New Senate Terms

It’s really too early to be talking about this, but there has been a bit of talk about it and there seems to be quite a bit of confusion so I wanted to try and clarify the current situation.

Firstly, there is already a great post on this by Antony Green, however being written a while ago it doesn’t cover the actual results of the election. It is here

We are still well short of having the full results of the Senate. So far we just have counts of number 1 votes, and even these are well short of being complete, many are around 60% of the electorate. This is enough for us to know which candidates have a guaranteed quota but we know very little about preferences, especially as this is the first election under this system. Kevin Bonham has an informative post on the state of the count here

There is interest for a couple of main reasons

  • Derryn Hinch has raised the issue
  • Many are wondering whether Pauline Hanson will have a 3 or 6 year term.

Unfortunately an article on the ABC website to answer questions on this actually made some misleading statements and incorrectly claimed that a certain method was advantageous to the major parties – a claim which is demonstrably untrue.

Why two term lengths?

Senators are elected for 6 year terms usually. The senate terms are staggered, so that every 3 years there is a half-senate election. At a double dissolution election this is different and the entire senate is elected, but 3 years later the usual situation continues, so half the senators need to be allocated a 3 year term and half a 6 year term. Obviously each senator would prefer the latter.

How to determine who gets 6 years?

The short version is that it is determined by the senate itself. There is no law specifying how it should be done. In practice there are two likely methods, though there is no guarantee either would be used.

Order of Election – In the senate count, candidates are progressively elected, so in this method the first 6 out of 12 to be elected are given the longer term.

Countback – In this method, the votes are counted as if for a half-senate election for 6 candidates (i.e. these are the 6 who would have been elected for a 6 year terms at a regular election). Then the remaining 6, who have only achieved election because it is for 12 rather than 6, get the shorter term.

I believe Countback to be a fairer method (Antony Green gives examples from previous election in the link above), however order of election has been used in the past.

What are the implications given the election results?

It is too early to know the full implications but we can make some conclusions. Firstly, since even the count of number 1’s is incomplete, we can’t be 100% sure that people who have a quota or miss a quota on current count will still have one or miss one in the end, but I will do calculations based purely on the numbers right now (evening of Wed July 6). Secondly, by either method, many spots are filled on partial quota. We don’t know much about how preferences will flow, but given possible exhaustion it seems at least slightly less likely for a candidate on a partial quota to be overtaken by one on less, but it is certainly still very possible. I will assess a partial quota of 0.9 or above to be extremely likely of election, 0.7 to 0.9 as very likely, 0.5-0.7 as quite likely, over 0.2 is a contender, but even others are possible if there is effectively a preference harvest, on the other hand some labelled as contenders may not even get a spot at all and so are irrelevant – this is the degree of uncertainty right now.

The following describes the candidates who would get 6 year terms by each method in each state. Keep in mind though that we still don’t know who will be elected.

Summary –

At present my best guess is that the method of counting is unlikely to effect either SA or WA. In QLD it probably doesn’t matter, but slight chance of benefiting minors by getting a Green over a major (though it could also make a difference by giving Hanson a 3 year term, but most likely in favour of another minor, so it doesn’t favour majors).  In both NSW and Victoria countback can only possibly benefit minor parties (and it likely to in NSW at least), and in Tasmania countback can only possibly benefit majors, but is very likely would make no difference anyway.
The ABC have updated their article on the matter ( and it is better than it was, but it still claims that countback is biased towards majors, based only on looking at Tasmania, the only one out of 6 states where this is a clear chance.

Just to emphasise the point, these are not predictions or projections, just what can be guessed at as possibilities on the current counts, mainly to demonstrate the ways in which the two methods of counting could possibly differ.


Current likely state of election – 5 Lib/Nat, 4 Lab, 1 Grn + 2 others (probably from One Nation, CDP, LDP but could be someone else).

On Order of Election

Certain: 3 Lib/Nat, 3 Lab  (worth noting here this is certain on the current count, if Greens got above quota they’d get one instead of Labor though this does not look possible).

On Countback

Certain – 2 Lib/Nat, 2 Lab
Quite Likely – 3rd Lib/Nat, Green
Contenders – One Nation, 3rd Lab



Current likely state – 4 Lib/Nat, 4 Lab, 1 Green, Hinch, 2 others (could be 5th Lib, 2nd Green,  others)

Order of Election

Certain – 3 Lib/Nat, 2 Labor, 1 Green


Certain – 2 Lib/Nat, 2 Labor
Very Likely – Green
Contenders – Hinch, 3rd Lib/Nat, 3rd Lab

Note – Hinch’s primary is boosted by the ballot position, so his preference flow might be less than his primary would indicate.


Current likely state – 4 LNP, 3 Lab, Hanson, 1 Green, 3 others (could be 5th LNP, 4th Lab, LDP, Family First, others)

Order of Election

Certain – 3 LNP, 2 Lab, Hanson


Certain – 2 LNP, 1 Lab
Extremely Likely – 2nd Lab
Very Likely – Hanson, Green
Contender – 3rd LNP

Western Australia

Current Likely state – 5 Lib, 4 Lab, 1 Green, 2 others (could be 2nd Green, One Nation, National, NXT, others)

On Order of Election

Certain – 3 Lib, 2 Lab, 1 Green

On Countback

Certain – 2 Lib, 2 Lab
Very Likely – Green
Quite Likely – 3rd Lib
Contender – One Nation

South Australia

Current likely state – 4 Lib, 4 Lab, 3 NXT, 1 Green

On Order of Election

Certain – 2 Lib, 2 Lab, 2 NXT

On Countback

Certain – 2 Lib, 1 Lab, 1 NXT
Extremely Likely – 2nd Lab
Quite Likely – 2nd NXT
Contender – 3rd Lib, Green

Note that on raw percentage One Nation just qualify as contender for a 6 year term even though they don’t show up as likely to be elected in the first place. This is because SA is unusual in having very little left in micro parties because NXT take most of the non major vote, as a result it is almost impossible for anyone to get up on preferences. It would take almost all of the right wing micros to preference One Nation and all of the left ones to exhaust rather than preference Greens for ON to over take the Greens, so it seems unlikely.


Current likely state – 4 Lib, 4 Lab, 1 Green, Lambie, 2 others (could be 5th Lab, 2nd Green, One Nation, Family First, others)

On Order of Election

Certain – 2 Lab, 2 Lib, Green, Lambie

On Countback

Certain – 2 Lab, 2 Lib
Very Likely – Green
Quite Likely – Lambie
Contender – 3rd Lab, 3rd Lib

This was the example used in the ABC article to suggest that countback favours the majors, they erroneously concluded that countback gives them 3 each for certain. It is true that in Tasmania, the others are safer in the Order of Election method but this is not the case everywhere, for example NSW or Victoria.