Disaster Looming for Turnbull Government in the Senate

 At a Glance

In an effort to get rid of the micro party Senators and end Senate obstructionism the Prime Minister called the first Double Dissolution election since 1987 on the 8th May.

Having changed the Senate voting system to help achieve this, the Senate composition is unlikely to change significantly and the Government may actually face a more challenging Senate after 2 July.

Predicting the final outcome of the Senate is near impossible, given the new Senate voting system.  The following can be said with some certainty though:

  • The Government is unlikely to win more Senate seats and could actually lose some
  • The ALP at best could pick up 2-3 seats to add to the 25 they currently have
  • The Greens will likely lose between 1 and 3 seats
  • Nick Xenophon is on track to win 3 Senate seats in SA
  • It won’t be the death of the micro party and they are likely to win between 4-9 Senate seats
  • Those elected to include, Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania, probably Glenn Lazarus from Queensland, Bob Day being a chance in SA and David Leyomhjelm can’t be ruled out from NSW

Contrary to the intention of the Government in holding the double dissolution election, it will once again have to rely upon the Senate crossbench to support its legislative agenda.

 For a business community looking for more certainly and stability in regards to the Senate, they will be disappointed.


The nation is going to the polls on 2 July in the first double dissolution election since 1987.  This was as a result of Senate obstructionism of the Turnbull Government’s legislative agenda and dysfunction caused by the election of 8 crossbench Senators in 2013.

The Governments solution-  change the Senate voting system and call a double-dissolution election.

While this is the stated aim of the Government, it will fail! The new Senate composition is unlikely to change but may well be worse for the Government.

 The Current Numbers

 Following the 2013 election when the new Senators took their seats on 1 July 2014 the Senate composition was as follows:

Table 1

Note: Majority required is 39

Following the implosion of Palmer United, there was only one aligned PUP Senator left Dio Wang from WA, with both Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania and Glenn Lazarus in Queensland forming their own parties, making for 8 individual crossbench Senators.

The Government was continually frustrated by the Senate crossbench, as it required the support of 6 out of 8 crossbenchers to get anything passed in the Senate, when both the ALP and Greens combined to oppose the Government.

What Happens in a Double Dissolution Election in regards to the Senate?

In a normal federal election when all 150 House of Representatives seats are up for re-election only half the Senate faces re-election, being 6 Senators per State and 2 each from the ACT and NT.

In a double dissolution election all 12 Senators from each State face re-election.

The impact for the major parties is that, to win at least half of the Senate seats (6) in any one state, a higher percentage of the primary vote is required than in a half Senate election.

For example, in a half Senate election the percentage required to win one seat is 14.28%, meaning in order to get at least half the seats (3) in a State requires a primary vote of 42.85%.

On the other hand, in a double dissolution election, while the Senate percentage required to get elected halves to 7.7%, in order to win at least half of the seats (6) requires a vote of 46.2%.

Previously, the LNP has won 3 out 6 Senators over two election cycles giving it 6 Senators in the States of WA, NSW and Queensland.

2013 was not such a good year for the major parties due to the rise of the micro parties. Similarly, 2016 will see the Government struggle to get 46% of the vote required to win 6 of 12 Senators in any one State.

The change in Senate voting makes its difficult to predict the final Senate numbers.  However, it’s unlikely the Governments objective of wiping out the crossbench will be fulfilled.

House of Reps (H) versus Senate (S) Voting Difference – 2013 Election Results


Referring to the table above, it highlights that for the Government, their House of Representatives vote is consistently higher than their Senate vote, and 2013 was a record primary vote for the Government.

From this it can be determined, that people who voted for the Government in the lower house didn’t automatically transfer their support to the Government in the Senate.

NSW is a classic example where the Liberal Democratic Party was elected to the Senate, some claim on the basis of name confusion, costing the Liberal Party a Senate seat.

It is worth noting, the significant difference in SA for both major parties.  This is due to Nick Xenophon who polled 25% of the SA Senate vote in 2013.

