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Take a look at the Senate

May 18, 2022 - 09:30 -- Admin

As is always the case, the election campaign has been very much focused on the House of Representatives. But there are some interesting potential outcomes in the Senate.

In short, I think the Coalition is in danger of losing a senate seat in at least four states and the ACT (probably not New South Wales or South Australia). The Greens have good prospects of gaining seats off the right in Queensland and off Labor in New South Wales, and may win a seat in South Australia depending on the strength of support for Nick Xenophon. Most states will elect two Labor and one Greens, with the possible exceptions of South Australia, where they may just win two, and Tasmania and Western Australia where I think there are slim chances they could win four seats between them.

While I don’t know who would win the seat, I also think the door is open for minor parties of the right to defeat the third Liberal in Victoria or Western Australia, while they are competing for the third seat with Nick Xenophon in South Australia, Jacqui Lambie’s ally Tammy Tyrrell in Tasmania, and a number of right-wing threats including Pauline Hanson, Clive Palmer and Campbell Newman in Queensland.

New South Wales

Labor and the Coalition are each defending three seats. The last election saw the Coalition win three seats, Labor two and the Greens one.

It seems likely that the Greens will gain a seat off Labor, and polling would need to substantially be understating the Labor position for the left to win a combined four seats, leaving the Coalition with two and Labor with three.

It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Coalition could also lose their third seat to a right wing minor party like One Nation or the United Australia Party. One Nation ended up on about two thirds of a quota in 2019 – a swing of about 5% would probably see them pick up the third right-wing seat.

Victoria

The Coalition is defending three seats, alongside two Labor and one Greens. The last election produced the same result, and that outcome is also the most likely in 2022.

It seems unlikely that Labor can win a third seat, with polls suggesting Labor making relatively small gains here.

There may also be some prospect of the Coalition losing their third seat. If that takes place, a minor party candidate from One Nation, United Australia or the Liberal Democrats could have a chance, or potentially even Derryn Hinch.

Queensland

The Liberal National Party is defending three seats, along with two Labor and one from One Nation. The last election elected three LNP and one each from Labor, One Nation and the Greens.

One of the most plausible opportunities for the left to gain a Senate seat would see the left (likely the Greens) pick up one of the right-wing seats. I estimate they would need a combined swing of about 3.1% for the Greens to pick up a seat without taking away one of the two Labor seats. This is quite achievable considering current polling.

This then sets up a race for the third right-wing seat between Pauline Hanson, third LNP senator Amanda Stoker, UAP founder Clive Palmer and former premier Campbell Newman, running for the Liberal Democrats.

It’s hard to say how Palmer will go. He may break through with a bigger vote in different political circumstances to 2019, but Hanson seems like the favourite. I think Stoker will be hurt by a decline in the LNP vote.

Western Australia

The Liberal Party is defending three seats, with Labor defending two and the Greens one. The 2019 election produced the same result.

The main question is whether the Liberal Party will lose their third seat, and then whether there’s a chance for Labor to pick up a third seat at their expense, or if the seat may go to a right-wing minor party.

The Liberal Party polled 40.9% in the Senate in 2019, but Bludgertrack suggests the Liberal primary vote is down over 8%, putting them around 32-33%. That doesn’t leave much after electing two senators.

The polling average has Labor’s primary vote up 8.8% but it hasn’t impacted on the Greens primary vote, who are up 0.8%. That’s two thirds of a quota in extra votes on the left. If you add that to the primary votes in the Senate for those two parties in 2019, it’s 49%, which is 3.43 quotas. So it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that the left could win four seats.

Alternatively, the UAP or One Nation could get ahead of the third Liberal and win.

South Australia

The Liberal and Labor parties are each defending two seats. The other two seats were originally won by the Nick Xenophon Team in 2016: Stirling Griff, who is now a member of the Centre Alliance; and Rex Patrick, who filled Nick Xenophon’s vacancy in 2018 and later became an independent.

The big question at this election is what happens with those two former NXT seats.

Nick Xenophon announced a late candidacy, with Griff running as his running mate.

While the last Xenophon campaign, for the 2018 South Australian state election, was seen as a failure, he still polled 19.4% for the upper house, compared to 21.8% in the 2016 federal election and 24.9% in 2013.

So the big question is how much of a vote Xenophon can poll after four years out of politics. It seems likely that he will retain a lot of his previous support, enough to reach a single 14.3% quota. It’s also not out of the realm of possibilities that he could poll sufficiently to be in with a chance of winning a second seat for his running mate Griff. His 24.9% vote in 2013 was not enough to win two seats, but that was due to unfavourable preferences under the group voting ticket system – it would likely be enough under the current system.

All of this makes it hard to know what will happen with the remaining seats. If Xenophon wins one seat in the current environment it seems likely the remaining seats will split as two for Labor, two for Liberal and one for the Greens. If he wins two, it seems most likely that the remaining seats will split as two for the left and two for the right, particularly since South Australia does not appear to be on track for a particularly large swing to the left. I wouldn’t rule out a possible outcome, however, of 2 Labor, 2 Xenophon, 1 Liberal and 1 Greens.

Tasmania

The Liberal Party is defending three seats, Labor is defending two and the Greens are defending one. At the last election, the Labor and Liberal parties each retained two seats, with the Greens retaining one seat and Jacqui Lambie regaining her seat.

Labor and the Greens should easily retain their seats, and the Liberal Party’s first two should be safe.

The big question is how the Jacqui Lambie Network performs. Lambie herself is not up for election, but JLN is running Tammy Tyrrell. JLN polled 8.9% in 2019. If the party’s vote was much lower, they would have trouble winning a seat.

If the Lambie vote is not high enough to retain that seat, the question will be about where that vote goes. You would expect a swing to Labor, making it hard for the Liberals to win a third seat, but a 4-2 split would be a big deal and the Liberal Party would do better from the remaining preferences if they can offset a general swing by winning back Lambie voters.

Australian Capital Territory

The territory Senate contests are different due to the election of just two senators. In the entire history of territory Senate elections, there has never been a result other than one Labor and one Liberal (or Country Liberal in the NT) senator.

There have been numerous pushes over the year from parties like the Democrats and the Greens to defeat the Liberal senator in the ACT without any success.

Recent polling suggests independent candidate David Pocock is in the strongest position of any of the challengers, although I don’t take exact polling figures too seriously.

The challenge for a candidate in winning the seat currently held by Seselja is similar in the Liberal House of Representatives races where independents are challenging. The challenger needs to peel away enough votes to make it to the final round of the count, in this case staying ahead of the Greens, the second Labor candidate and other independents, but then also win over enough Liberal voters to defeat the Liberal in the final count.

Overall it seems plausible that a decline in the Liberal vote in current circumstances could see Seselja lose.

Northern Territory

There is no realistic prospect of a change in the Northern Territory from the current split of one Labor and one Country Liberal.