Close strengths of the third kind

20 January 2017


Results of elections sometimes make people wonder what impact they’ll have on future elections.  And one question to come out of a Federal election last year relates to the Senate, where the Coalition Government needs support of crossbenchers to get laws passed.  The next election isn’t due until 2019, so the Government almost certainly has two more years of negotiating and persuading ahead as it seeks to implement its policies.

The Government holds only a tiny majority in the House of Representatives, which makes governing hard enough.  Having to negotiate with Senate crossbenchers makes it harder still.  We’ve seen in the past how negotiating and persuading and making deals put off many politicians, not to mention the voters.  But they have to learn to live with it somehow.

In terms of last year’s election, there were mixed fortunes for Senators generally, and for crossbenchers in particular.  Some lost their seats, but more were elected, so the number of Senate crossbenchers grew from eighteen to twenty, out of seventy-six available.  The Coalition won thirty seats, and the Labor Party won twenty-six.

As far as the Senate vote was concerned, the Coalition finished first and Labor second in every state.  But different minor players finished behind them in third.  At least in terms of merely finishing third, the Greens fared best, beaten by others in only two of six states, namely Queensland and South Australia, where Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon were respectively the best of the rest.

Xenophon was by far the most outstanding of the minor players, as he and his mob won about 21.8 per cent of the vote in South Australia.  More than one in five South Australians voted for him.  So strong was this vote that Xenophon had two running mates elected to the Senate on his coattails.

The Greens finished third in four states, winning about 11.2 per cent of the vote in Tasmania, 10.9 per cent in Victoria, 10.5 per cent in Western Australia, and 7.4 per cent in New South Wales.  In Queensland, it was Hanson and her mob finishing third with about 9.2 per cent of the vote.

Already you can see how astonishing the appeal of Xenophon was – at least in South Australia.  His share of the vote in that state was about twice as big as that for the next best of those finishing third elsewhere, namely for the Greens in Tasmania.

Also, the vote for Xenophon was astonishing in terms of those finishing third and fourth in each state.  In South Australia, the Greens finished fourth behind Xenophon with abour 5.9 per cent of the vote – less than a third of what Xenophon got.  In no other state was the gap between third and fourth as big as that.  Additionally, I note that the share of the vote for the Greens in South Australia was similar to that in Victoria for controversial broadcaster Derryn Hinch, who finished fourth behind the Greens in that state.  And in Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie and her mob finished fourth behind the Greens with about 8.3 per cent of the vote.

Interestingly, the Greens won a similar share of the vote across three states, and Hanson’s share of the vote in Queensland was not much smaller.  I suspect that if not for Xenophon, the vote for the Greens in South Australia would’ve been similar to what it was in other states, though it might’ve been a little bigger in Tasmania if not for Lambie.

In this context, when you look at these third players, their strengths appear similar across the states, even though they’re at different ends of the spectrum.  I’m tempted to play on a film title and describe this as a case of close strengths of the third kind.

The next election won’t involve some of these Senate crossbenchers, because of how Parliament is constituted.  It’s been decided that of each state’s twelve Senators elected last year, the first six elected will have the next election off, and will instead face the voters at the election after next, due in about 2022.  Seven crossbenchers are among those to have won enough votes to earn the next election off.  The other thirteen crossbenchers will face the voters at the next election.  Xenophon and one of his running mates, Stirling Griff, will have the next election off, as will both Hanson and Lambie, along with three of the nine Greens in the Senate.

Some in the Government will be relieved to see off more than a few crossbenchers at the next election.  But those remaining will still have to be dealt with.



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