8 June 2004

Ben Oquist on the 'Magic 38'

Only half the Senate is elected at a normal Federal election. So eighteen Coalition Senators elected in 2001 will not face election this time around. As a result of their success in the previous election, the Coalition only needs to win 20 out of 40 senators up for re-election. They will only need to equal their 2001 performance - three Senate seats in each state and one in each territory - and they will reach the �Magic 38.�

To win three seats in any state requires only 42.2 percent of the vote after preferences are distributed. Even if the Coalition loses the election, a vote of that magnitude is more than likely. In fact they may well need a much lower primary vote than that. In each State, the last Senate seat is usually won by a candidate with much less than a full quota.

Normally the Coalition is assured of one Senator in each territory (where there are only 2 spots contested unlike the 6 in each State) but this time the Greens Kerrie Tucker is mounting a substantial challenge to the incumbent Liberal Senator in the ACT. Kerrie Tucker could very easily be the best chance to deny the Coalition their �Magic 38� seats.

The analysis is wrong in a couple of details. I am looking up the distribution of retiring Coalition senators by state. The Coalition does not have precisely 3 senators retiring in each state. The numbers are:

  • NSW ALP 3, Lib 2, AD 1
  • QLD ALP 2, Lib 2, AD 1, PHON 1
  • SA ALP 2, Lib 3, APA/AD 1
  • TAS ALP 2, Lib 2, Ind 2
  • VIC ALP 3, Lib 2, NP 1
  • WA ALP 2, Lib 3, AD 1

The real shift in the Senate at this election is likely to be Greens replacing Democrats and the return of the Meg Lees seat to the Democrats. The Greens have a chance at the Democrat seats in New South Wales and Western Australia. Labor has a reasonable chance of one of the independent seats in Tasmania and the PHPON seat in Queensland. I really cannot see the Coalition holding all its seats everywhere in the context of a Labor victory. The one thing I am sure will not change is the Territory senators who will remain Coalition 2, Labor 2.

Promoting an unlikely Green electoral victory in the ACT is not going to save Australia from the Greens' Magic 38. Moreover the Greens have a long and undistinguished record of cutting deals with the Coalition to secure 'maximal' Green objectives at the expense of broader social concerns. The classic examples are the Natural Heritage Trust, by which a tranche of Telstra was privatised in return for a boost to environmental spending that proved to be largely illusory, and their difficult relationship with the former minority Labor government in Tasmania.

The Oquist article also misunderstands how Senate elections, especially the last seat, are decided in each state. Distribution of preferences continues until 6 candidates have a quota (there is a technical exception but it's not relevant). The last senator elected needs precisely the same quota as the first senator.

Tip via Ari on the Web.

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