This thread contains some general comments about the overall state of the Senate race and the campaign. There is one thing I want to make clear about the Senate race right now before I get any further:
We still have an extremely long way to go!
What we have at the moment are primary vote counts that are often little more than halfway complete and may still move around a lot based on votes still to be added. We have a new Senate voting system and no past-data experience of how voters use it. People are trying to pick from this which micro-parties might win seats when we don't know what the final votes are let alone what they mean.
I understand the media's desire to communicate information to readers, but this stuff is hugely complex and I just want people to accept that it is going to take a long time to know who will be winning particular seats, and in some cases we won't know what is going to happen until the pressing of The Button when all the votes have been entered.
The information required from scrutineering to adequately project the final counts would be vast even with full primaries, and we are nowhere near full primaries in most cases. Please expect me to be highly impatient with people seeking confident projections for the final few seats in most states or wanting to know if such-and-such-second-Green-candidate will win because all such projections are guesswork at best. Be very wary of models that purport to say which party on 2.3% will beat which party on 1.8% with a high level of confidence because all such models will be useless. Next time around we'll have a better idea of how this is going to work.
Over the last few years there was a lengthy debate about Senate reform which led to the Senate voting system being changed. The previous system of group ticket preferencing was abolished, giving voters back control of their own preferences. Defects of the old system had included:
* parties being elected off trivial primary vote shares based on complicated preference-gaming
* voters being unable to practically exercise control over their own preferences without laboriously numbering many dozen squares below the line
* parties having a strategic reason to deal with parties that were ideologically opposed to them, hence often causing themselves brand damage by sending preferences somewhere that they didn't want to go
* seats being decided by irrelevant tipping-point contests between parties with no chance of winning, creating a great risk of elections being voided due to errors
The new system has allowed voters to control their own preferences either above or below the line, but this also means that it is very much more difficult to project the outcome from the primary vote count. This is especially so as this is the first time we have had this system so we have no past preference flows to base modelling on.
During the Senate reform debate opponents of Senate reform, especially on the left, tried to argue that the model agreed to by the Coalition, Greens and Nick Xenophon would exterminate all micro-parties and leave only those groups and Labor standing. I repeatedly pointed out that this was rubbish, for instance showing in simulations that a double-dissolution held under the new system with the 2013 election votes would have returned nine micro-party and three NXT Senators, and that even at a half-Senate election under the new Senate system micros would have won some seats. It's possible even that those who played up these obviously silly claims have created a false belief that the new system was rigged against micros, and hence fuelled the micro-party vote and thus helped defeat their own prophecies.
Many who have sought a more representative Senate will now complain because the wrong people were elected. Whatever micro-parties win at this election will be winners on merit - because, in a race for twelve seats in their state, either they polled a substantial portion of a quota or else voters chose strongly to preference them. Moreover they will know that to get re-elected next time they need to keep faith with the voters who supported them and keep their primary votes at a decent level. Under the old system there was little accountability since getting back in at the end of the term had nothing to do with what vote you got but everything to do with the quality of your preference deals. Not surprisingly, the existing crossbench has struggled, with Xenophon and Lambie the only known winners, Leyonhjelm fighting for a seat, Lazarus and Day apparently struggling, Muir apparently defeated and Wang and Madigan polling ludicrous vote shares.
The surging micro-party vote: where did it come from?
At the time of the Senate reform debate most observers including me thought the large micro-party vote in the 2013 Senate was an aberration. A campaign pitting a disunified Labor government that had no idea how to campaign against an Opposition led by an unpopular and stridently right-wing Opposition Leader turned off voters in droves and caused them to flock to the populist gimmick party Palmer United, while in NSW voter confusion caused the Liberals to shed several percent to the Liberal Democrats. Palmer United crashed and burned and the use of logos fixed the LDP problem.
However, as it turns out, the micro-party vote (excluding NXT in South Australia) has increased in some states. In Victoria the total micro vote has jumped from 16.6 points to 24.9, in Queensland from 24.1 points to a crazy 31.5 (even with the loss of ten points of Palmer United), and in Tasmania from 18 points to 22.7. It is down in NSW from 26.5 to 24.5 (because of the LDP confusion issue last time), in South Australia from 17.9 to 12.1 and in Western Australia from 24.7 to 22.1 (LDP confusion also a factor in those two). It is also down in the NT (where Rise Up Australia have polled 7%, securing them about $10K of public funding) and roughly unchanged in the ACT.
