed the Greens by 30,000 and Family First by 40,000 at the crucial final exclusion. By Thursday night, those gaps had increased to 36,000 and 50,000. There are not enough below the line votes for this result to be reversed. The result is 3 Coalition, 2 Labor and 1 Family First, a Family First Gain from Labor.
There has been virtually no change in the count since Sunday. Despite talk of the Nationals firming in their position, there has been no change. It is just the National Party rang me to figure out what was going on and started to crunch a few numbers themselves.
At a key point in the count, the National Party are 3,500 ahead of Family First, excluding Family First. This then puts the National Party 3,700 votes ahead of One Nation, excluding One Nation. This results in the 3rd Liberal Russell Trood and the National Party’s Barnaby Joyce being elected to the two final vacancies at the same count.
There are an estimated 100,000 below the line votes in Queensland, so that means these narrow gaps could be overturned. However, on past evidence, only 2% of the National Party vote will be below the line, and about 10% of the minor party vote. That means the National Party lead at both key counts is probably greater than it currently appears.
If the National party falls below Family First at the first key count, then the final two vacancies go to the Liberals and Family First. If the Nationals stay ahead of Family First but fall behind One Nation, the least likely scenario, then the final two spots go to the Liberals and the Greens.
The most likely result is 3 Liberal, 1 National, 2 Labor, a gain by both the Liberals and Nationals at the expense of the Democrats and One Nation.
The most straightforward count. Liberal 3, Labor 2 and Green 1. A Green gain at the expense of the Democrats.
There is still some fevered hope amongst the Democrats that they can sneak over the line. At a key point in the count, the Democrats trail Family First by just 2,600 votes. However, the Democrats have only got this close by ticket votes, which suggests the actual gap is larger. If the Democrats go out, the Liberal surplus puts Family First ahead of both the Greens and Labor, and then the Greens are excluded, electing the third Labor candidate. The state splits 3:3, Labor winning the seat previously held by Meg Lees.
The weirdest outcome. The Greens start the count with 0.89 of a quota and only 4,200 votes short of a quota in their own right. However, if you assume all votes are ticket votes, by the end of the count, Family First win the final vacancy by 5,700 votes from the Greens.
If it was not their original intention, someone in the Liberal Party will be claiming great foresight in standing only three candidates. The result is that a full 0.29 of a quota goes straight to Family First rather than lingering with a fourth Liberal candidate.
You would estimate that in Tasmania there will be about 60,000 below the line votes. One evidence of past counts, you would expect their to be some leakage of votes out of all other tickets. It would be extremely unlikely that Democrat and Labor voters who choose to vote below the line would direct preferences to Family First ahead of the Greens. So expect the Greens to be picking up votes at all points in the count.
However, assuming about 80% of the votes are ticket votes, the final vacancy is very tight. The Greens do receive two small ticket votes. I would estimate the Greens need to garner about 3,000 below the line votes, possible but tight. We will be waiting some time for the final result.
The most likely outcome is the Coalition 39, Labor 28, Democrats 4, Greens 3, Family First 2. If the Coalition miss out in Queensland, the next most likely outcome has the Coalition on 38 and Family First on 3. The Greens then also have a chance of winning one of those Family First seats in Tasmania.
So what chance Senate reform? There has been past talk by the Coalition of introducing minimum quotas for election. Well, that would be an interesting proposal, as Family First would have won zero seats under that scenario, and the Greens would probably have won the final seat in Queensland at the expense of the Nationals. It would be interesting to see the Coalition introduce a new system having used the old system to get a majority.
Senate reform should come. The most obvious idea is to get rid of the appalling Senate ticket voting system. Voters should be able to fill in their own above the line preferences, maybe in conjunction with optional preferential voting.
I appeared before the Joint Standing Committee on electoral matters after the last election and warned that we could see results such as the victories by Family First. The same occurred at NSW Legislative Council elections in 1995 and 1999, resulting in the abolition of ticket voting for the 2003 election. The Commonwealth should look towards the NSW reforms as a guide for change.
The current Senate system advantages parties that deal on preferences rather than campaign for votes. It is a system wide open to the final result being determined by backroom deals and errors in preferences. The sooner the system of ticket preferences is abolished, the sooner the Senate election will more accurately reflect the intent of voters.