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Aug 26, 2014

Rundle: c’mon everyone, let’s play Senate Bingo!

Will David Leyonhelm vote with the Greens on same-sex marriage? Will Ricky Muir back the Coalition on foreign policy? Play Crikey's handy Senate Bingo game and find out!

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


With the political-media establishment still reeling from the shock of the 2014 Senate result and the horror of having to do actual politics to get a program through, much of the electorate is still confused about how it all stacks up. We asked Paul Kelly, but he was going up the down escalator of decline. We asked Annabel Crabb, but she was baking scones for Aleksandr Lukashenko. We asked Peter Hartcher, who told us that Rudd’s leadership was in doubt. So we did it ourselves. Here, at vast expense to the management, is 50 shades of dynamic Red.

The numbers:

There are 76 senators — 12 for each state, and two for each of the territories. With the President of the Senate normally not voting, the government needs 38 (**actually 39 — see correction) of 75 senators to pass legislation.

They are distributed as follows.

The parties:

  • Lib/Nat Coalition:  33, comprising 23 Liberal, 6 Liberal-National Party (Qld), 3 National, 1 Country Liberal Party (NT).
  • Labor: 25
  • Greens: 10
  • Palmer United Party:  3

Single members:

  • Nick Xenophon
  • John Madigan — Democratic Labour Party
  • Bob Day — Family First
  • David Leyonhjelm — Liberal Democratic Party
  • Ricky Muir — Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party

The basic Right-Left split:

Government (Right): 34
Coalition, plus Leyonhjelm and Day

Left: 40
Labor, Greens, PUP, Muir and Madigan

Swing: 1

The Left’s numbers may change, but on the Left-Right axis of economic policy, they clearly have strong numbers. The Palmer United Party have made it clear that they will block most of the attacks on what remains of the social welfare state and are opposing the “asset recycling”, i.e. privatisation fluffer, program. Madigan’s DLP roots would suggest an orientation to old-style economic nationalism, trade union recognition and an opposition to mindless privatisation, and Muir has been described as “ALP-oriented” on these matters by Glenn Druery, his adviser for nine minutes.  The stated positions of Leyonhjelm and Day give PUP the power to gift the magic 38 to whichever side wants them. But if PUP sticks to a fixed position, the power then rests with Xenophon, Muir and Madigan, who can be flexible and issue-based, and retain their credibility. If Muir joined Xenophon and Madigan as a centrist trio, he would have vastly more power than as an adjunct to Palmer.

Foreign policy

Much of this can be done through executive action, but the commitment of, say, the Royal Australian Air Force , or “advisers”, on the ground in Iraq would sharpen the issue. On a basic commitment to the United States, it’s a slam dunk — the Senate lines up 65-10 against the Greens. But on Abbott’s more gung-ho version — should Labor choose to oppose — it’s more complex. PUP is in favour of strong defence, but not necessarily overseas adventures. Leyonhjelm, as a libertarian, is not necessarily signed on for big government abroad, and Muir is an unknown.

Liberal rights

This split, which comes up over questions like section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, multiculturalism, etc, is whether you see rights and freedoms as minimal and invested in the individual, or collective and expansive. This would come down to an issue-by-issue tussle.

General multiculturalism and 18C

Religion and “Australian values”

On the issue of religious rights, religion in schools, secularism, etc, Day and Madigan would line up. But Xenophon, with a liberal religious component to his base, might be a bit more circumspect here — and PUP and Muir are once again wildcards, the former perhaps cleaving to a more traditional idea of Australian life, and the centrality of Christianity, etc, to it.  As a libertarian (if he is one) Leyonhjelm would, we expect, oppose state-authorised religious or cultural discourses. But he would also oppose the extension of power by conservative religious groups.

Censorship, exclusion of  undesirables, etc

The “Team Australia” rhetoric is about silencing dissent, and this would be the bloc of the Coalition, plus Day and Madigan. Labor can always be persuaded to roll over on national security, but historically they have been more friendly to civil liberties than the Coalition. Xenophon errs on this side, and you would hope the LDP would.

The swing voters would be PUP and Muir. Once again, this split reveals that Muir has more power as a free agent, than as part of the PUP bloc (if indeed he still is).

Same-sex marriage

If the Coalition acceded to bringing on the same-sex marriage bill, Labor would have no choice but to urge a conscience vote at the very least — and due to the threat of the Greens gaining new youf support, might have to roll their otiose Catholic Right and vote “for”. On a genuine conscience vote, it would pass pretty easily.