Nationally, the overall "Others" vote is up only slightly in the Reps (12.88% from 12.42%) but it is up from 23.54% to 25.70% in the Senate. The demise of Palmer United has been cancelled out by the success of parties that are running more actively in the Senate than the Reps (especially One Nation and Derryn Hinch Justice Party). There is also an increase in the NXT vote because they are running in multiple states not just SA, and beyond this the level of support for other micros is nationally little changed.
When the possibility of Hanson winning was first mooted I thought it was overrated given One Nation's very poor results in 2013. Over time I reversed that ferret because of the nature of the campaign and a single strong seat poll for her party. The modern, rationalised campaign run by both major parties had absolutely no appeal to the sorts of people who might vote for right-wing populist outfits. There was a widespread view among analysts (which I shared to some degree, but didn't buy as strongly as some) that the Others vote was not going to stand up to its levels in Reps polling because there would be no-one on the Reps ballots worth voting for. It didn't matter - there was a substantial mood to vote for anyone at all except the big three. A good example was Tasmania, where the Recreational Fishers Party has recovered its deposit in three Reps seats but polled hardly anything in the Senate.
There is, predictably, a lot of stupid stuff about the new Senate system having caused the election of Pauline Hanson. With the vote she has achieved at this election she would have won under a double dissolution at the old system as well as the new system and she would very probably have won at a half-Senate election under either system.
There will be much focus now on the wisdom (or lack thereof) of going to a double dissolution. Senate voting had to be reformed before this election (or preference-gaming would have been permanently entrenched), but a half-Senate election could have had most of the old crossbench blocking the government's bills in revenge til 2020. The problem is really that rather than listening to why people were voting for micro-parties, the government's campaign tried to bully them with claims that their vote would be a vote for chaos and they should "stick to the plan" (the translation being that they were idiots for considering other parties). With the last two majority governments being wracked by infighting and instability, many voters were happy to vote for their preferred major party in the House but something else in the Senate.
And so whoever forms government will just have to get used to the difficult art of multi-party negotiation for now, until the next two half-Senate elections reduce the size of the crossbench.
How many crossbenchers will there be?
I've frequently pointed out that micro-party voters don't just all preference any other micro-party no matter what it is, they also preference bigger parties, and so as micro-parties are cut out under the new system, majors will get preferences as well. However, big parties can only get preferences while they still have candidates in the count. For this reason, on current primary votes it appears that at least eleven non-Greens crossbenchers will win, and possibly a few more. However if primary vote patterns change in late counting this might reduced. Given that a quarter of voters voted for micro-parties, but that voters for micro-parties don't necessarily like all other micro-parties, something in this range seems about fair representation.
I have a lengthy article about Tasmania, where the apparent trend towards 5 Labor 4 Liberal 2 Green 1 Lambie is complicated by apparently huge below the line voting rates and by voter rebellions against bad preselections by both major parties. This creates the possibility that the Liberals might snag a fifth seat at the expense of the Greens or Labor, and there is also the possibility of a right-wing micro-party sneaking into the mix.
In Queensland the primary count is only 50% (of enrolment) complete. On current primaries the LNP has four seats with a realistic chance of five, Labor has three seats with a realistic chance of four, and Hanson and the Greens have a seat. Numerous micro-parties (with the LDP currently leading) are fighting for at least one seat and any chance that might exist of winning a second off one of the majors. There's no point considering preferences for these until we have a more complete primary count.
In New South Wales the primary count is 57.7% complete by enrolment. On current primaries the Coalition has four seats and should win five, Labor has four and needs to lift to be in contention for five, the Greens have one and micro-parties appear to be fighting for two, with One Nation leading the Liberal Democrats and Christian Democrats and various others further back. Again we need a more complete primary count, especially as One Nation started very strongly in primary counting and might fall back.
In Victoria the primary count is 51% complete. The big parties have four seats each and would need to seriously lift to compete for a fifth. The Greens have one and are competitive for a second, and Derryn Hinch is short of a quota but would win easily. It's still possible the Coalition will take the final spot but if it doesn't there's a race on between a seething mass of micros and again, we need to see more primaries.
In South Australia the count is 60.7% done. On current primaries the Liberals have four, Labor three and most of a fourth, NXT would get three, and the Greens should hold their one. But depending on the strength of preferencing it's possible Family First can come up on Liberal preferences and challenge either the Greens or Labor.
