One
year ago tomorrow, the Australian political earth moved in a way it hadn’t for
three decades – the Coalition gained control of the Senate. Crikey
recently editorialised that this was the fault of poor campaigning by the
Opposition parties at the 2004 election. To some extent this is true, but it was
not for a complete want of trying.

You
might remember the Magic 38 piece that
Crikey ran in June 2004 warning of the possibilities of Government Senate control,
and Bob Brown, the Democrats and Labor raised the issue during the campaign. But
there was scant coverage of the Senate issue in the mainstream media, with a few
notable but isolated exceptions. This suited the Coalition of course, and they
snuck in control of the Senate. Certainly a more engaged electorate would have
been less likely to deliver the 39 seats they won.

Some
have suggested that the Coalition Senate control is here to stay for a while yet
– that because Senators are elected for six years there is nothing much that can
be done to prevent Coalition Senate control for at least another five years or
more.

However
if Coalition numbers were reduced by two seats to 37 seats it would not be able
to pass legislation even with the support of Family First’s Stephen Fielding.
Although a tough ask, this is possible and needs just two things to happen:

  • Firstly, a repeat of the Queensland 2004 result needs to b prevented (Coalition
    win of four out of the six seats).

  • Secondly, Coalition wins must be limited to two out of the six seats in at least
    two states.

While
over the last decade the Coalition has typically won three out of the six seats
in each state, there are precedents for this not happening. In 1998, the Coalition won only two seats in
both Queensland and NSW (partly attributable to One Nation splitting the
conservative vote) and in NSW in 1990 (with nearly in the same result in 1993).

The
most likely states for the Coalition vote to go below the critical 43% needed
for any chance of avoiding a three-seat win are probably Victoria and Tasmania,
followed by NSW. The strength of the
coalition Senate vote in WA, SA and Queensland would make it considerably more
difficult, but not impossible. And of course, the other possibility is for Gary
Humphries to lose his seat in the ACT (a strong incentive perhaps for his recent
crossing the floor).

To fall
below this magic 43% requires a swing of less than 5% away from the Coalition to
Labor, the Greens and Democrats. Given
the likely increased focus on the Senate race in 2007, and voters’ reluctance to
give any side of politics control of the Senate (if informed), this is far from
impossible.

So a
year on, the campaign to rescue the Senate is slowly gaining momentum as people
are realising that it’s possible to move the political earth back.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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