Electoral Form Guide: NSW Senate
Senate: New South Wales
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Overview: Seven elections have been held since the first six-seat half-Senate election in 1990, with minor parties winning seats in New South Wales on four occasions – the Democrats in 1990, 1996 and 1998 and the Greens in 2001 – and the other two resulting in even splits between Labor and the Coalition. The minor party seats came at the expense of third seats for the Coalition in 1990 and 1998 and for Labor in 1996 and 2001. The 1998 and 2001 results were heavily influenced by One Nation, who polled 9.6 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively. With all major players putting them last on their preferences, this was well short of what was needed to win a seat. In 1998 Aden Ridgeway of the Democrats narrowly won a seat after overtaking the third Coalition candidate, Sandy Macdonald of the Nationals (who returned at the 2001 election), while David Oldfield of One Nation remained stranded in seventh place. The lower One Nation vote in 2001 allowed the Greens to overtake them after absorbing preferences from left-wing minor candidates, so that One Nation preferences decided the result between the Greens candidate, Kerry Nettle, and Democrats incumbent Vicki Bourne. These were directed to the Greens ahead of the Democrats in New South Wales, presenting Kerry Nettle with the irony of a Senate seat which she owed to the caprice of her most bitter ideological foes.
Current polling showing a drop in the Labor vote in New South Wales of about 5 per cent suggests Labor is in danger of losing its third seat to the Greens. However, the Greens stand to be robbed of Liberal preferences in significant numbers by the failure of the right-wing micro-parties to tightly preference each other, with Family First and the Christian Democrats going directly to the Coalition. This has scotched the possibility of preferences building up behind a single right-wing candidate and then flowing en masse to the Coalition upon their exclusion, pushing them well over a third quota and delivering most of the surplus to the Greens ahead of Labor. There is equally the possibility that the Coalition might achieve a third quota in their own right, which would likewise result in a very small surplus transfer to the Greens. The Greens will therefore need to keep the deficit of their own primary vote against Labor’s to about 25 per cent, which polling slightly favours them to do.
Labor’s ticket in 2004 raised a few eyebrows, with Steve Hutchins given top position at the expense of John Faulkner on the basis that he was in the Left rather than the Right. A senior front bencher and Senator since 1989, Faulkner served as Special Minister for State for the first half of the government’s term and as Defence Minister thereafter. His announcement that he would return to the back bench after the election, made shortly after the leadership change in late June, was widely see as a blow to the new leader. Faulkner now rises to the top of the ticket while Hutchins, who is demoted to number three. According to a prescient Canberra Times article from March, Mark Arbib wanted Hutchins removed altogether, but he was thwarted by ongoing support for Hutchins from the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. Gone altogether is the candidate elected from number three in 2004, Michael Forshaw, who made life easier for his party by announcing he would not seek another term in March. A report by Imre Salusinszky of The Australian suggested Forshaw was pushed as much as jumped, the result being determined by “a meeting of right-wing unions and party officials”. This created a vacancy for Matt Thistlethwaite, state party secretary and convenor of the NSW Right. Thistlethwaite had reportedly agreed to a quiet exit as state party secretary after he backed Frank Sartor rather than Kristina Keneally to depose Nathan Rees, on the condition that a Senate seat be made available to him. Between Thistlethwaite’s preselection and Hutchins’ refusal to make way, Graeme Wedderburn did not get the Senate seat he was promised when he was lured from the private sector to serve as chief-of-staff to Rees.
Since 1977 the Nationals have alternated between the unloseable second and shaky third positions, and this time in the cycle they take the third. The top two positions have been reversed from 2004, with then-newcomer Concetta Fierravanti-Wells rising at the expense of Bill Heffernan. Fierravanti-Wells is associated with the Right faction, and in particular with sub-faction leader and state upper house MP David Clarke. She was promoted to the shadow ministry in the ageing portfolio when Tony Abbott became leader in 2007. Bill Heffernan entered the Senate in 1996 and was long noted as John Howard numbers man and a social conservative, and also for his discredited claim under parliamentary privilege that High Court Justice Michael Kirby had been using his Commonwealth car to pick up male prostitutes. Heffernan’s position in the party appeared to be weakened with the end of the Howard era, and he needed the backing of Tony Abbott to ward off preselection challenges from David Miles, a public relations executive with Pfizer, and George Bilic, a Blacktown councillor. Nationals Senator Fiona Nash retains her third position on the ticket from 2004, from which she won a seat the party had not previously held. Nash served as a parliamentary secretary for three months in late 2008, before then-leader Malcolm Turnbull sacked her for crossing the floor in support of a Greens disallowance motion on tax breaks for carbon sinks.
The Greens candidate is Lee Rhiannon, who has emerged as the party’s leading figure in state parliament since she was first elected in 1999. Rhiannon’s parents were prominent Communist Party members, and she has been associated throughout her career with the party’s hard left tendency. Her preselection was opposed by Bob Brown, who favoured Nature Conservation Council executive director Cate Faehrmann.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.