Back in December 2007 I had an article published in The Weekend Australian dealing with the situation of the state Labor governments in the light of the then “wall-to-wall” situation. Titled “Best bets to dent dominant majority” it went through the situation state by state. Referring to Victoria I wrote:

The next election in Victoria is fixed to be held on November 27, 2010. That knowledge has led some to speculate there will be federal and Victorian elections close together in 2010. I don’t believe that will happen. I am convinced there will be a double dissolution of the federal parliament well before the next Victorian election.

In that article I did not define what I meant by “well before” so I shall do that now. I predict the double dissolution will be effected in July 2010 causing a general election for all members of both houses to take place on August 21, 2010. My reasoning follows but first let me note that general elections for all members of both houses have occurred seven times, in March 1901, September 1914, April 1951, May 1974, December 1975, March 1983 and July 1987. March 1901 was the first general election and the more recent six cases occurred following a double dissolution.

General elections for all members of both houses can be classified in two ways. There are those which throw the elections for the House of Representatives and half-Senate out of kilter and there are those which do not. For example the July 1987 and September 1914 elections did not throw the two houses out of kilter. The next simultaneous election for the House and half-Senate was held in March 1990 and in May 1917, respectively.

By contrast the Menzies 1951 double dissolution did throw the two houses out of kilter. Thus there was an April 1951 general election for all members of both houses followed by a half-Senate only election in May 1953 and a House of Representatives only election in May 1954. That Kevin Rudd does not wish to create a mid-term half-Senate election is the reason why the forthcoming double dissolution will not occur until the middle of next year.

Recently (in August 2009) I had another article published in The Weekend Australian. Titled “Goalposts shift but Labor safe” it had a table showing the current Senate numbers together with another table showing “Predicted result for a 2010 double dissolution”. My numbers were 34 for Labor (up two on the present), 26 Liberal (down six), 6 National (up one), 7 Greens (up two), 2 for the Xenophon Party (up one) and one for Family First (no change).

The main response I received in e-mails was that Steve Fielding would not get back in Victoria. His seat would go to the Liberal Party. Perhaps that is right but it makes no difference. The important point is that 34 Labor plus seven Greens makes 41 — a majority in a Senate of 76. That is an immediate majority. Unlike an equivalent majority yielded by a half-Senate election Rudd would not need to wait until July 2011. That is why I think there will be a double dissolution.

For me the most interesting feature of this forthcoming Senate general election (the eighth) relates to how the Senate would allocate the long-term seats. Under section 13 of the Constitution the Senate does this. In effect the Constitution tells the Senate to conduct its own half-Senate election for the long-term places. As to who the winners should be is an inherently interesting psephological question.

Following each of the seven Senate general elections so far, the long-term places have been given in all states to the first three elected (1901 and 1914), the first five elected (1951, 1974, 1975 and 1983) and the first six elected (1987). There was no problem with that in 1901 and 1914. However, in 1951 it was noted by psephologists at the time that the nominal order of election produced a down-right peculiar half-Senate result in Tasmania, four Liberal and one Labor.

Following further notice of similar defects in 1974, 1975 and 1983 the afore-mentioned psephologists caused an amendment to be made in 1984, section 282 of the Electoral Act which tells the Electoral Commission to re-count the votes from the whole Senate election into a half-Senate election.

In 1987, however, those counts were ignored. In effect the combination of Labor, Democrats and Senator Harradine rorted the system against the Coalition. On September 17, 1987, by a vote of 37 to 32 those 37 senators voted to give six-year terms to senators Maguire, McLean, Parer and Powell (when they should merely have had three-year terms) while senators Brownhill, Hill, Jones and McGauran were deprived of the six-year terms to which they were elected under section 282.

Labor clearly felt guilty about this — especially as section 282 had been inserted as part of the Hawke electoral reforms of 1983-84. Consequently Labor Senate leader John Button promised that on any future occasion the Senate should carry a resolution supporting section 282 before a dissolution of the Senate takes place. That had not been done in 1987.

Consequently I make this confident prediction. Just as soon as a double dissolution trigger is in place the Senate will carry a resolution to implement section 282 following any 2010 Senate general election. The motion will be moved by the Coalition and will be carried without dissent.

Peter Fray

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