Border protection

PUP have come out of the closet on this one, before the election. But once again, so much is done by regulation that the point is somewhat moot.


All of this is imprecise and doesn’t take into account the many complexities of the Senate — the ability to run committees, ask questions, get bills up etc, which take smaller numbers — and of course the possibility of Lib-Nat divergence, floor-crossings, and eventual defections. But it’s complicated enough already — and we are happy to hear alternative cut-ups. Use our cut-out-and-keep game and show us what you get.

*Infographics by Jake Stevens

** Correction: Heh, we were a little fast and loose there. In fact, the President of the Senate does have a deliberative (but not casting) vote, so the Coalition need 39 — themselves plus six — to get a vote through. They only need a tie — 38-38 — to defeat a measure.

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14 thoughts on “Rundle: c’mon everyone, let’s play Senate Bingo!

  1. Paul Rodan

    One observation: the President of the Senate, who has a deliberative, not casting vote, usually does vote.

  2. Andrew Bartlett

    For accuracies sake it needs to be said that the Senate President (a Lib) usually does vote. Unlike the Speaker in the House of Reps, they don’t get a casting vote, so a tied vote (38 apiece) iis resolved in the negative. However, the required numbers used in the various examples about don’t change- the Govt still needs 38 votes in addition to the President’s.

    The possibility of the 3 PUP votes fracturing is something that may come into play over time.

    Likewise, there are the 2 occasionally renegade Liberals – Ian MacDonald and Cory Bernardi – who clearly are reacting to the fact that they will never again come off the backbench by regularly hinting they might vote against the Libs on various issues. Whether they will ever do so in a situation where their votes will be the deciders is another matter.

  3. blake andrew

    Not sure about your numbers on Marriage Equality. I can get to 32 on a conscience vote from Greens (10), Labor (15), Libs (rather generously 5), Xenophon and Leyohjhelm. So to pass it would need all 4 PUPs plus a couple of Libs to reverse their positions.

    Don’t believe AME’s hype. A conscience isn’t going to get the right answer. The numbers are just not their in this parliament. Both the ALP (a combination of deliberately, cockups – WA, and losing seats) and Libs (deliberately) need a good job at purging marriage equality supporters.

  4. rachel612

    Oh come on, this falls at the first hurdle. What on earth do you mean painting the ALP as “left” on foreign policy? Have you forgotten how fast we fell over ourselves to be part of Gulf War I during the Hawke Era? The ALP hasn’t been anti-military since Gough was in charge.

    And on border protection? The current mob are arsehats, but look at Labor’s policies during Rudd/Gillard. Utterly reprehensible.

  5. Venise Alstergren

    I’m with RACHEL612 on this one. After a general election the entire population of ASIO must fall, like the hammer of Zeus, on the new PM. No matter what He/she said before it, there will be the sound of an almighty swish as the newly elected members swiftly change direction and genuflect to America.

  6. klewso

    I don’t know what to make of this – beyond a game of Spin the PUP (with “Miss a Turn” when you land on M’nuir)?

  7. Bill Hilliger

    Ah the senate. We live in most interesting times, with lots of political entertainment ahead. I wouldn’t miss it for quids. Lets hope Palmer United continue keep it interesting …he may just do that. He certainly has the MSM stenographers (formerly known as journalist) bluffed.

    As for Team Murdoch, let them call a DD. Team Australia will be waiting for them with electoral / political baseball bats. We of Team Australia say bring it on!

  8. Guy Rundle

    its the senate, not the whole political spectrum. It’s a question of what sort of numbers labor can get to defeat a bill, or the coalition to pass one. Yes, in some cases labor will vote with libs so as not to appear soft on nat sec etc. But this piece is about the situations where there is a major party division

  9. fractious

    Worth the entry price just for this:
    “We asked Paul Kelly, but he was going up the down escalator of decline. We asked Annabel Crabb, but she was baking scones for Aleksandr Lukashenko. We asked Peter Hartcher, who told us that Rudd’s leadership was in doubt.”

    The Modern Mainstream Political Journalist in three sentences. Delish.

    Though I’ve got to say calling Palmer (let alone the other PUP loose cannons) one way or another on any issue is, as Sir Humphrey would have said, “very brave, if I may say so, Minister”.

  10. Graham R

    Too kind to Labor here, Guy.