Peter Andren, independent member for Calare in the House of Representatives, yesterday announced that he would leave his seat at this year’s election to run for the Senate in New South Wales.

It seems a puzzling decision; true, Calare had been dismembered in the redistribution, but even the new version of it (basically an amalgamation with the old Parkes) would be a better bet than the Senate, with a quota of over half a million votes.

But perhaps Andren feels that he needs new worlds to conquer. His victories in Calare had become almost embarrassingly easy. Indeed, his record is so remarkable that it is worth setting out in full; here are the four elections, with Andren’s primary vote and two-candidate-preferred, together with the opponent he faced in the final count:

Year Primary Two-candidate-preferred
1996 29.4% 63.3% (vs Nationals)
1998 40.5% 72.3% (vs ALP)
2001 51.4% 75.0% (vs Nationals)
2004 50.2% 71.2% (vs Liberal)

Andren’s performance is completely unprecedented. Between Jack Lang in 1946 and Ted Mack in 1990, only one independent ever won a Reps seat (Sam Benson, ex-ALP, in 1966). Mack held North Sydney for two terms, but with much narrower margins than Andren’s. Phil Cleary won Wills in 1993, and four other independents were elected in 1996, but none of them survived more than a single term.

Tony Windsor in New England and Bob Katter in Kennedy have since followed Andren’s lead, but both had prior experience – Windsor as a state MP, Katter as a Nationals member both state and federal – whereas Andren, in political terms, came out of nowhere.

His most remarkable achievement was in the Tampa election of 2001, when the ALP was cravenly echoing Howard’s demonisation of refugees.

Andren, in a conservative rural electorate, stood up for international law and common decency; the Coalition ran hard against him on the issue, and he beat them comfortably.

My guess is that Andren will sink without trace in the Senate election, but it’s hard to write off a man with that sort of record.

Andren’s departure should deliver Calare to the Nationals’ John Cobb (currently member for Parkes), which makes Labor’s task at the election a little harder – although it doesn’t mean, as ABC news had it last night (repeated this morning in the Brisbane Times), that they now need to win 17 seats.

Labor holds 60 lower house seats out of 150, so the target for an absolute majority is still 16, and 15 for effective control. But whereas with Andren there they might have hoped to form a minority government on a gain of 14, that outcome is now unlikely.

But no media outlet has a monopoly on failures of basic arithmetic.

Just look at this morning’s Australian, where it’s said that an 18% swing to Labor “would put the Coalition’s hold on seven Queensland seats at risk.” Seven? Try 19.