It might be that the next Senate is a docile and constructive assembly of fair-minded souls pledged to the nation’s betterment, as Malcolm Turnbull professed to hope when forcing this double dissolution. What he will get, however, is likely to be anything but
Between now and Tuesday the outcome of the July 2 election should become easier to forecast. As of midday today (June 10), we will have the full lists of candidates and between then and the opening of pre-poll voting on Tuesday, the parties will decide their preferences. Applying some basic statistical skills to the state-by-state polling figures will offer some idea to the likely make up of the House of Representatives after ballots have been cast.
Determining the composition of the Senate, however, will be a different matter. Guessing will be about the best we can do. This election should be all about the Senate. We have a first-term government going to a double dissolution because the upper house has constantly frustrated its legislative program. We have not seen a one-term administration in this country since Jim Scullin’s Labor government was swamped by the Great Depression. All the focus at this poll should be on the likely outcome of the joint sitting of both houses the Turnbull government will be entitled to call to guarantee the passage of its industrial relations laws.
Instead, the focus is whether Turnbull will emulate Scullin. And the shape of the Senate is a mystery. The changes to the Senate voting system passed by the Coalition with the unlikely support of the Greens and Nick Xenophon in a bid to stop micro parties gaming the system abolished the tool used to calculate Senate outcomes, the group-voting ticket. In an optional preferential system, as the ABC’s Antony Green explains, it is impossible to model the Senate vote, as there is no reliable method of predicting just how many voters will allocate preferences and which way they will flow.
All we know is that the protest vote will be high and, thanks to the double dissolution, the quota needed for election to the Senate has been halved. And so we enter the final three weeks of the campaign with the House of Representatives on a knife edge and, when we talk about the Senate, in the dark.
Amazing what great political minds can achieve.