In Western Australia the primary count is 57.2% done. On current primaries the Liberals have five and Labor appear comfortable for four. The Greens have one and are in the mix for a second, while at least one micro-party would win. One Nation has a handy lead on primaries at the moment in that race.
As usual there's nothing to see in the territories, with one seat for each major party.
The early indications are that this Senate could be similar to the previous one in balance. It's not that easy for Labor to get more than 27 seats or the Greens to get above nine (four of which are at some level of risk). The Coalition on a good day might manage 30 (or might not) so it's likely to need the support of most of a large number of micros to pass anything. However negotiation might be easier should the number of "moving pieces" be smaller, as would be the case if One Nation won multiple seats. On the other hand, the joint Coalition-Green majority looks rather shaky at this time. A Labor-Green blocking majority does not seem credible but if a left micro wins in Victoria then we might be close to that should things go well for the Greens.
Allocation to terms
Reports have surfaced that the major parties are already discussing how they will deal with the allocation of Senators to six-year and three-year terms. No doubt the tactical geniuses who convinced the ALP that Senate reform would cause a Coalition blocking majority are involved again. An article by Antony Green is compulsory reading on the subject of how this works, but beware: it is premised on much higher votes for the "big three" than have actually been recorded, and the conclusion that a micro-party that got a quota would only get a three-year term does not necessarily follow at all.
Here I will refer to two methods that have been used or canvassed in the past: the old method (in which Senators receive terms based on order of election) and the Section 282 method (in which a recount of the election for six places is held among the 12 candidates originally elected.) The AEC is required to conduct a Section 282 recount but the Senate is under no compulsion to adopt it.
It's been patently clear that either those having the discussions or the journalists they're talking to don't actually understand the Section 282 method, since it would not lead to a freeze-out of minor party seats (eg Labor would probably only get two six-year terms in Queensland, and on current primaries Hanson might well get one).
Derryn Hinch is complaining about the Section 282 method, but he would certainly get a three-year term under the old method, whereas he would have some chance at least of a six-year term under the Section 282 method.
It is too early to say what the Section 282 method would produce (especially in Tasmania where we don't even know which major party candidates will win or in what order). We don't even know which Senators are going to be re-elected, and modelling the outcome of the Section 282 method (which was ignored the only time its result was previously determined) would be difficult enough even with that information. Beyond some kind of tentative agreement that they might work together, it would make more sense for the major parties to just wait until the result of the Section 282 method is known.
The other thing to bear in mind is that the Senate can allocate the terms however it likes. The big parties could in theory conspire and give all the Greens and micro-parties three year terms if they wanted to, but this would not be well received.
I am not sure how much more coverage of the non-Tasmanian Senate races I'll find time for, but those are some general comments that I hope will do until the primary counts are more complete, at least.
Vote Mixup In WA
In Western Australia (of course) there has been a potentially significant problem in the division of Pearce with 105 voters being given Victorian Senate ballot papers. As a result their votes have been deemed informal. Fortunately under the new Senate system the risk of a micro-close result in which such an error could alter the outcome is very much lower, but it still could happen. Should a Senate seat be decided by fewer than this number of votes, the losing candidate could petition to have the election cancelled and rerun on the grounds that had these voters been given the correct ballot papers they might (in theory) have voted for the losing candidate.
The difference with the 2013 vote-loss situation is that the close tipping point that decided the election was between two irrelevant parties that could not possibly win a seat. Had one of them been excluded at a certain point instead of the other, the consequential group ticket flows would have changed the order of two seats. In this system, the order of exclusion of irrelevant parties generally won't alter the final outcome, but another form of tipping point is still possible. The following are cases under which the loss of this number of votes could affect the outcome:
* the margin for the final seat is within 105 votes.
* a candidate is excluded at some point by 105 votes or less and would have won had they not been then excluded.
* a tipping point is created because an elected candidate either crosses quota at a given point by 105 votes or less, or fails to cross quota at a given point by 105 votes or less. In the first case the preferences of whoever put them over the line become diluted in the candidate's surplus, while in the second they continue at their existing value. This can have an impact on the final outcome that is much larger than 105 votes.
We will probably have to wait until the press of "the button" to see if there is any ground for an appeal based on this situation, though a margin that close might well be recounted anyway.