Smaller quotas to aid minor players

19 June 2016


Much speculation of late has revolved around what the result of next month’s Federal election might be.  About this time last year, when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister but very unpopular, polls were widely showing that he’d lose the next election.  After he was dumped in favour of Malcolm Turnbull in a Liberal leadership coup a few months later, the polls pointed to a clear win for Turnbull.  But now the election is up in the air.

Few were predicting that Turnbull, a figure more immensely popular than Abbott, would fall from a seemingly unassailable lead over the Opposition to potentially losing, as Abbott looked like doing, within a matter of months.  And I dare say that nobody was predicting the Labor Party, having lost office in a big way to the Liberal-National Coalition after years of turmoil and problems, would ever be within striking distance of victory.

It’s also remarkable to think that, after the tumultuous years of a hung parliament from 2010 to 2013, the country would look like going down that road again.  But now it looks like it might just happen.

What probably won’t happen, however, is a majority in the Senate for whoever wins the election.  Only once since the 1980s has anybody won a majority in the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, the latter of these two chambers being where governments are formed.

Seeing the Senate with crossbenchers holding the balance of power is nothing new in Australian politics.  And the last Federal election, in 2013, saw no fewer than eighteen crossbenchers among the seventy-six Senators to take their seats as a result.

Normally, there’d be six Senators per state facing the voters at election time.  But various things have meant that at this coming election, all Senators in every state and territory will face the voters.  There’ll be twelve Senators per state and two per territory.

Because Senators are elected on the basis of how much of the vote their parties win in each state or territory, those in the states would normally need just over a seventh of the statewide vote in order to win a seat.  But now they need just over a thirteenth.  To explain why this is so, I’ll use a different setting to illustrate how it works.

You could imagine a community group of exactly one hundred people, needing to elect a representative council of four people, and having five people seeking to be among those four.  Because five into four won’t go, you’d need an election.  All five candidate could win the same number of votes – twenty each, or a hundred divided by five.  But you’d still have no result.  However, if one candidate gains a vote to go to twenty-one votes, and another candidate loses a vote to fall to nineteen votes, while the other three candidate still have twenty votes each, there’d then be a result.  The candidate with the least votes, in this case nineteen votes, is defeated, while the candidate with twenty-one votes and the three candidates with twenty votes each will win those four council spots.  And the total of twenty-one votes becomes known as a quota, which a candidate must fill in order to secure a spot.

Using this case as an example, the way to work out how many votes you need is to divide the total vote by a number which is one more than the number of seats actually up for grabs, and then add one vote to that divided total.  And while the number of seats might vary from election to election, this process remains the same.

Therefore, with twelve Senate seats up for grabs in each state in this coming Federal election, just over a thirteenth of the statewide vote will be required to fill a quota and win a seat in the Senate.  In percentage terms, the Senate quota equates to about 7.7 per cent of the vote.

To win more than a single seat, here’s a guide to rough percentages.  Roughly 15.4 per cent of the vote will earn a second seat, 23.1 per cent will earn a third seat, 30.8 per cent will earn a fourth seat, 38.5 per cent will earn a fifth seat, and 46.2 per cent will earn a sixth seat.

Naturally, these smaller quotas will act to aid minor players in their efforts to win Senate seats at this election.  Some currently there will win, and some will lose.

Governments might’ve complained about crossbench Senators in the past.  But they have to learn to live with them.  This coming election will probably be no different.



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