Things could have gone even better for the coalition in the
election, writes Peter Brent.
From July next year, John Howard will almost certainly become the
first prime minister since 1981 to control the Senate. But his
probable majority of 39 out of 76 senators could easily have
Attempting to follow the Senate count is diabolically difficult,
but the concepts aren't.
The basic unit is the quota.
Imagine an election for one member in a seat using a simple vote
with no preferences. What would be the minimum support a candidate
needed to guarantee a win? Half, of course. And if two seats were on
offer, and they went to candidates with the two highest votes?
Then one-third of the vote would do. If you got that, one other
contender could get more than you, but two couldn't. If there were
three seats, 25 per cent would be enough, and so on.
That's the quota: add one to the number of seats and divide into
Senators are elected for two terms, usually at a half-Senate
election, when six seats are filled per state, and the quota is 14.3
per cent. But in a double-dissolution (DD), all 12 seats are up, and
the quota is 7.7 per cent.
Two DD quotas make 15.4 per cent. A small party that expected to
attract something between 7.7 per cent and 14.3 per cent support
would desperately want a DD, but one expecting more than 14.3 but
less than 15.4 would prefer two half-Senate elections, because they
would expect to get one member elected in one and another in the
next, and so enjoy two spots, while a DD would give them only one.
In reality, preferences complicate all this and the primary votes
needed by minor parties are smaller, but the concept remains, and
the Democrats, for example, before their recent vanishing act,
usually preferred half-Senate elections.
Now to the big parties.
In a half-Senate, 42.9 per cent gets you three seats, but 46.2 is
needed to win six in a DD. So a half-Senate would be preferred over
a DD by a side expecting to get between those two amounts; that's
the coalition, which is why a DD in the last term was always
But here's the twist. On October 9, the government's Senate vote
was higher than anyone expected, and a DD would probably have given
them an even bigger Senate majority.
Howard won three Senate positions in every state and a likely
fourth in Queensland which, adding to his three in every state from
the 2001 election, gives that majority. (The ACT and Northern
Territory always contribute between them two Senate seats to each
But translating last fortnight's numbers to a DD would probably
have yielded him seven seats in at least two state seats.
All academic, but there's one final point. If Labor wins the next
election, not as unlikely as most seem to think, they will probably
face a coalition and Family First-controlled Senate. That would
point to a DD the election after next.