Bigger Senate crossbench not as erratic

17 September 2016


The Turnbull Coalition Government scraped home to win this year’s Federal election, though the closeness of the result kept it on edge for many days.  Having a clear majority in the House of Representatives before the election, though not in the Senate, the Coalition ended up with the barest of majorities, in the form of two seats.

But while people might’ve been guessing whether or not the Coalition would win a majority in the House of Reps, or even lose the election altogether, nobody believed that the Coalition would win a majority in the Senate.  And indeed, just as was the case before the election, the Senate has crossbenchers holding the balance of power, meaning that whoever won the election would need some crossbench votes to get the Senate to pass legislation.  The difference after the election is that the Senate crossbench is bigger.

Of seventy-six seats in the Senate, the Coalition went into the election with thirty-three, and the Opposition, in the form of the Labor Party, had twenty-five.  The remaining seats were in the hands of crossbenchers, including the Greens, who held ten, plus eight other minor players.

The election has left the Coalition with thirty seats, equating to an overall loss of three seats, while Labor has gained one seat to go to twenty-six seats.  The Greens have fallen by one seat to a total of nine seats, with the number of other minor players rising from eight to eleven.  The Coalition used to need six crossbench votes to get its legislation through the Senate.  Now it needs nine crossbench votes.

While some people think that this bigger Senate crossbench will make life more difficult for the Coalition, I’m not convinced of that.  The crossbench might be bigger, but it’s not necessarily as erratic – at least as long as the Coalition plays its cards right.

My reasoning is that most people already know where various crossbenchers stand on various issues, because some of them have been in the spotlight for many years and others are affiliated with them.  If we know where these crossbenchers stand, it might be easier to understand how they might vote, although they’re likely to demand certain things in return for support on selected issues.

Apart from the Greens, the most significant of the Senate crossbenchers are Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon, who were big winners from the election.  Three Senators are aligned with Hanson, and two more are aligned with Xenophon.  And unless those affiliated Senators “break away” from either Hanson or Xenophon over the course of time, they mightn’t be so hard to predict in terms of their votes.

As has been widely noted, Hanson returns to Federal Parliament nearly two decades after a term in the House of Reps.  Elected in 1996 and then defeated in 1998, she’s since made several unsuccessful attempts to return, as well as to win seats in other parliaments at one time or another.  Now she’s back, and how.

In fact, she and her mob have won four Senate seats across three states.  She holds a seat in Queensland, and a running mate has also been elected there, with their games coming at the expense of crossbencher Glenn Lazarus and one Coalition Senator.

Outside Queensland, they’ve won a seat in New South Wales, at the expense of the Coalition.  And they’ve also won a seat in Western Australia, where Labor has also gained a seat to increase its overall Senate numbers, with crossbencher Dio Wang and one Coalition Senator defeated there.

Meanwhile, the popular Xenophon has held his Senate seat in South Australia, and two running mates have been elected there.  Their gains have come at the expense of the Greens and the Coalition.  But despite being immensely popular in that state, Xenophon has little traction with voters elsewhere, having fielded Senate candidates in other states but winning too votes to make much of an impact.

Another significant crossbencher elected to the Senate was former broadcaster Derryn Hinch, in Victoria.  The Coalition also gained a seat there.  These gains came at the expense of crossbenchers John Madigan and Ricky Muir.

There was no change in Senate numbers in Tasmania, or in the Australian Capital Territory or the Northern Territory.

Summing up how the major parties went, the Coalition lost one Senate seat apiece in four states, but gained a seat in Victoria, while Labor improved its numbers with a seat gained in Western Australia.

The Senate therefore has a bigger crossbench than before, so the Coalition needs more support from there to pass legislation.  How the Coalition manages to deal with these additional people remains to be seen, as well as how much it will tolerate.



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