With the published polls showing the Government primary vote for the House of Representatives around 42%, this is about 4% lower than in 2013.  This means the Government Senate vote in 2016 will in probability be lower than what it was in 2013.

Senate Voting Changes – Likely to Backfire

The Government currently hold 33 Senate seats comprised as follows:


The Government requires 46% of the Senate vote in any state to win 6 Senators.

In 2016 support for the Government in the Senate in most states will likely be a primary vote in the high 30% or low 40%.  South Australia will be an exception for both major parties due to Nick Xenophon.

For example, to secure 5 Senate seats for any party would require 38.5% of the Senate primary vote.

The Government will very probably secure 5 Senate seats in Qld and WA, stands a reasonable chance of doing so in Victoria and NSW, is a chance in Tasmania and will likely only secure 4 Senate seats in SA.

If the 2013 election had of been a double dissolution election the following table shows the number of Senate seats that would have been won by each of the parties.


The Abbott Government which won the 2013 election in a landslide with a strong House of Reps primary vote, is unlikely to win 6 Senators in any state in 2016.  Yet the Turnbull Government enters the election with 6 Senators up for re-election in 3 States, Qld, WA and NSW.

If the current published polling data is to be believed, the Governments primary vote will be lower than in 2013.  The table below presents a best estimate of the likely Senate outcome.

Likely Senate Outcome


The Governments Senate voting changes were intended to rid the Senate of micro-party Senators is unlikely to stop the re-election of micro parties.

If the 2013 Senate vote is used as a guide, there are 4-9 Senate seats available to other parties than the Government, ALP, Greens and Nick Xenophon.

While the new Senate voting rules prevent party preference deals, a candidate who achieves anywhere between 3 and 5% of the Senate primary vote stands a good chance of getting elected.

The race for the 11th and 12th seats in many States will essentially become a competition between micro parties, to see which of those parties can win a seat with a small percentage of the primary vote.

Historically, 20-25% of the electorate vote for non-major party candidates in the Senate, it is safe to assume then, that there will be micro party candidates elected to the Senate.

 South Australia – A Special Case

It has to be said that South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon deserves a special mention because of the ‘Xenophon factor’, that being that he polls extremely well in SA.

Despite polling 25% of the Senate vote 2013, he only secured 1 Senate seat under the old voting system, yet Ricky Muir in Victoria with 0.5% of the vote also secured 1 Senate seat.

With 7.7% of the vote required to win a Senate seat in a double dissolution election and Xenophon’s vote likely still to be strong, he is on course to win 3 Senate seats in his own right and be a key crossbench player.

Bob Day is a Family First Senator from SA, and if he can poll 3-4% of the primary vote in his own right, he also stands a good chance of being re-elected.


Malcolm Turnbull and the Government sought to change the Senate voting rules and call a double dissolution election to make legislating in a new Senate that much easier.

What is clear is that the new Senate voting rules and likely outcome in the Senate will at best lead to similar Senate outcome to one Malcolm Turnbull committed to get rid of, but more than likely a Senate outcome where legislating becomes that much more difficult.

For more information in regards to the Senate or any other public affairs issue you may require assistance with, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Jody Fassina |Insight Strategy |Director

W: (02) 9238 1944

M: (0405) 103 493


4 thoughts on “SENATE 2016– DISASTER IN THE MAKING?

  1. Very interesting Jody – wondering what you make of Pauline Hansen’s party – she seems to have a number of candidates for the Senate.
    If she a force? A replacement for PUP factor at this election?


    1. I think Hanson is a chance in Qld. She probably only needs 3-4% of the Senate vote to be in the running for the 11 or 12th Senate seat. I can see Glenn Lazarus as the stronger candidate, but wouldn’t rule out both being elected for those last 2 seats


    1. Thanks Dominic. I had to do some research. I think with any new micro party the challenge is name recognition and grabbing the attention of the voters
      in an already crowded field. That’s why I think Pauline Hanson in Qld and Derryn Hinch in Victoria both have a chance. They have strong brand recognition.


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