The opinion polls that for the second election in a row again predict doom for a Morrison coalition government also carry a dismal message that has not so far attracted the attention of the media’s political pundits. It is that, whichever party wins the House of Representatives election, voting for the 40 Senate seats up for grabs on May 21 is likely to deliver control of the upper house either into a clutch of political egos with limited or single-issue objectives and no evident policies (or capacity) to deal with the major economic and security issues facing Australia – or even worse, in the event of a Labor victory, control passing into the hands of a Labor- Greens unity ticket.
The appalling prospect of the Greens alone holding the balance of power in the Senate has gone unrecognised so far in this election campaign. As election guru Antho- ny Green has pointed out, the Greens’ chanc- es have been unwittingly enhanced by the government’s new Senate system, supported by Labor, that removed bargaining over pref- erences by abolishing group voting tickets and the rise in exhausted preferences. So the Greens now have an advantage over small- er parties by always starting the race for the final seat with a higher first preference vote.
As a consequence, there is every chance they will not only successfully defend their three seats but in this election will also increase their representation in the other three states to lift their party room to 12. In that case, a Labor government would have to kowtow to the Greens in order to govern.
So the Morrison government’s difficulties in getting its legislation through the Senate will look like a cakewalk when the purvey- ors of the political blackmail on which their survival depends, put into effect their pop- ulist mantras – and demonstrate their total lack of responsibility for the consequences of their actions. And the incredibly costly campaign from Clive Palmer’s UAP aimed at disaffected Coalition supporters, along with similar assaults from One Nation and the Liberal Democrats compound the Coa- lition’s difficulties in retaining all its seats in any swing to Labor. But of even greater concern is the expectation by Melbourne University’s Adrian Beaumont in a Conver- sation article that current polling indicates that a Labor-Green combination would gain a Senate majority by winning just four seats between them – two in South Australia, one in Queensland and one in Tasmania.
Of the Senate’s 76 seats, the Coalition currently holds 35, leaving it four short of a majority, with this number at risk on 21 May when 18 face the ballot box. Labor has only 26 (of whom 15 now face electors, but adding the Greens’ nine, only three of which are up for inevitable re-election, also makes up a Labor-Green block of 35 that likewise currently depends on the support of cross- benches to exercise power. Even with an unprecedented swing, Labor on its own has no prospect of gaining control of the Sen- ate. But Labor gaining a Senate majority with only Green support represents a greater threat to Australia’s future than having an irresponsible cross-bench as the balance of power.
The remaining senators seeking re-elec- tion, after accounting for the Coalition’s 18, Labor’s 15 and the three Greens, are One Nation leader Pauline Hanson in Queensland (with colleague Malcolm Roberts, like Tas- mania’s Jacqui Lambie, having another three years to go). Facing voters in South Austral- ia are the sole Centre Alliance senator along with ex-Alliance Senator Rex Patrick while another defector, the Northern Territory’s ex-Coalition Senator Sam McMahon, is standing as a Liberal Demo- crat having lost preselection to the impres- sive Jacinta Price who should restore the seat to the Liberal fold.
In every state except South Australia, where its two seats face the polls, the Coali- tion has three seats to defend and risks los- ing one seat in each state. But Labor, which only has two seats in each of these five other states (all of which it is certain to retain) is unlikely to directly benefit from the Coali- tion losing any of these seats because of the Senate’s voting system of 14.3 per cent quotas. The beneficiaries are more likely to be the Greens and the rag-tag collection of hopefuls occupying the ever-expanding plac- es in oversized Senate ballot papers.
But forecasts of likely Senate outcomes are even less reliable than the House of Rep- resentative opinion poll figures (that proved to be so misleading in the 2019 election) from which they are extrapolated. Not only are there no public polling indications of the level of support in each state for these right-of-centre splinter parties in the Senate race (although private polling by the major players would do so), but leading pollsters do not release the composition by states of their national voting intention statistics. The two polling bodies to do so both show a more than eight points two-party preferred swing to Labor in NSW, for example, and if this is anywhere near right this time, then Jim Molan’s place as third on the Coalition ticket could be in jeopardy
But Beaumont’s state-by-state Senate analysis is based heavily on HofR poll- ing and ignores the reality that actual votes for the major parties’ Senate candidates are always markedly lower than for the HofR as many people vote one way for the lower house and differently for the upper.
In any event, in NSW, where both major parties have three senators facing the elec- torate, Beaumont reckons the likely outcome is three Coalition, two Labor and one Green as preferences from the UAP and One Nation help the Coalition with the Greens likely gaining one from Labor. Anthony Green agrees, saying Jim Molan, the third Coalition candidate, has a good chance of re-election unless Coalition support falls precipitously, with the sixth seat being a contest between Labor’s Shireen Morris and the Green’s David Shoebridge.
In Victoria, where three Liberals, two Labor and a Green are fighting it out, Beau- mont is equivocal but considers it possible that the Coalition could lose a seat to Labor, a view shared by Anthony Green. In Queens- land Beaumont looks to a Green acquisition of one of the LNP’s three seats as Labor holds its two and Pauline Hanson retains her seat, a view supported by election analyst Dr Kevin Bonham who expects the Greens to oust third-placed LNP star Amanda Stoker.
He sees WA as a status quo result of three Coalition, two Labor, one Green, while in SA he sees a Labor and Green gain result- ing in three Labor, two Coalition and one Green – but no Centre Alliance. In Tasma- nia, the most Labor-leaning state federally, Labor looks like gaining the seat of Liber- al veteran Eric Abetz, while former Walla- by and climate activist David Pocock has a good chance of beating Liberal minister Zed Seselja.
One way or another, the new Senate will be a disaster for Australia. If its balance of power ends up with the political blackmail- ers of the micro-parties, then forget about any prospect of meaningful reform that involves any need for pain in order to gain; populism will triumph. But worse, if the 2022 election brings us an Albanese government with the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate, the inevitable Labor-Green political partnership will mark a destructive turning point in Australia’s history.
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