Australia:How the Senate ferals will survive Malcolm Turnbull’s double dissolution


Malcolm Turnbull has said he wants a cleanout and to start afresh but whether that will happen is questionable.

Tony Abbott called them “feral” and Malcolm Turnbull reckons they’re a “disgrace” and an “embarrassment”.

The Senate crossbench has copped a lot of flak and Turnbull wants to clear them out and start anew.

But while his July 2 double-dissolution election will certainly shake things up in the upper house, will it actually make life any easier for the government? Turns out there’s a pretty good chance it won’t.

Hold on. What even is this double dissolution thingy anyway?

Yeah, first things first.

A double-dissolution election is one aimed at breaking a legislative deadlock by putting all 76 senators up for re-election, rather than the usual 38. If the government is returned it can then put its legislation to a joint sitting of both houses, meaning there’s a decent chance it will have the numbers to pass it.

  1. So what’s going to happen in this election?

Well, first a disclaimer: it is notoriously difficult to predict how things will pan out in the Senate. That’s compounded this time around because it’s a DD and because it’s the first election under the government’s new optional preferential voting system, which means voters have more control over their preferences and the system can’t be gamed.

However, there are a couple of things we can say with some confidence.

First, no matter who wins the election neither the Coalition nor Labor will be able to achieve a Senate majority. So whether it’s Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten, they’re going to have to negotiate to get their bills through.

The Greens will remain a major force in the upper house and, yes, there will still be a crossbench. In fact, we could end up with roughly the same number of crossbenchers we have now.

Wait, what? But I thought they were all going to get wiped out?

That was one theory doing the rounds but it doesn’t really hold up when you crunch the numbers.

While some of the crossbenchers elected on tiny votes in 2010 or 2013 will almost certainly get the boot, others will actually benefit from the double dissolution because the quota to get elected is halved.

There’s a good chance we’ll also see some new faces, like Human Headline Derryn Hinch. A recent analysis by the progressive Australia Institute, based on polling by ReachTEL and Research Now, concluded we’ll end up with at least five and possibly as many as nine crossbenchers.

But that revhead motoring guy is toast right?

Yep. Ricky Muir has been called the “accidental senator” for a reason: he attracted just 0.5 per cent of the Victorian Senate vote in 2013, but an arcane preference deal somehow got him elected.

Under the new rules he’s got no chance. Which is sort of a shame because he turned out to be a top bloke.

There are a couple of others who have very little hope of re-election, most notably Victoria’s John Madigan. Family First’s Bob Day and Libertarian David Leyonhjelm will have only an outside chance.

Which is actually not a good thing for Turnbull, given Day and Leyonhjelm usually side with the Coalition.

Incidentally, Leyonhjelm has done his own modelling based on the 2013 election result that suggests he will survive – and could be joined by up to 11 other crossbenchers.

Hold on. You forgot about that crazy Tasmanian woman and the footballer.

No, I didn’t. The two Palmer United Party defectors – Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus – actually have a decent chance of getting back in.

Lambie in particular has a high profile and strong support on her native island. At this point, she’s considered a lock for re-election.

Lazarus will have to fight a bit harder and it may come down to how well he campaigns. But he is a rugby league legend in Queensland, so you definitely can’t count him out.

The one senator who has stuck by Clive Palmer – West Australia’s Dio Wang – will probably join his leader on the political scrapheap.

Wow. We’re forgetting someone though, aren’t we?

Yeah, but soon no one will be able to forget Nick Xenophon’s name.

Xenophon’s been around since 2008 but now he’s building an empire. He’s so popular in his native South Australia he’ll easily get back in and he’ll bring at least one friend from the Nick Xenophon Team with him.

Actually, he’ll probably bring two – and maybe even three!

For him, the double dissolution and the new voting rules are manna from heaven. If all goes to plan he’ll soon be one of the most powerful people in the country.

All right, so what’s the new Senate likely to look like then?

Again, approach this with caution but here’s the best estimate: the Coalition between 30 and 35 seats; Labor between 25 and 28; the Greens 9; and between five and nine ferals. Sorry, minor party or independents.

Which is basically the same as it is now! Currently, the Coalition has 33, Labor 25, the Greens 10 and others eight.

Ok, just tell me: is this good for the government or not?

Potentially not, actually.

Turnbull reckons any fresh start with the Senate is a good thing but he may soon be wishing for the motley crew we’ve got now.

Consider this scenario: some combination of Xenophon, Lambie and Lazarus end up with the balance of power. They also happen to be three crossbenchers who in the current Parliament vote with the government the least: Xenophon 29 per cent of the time, Lambie 18 per cent and Lazarus 13 per cent.

Meanwhile the guys usually inclined to help the government out – Day, Leyonhjelm and Wang – are gone.

All of which means Turnbull may have no easier time in the new Parliament than he does in the current one.

Mind you, if Bill Shorten wins the election he might have an even harder time. Under the most likely scenarios he’d have to get the Greens, Xenophon and some other crossbenchers on side.

So it’s going to be a mess, basically?

Democracy. Isn’t it wonderful?

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