With the date for the 2019 Federal Election finally announced for 18 May, the Senate race will be an important contest which will have implications for the passage of policy for the next government, with half of the senators elected at the 2016 double dissolution election scheduled to contest the 2019 Federal Election.

At the 2016 double dissolution election, a lower threshold for election of individual senators led to an influx of minor parties and crossbench candidates entering the 45th Parliament. This led to the election of a record number of crossbenchers.

This year’s half-Senate election will likely lead to a rebalancing back towards the major parties as many of the crossbench senators who just achieved the required number of votes in 2016 (due to the nature of a double dissolution election) are up for re-election this year.

Approximately three-quarters of the crossbench (including the Greens) will face re-election at this year’s election.

With Greens members making up six of the twelve crossbench senators facing re-election, it remains to be seen what this election will mean for their power in the Senate.

Other key senators facing re-election include:

  • Senator Derryn Hinch (Derryn Hinch Justice Party)
  • Senator Peter Georgiou (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation)
  • Senator Fraser Anning (Independent)
  • Senator Brian Burston (United Australia Party)
  • Senator Tim Storer (Independent), and
  • Senator Duncan Spender (Liberal Democrats).

HOW DO SENATE ELECTIONS WORK?

The Senate, which was established as a ‘House of Review’, is made up of 12 senators from each state and two senators from each territory. In the states, senators are elected for a six-year term with half of the senators facing re-election at each standard election. The two senators representing each of the territories face re-election at every standard election.

As a result, at a half-Senate election, six Senate seats in each state and the two Senate seats in each territory will be contested.

For a Senate candidate to be elected at the 2019 Federal Election, they will have to achieve approximately one-seventh of the total number of votes for that state. This is known as a quota.

The 2016 double dissolution election differed from this standard process due to all senators facing election. This election will reset the Senate electoral cycle as any senator who is elected at the 2019 election will receive a six-year term, as is normal with a half-Senate election and therefore would not face re-election until the 2025 election, assuming that the next two Parliaments run for full terms.

HOW MANY VOTES TO ELECT A SENATOR

A quota is determined by taking the total number of electors in a state or territory and dividing it by the number of senators that are to be elected, plus one.

The purpose of having an equal number of senators for each state was so that each state had an equal voice.

This has provided for a long-standing point of debate, as it is perceived to gives voters in the smaller states a more powerful vote than those in the larger states.

For example, at the last half-Senate election which occurred in 2013, the number of votes required to elect a Tasmanian senator was approximately 48,000 while the number of votes required to elect a NSW senator was approximately 625,000.

THE SENATE BALLOT PAPER AND THE ALLOCATION OF PREFERENCES

For Senate elections, voters receive as ballot paper on which they can either vote above the line by party only, or vote below the line by individual candidate.

When voting above the line, parties decide the order in which their candidates are allocated the votes. Once the first candidate on their ticket has achieved a single quota, the excess vote is then transferred to the next candidate on the party ticket.

Senators who do not receive a full quota are sequentially eliminated starting with the candidate with the least votes.

Where a candidate is eliminated, their votes are transferred to other candidates based on the individual voter’s preferences.

This means that senators that do not achieve a quota in their own right may still be elected if there is a sufficient preference flow towards them from other candidates.

STATE-BY-STATE

Over the coming weeks keep your eyes peeled as we will be doing a ‘state of play’ for each of the states’ and territories’ Senate contests.

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