by Malcolm Mackerras

Elections for half the Senate in each state begin with the issuing of a writ by the governor of the state and end with the return of the writ to the governor.
In the spring of 2013 the writ returns in two states were of very unusual interest.
In South Australia the writ listed these people as duly elected, in the order of their election: Cory Bernardi, Nick Xenophon, Penny Wong, Sarah Hanson-Young, Bob Day and Simon Birmingham.
In Western Australia the writ listed these people as duly elected, again in order of election: David Johnston, Joe Bullock, Michaelia Cash, Linda Reynolds, Wayne Dropulich and Scott Ludlam.
What is truly extraordinary about the above lists is that only one name is Labor in each state, Wong in South Australia and Bullock in Western Australia.
Back in the days when half-Senate elections were for five places (from 1953 to 1980, inclusive) it was always taken for granted that each major party was guaranteed two of the five places with the fifth seat going elsewhere or, alternatively, producing a three-two split between the big parties.
Given that it is easier for a big party to win two seats out of six than two out of five it is truly incredible that Labor could only win one seat in both states.
Labor’s second candidate in Western Australia was Senator Louise Pratt while their second candidate in South Australia was Senator Don Farrell. They mark the extremities on a lucky/unlucky scale.
I think of Pratt as being exceptionally lucky because the Western Australian result has been declared to be “absolutely void” by Mr Justice Kenneth Hayne of the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. His judgment was handed down on February 18.
The judgment caused me to have mixed feelings. On the one hand I enjoy an election and this one is terrific because it is unique. It is the first case of a separate half-Senate election, separate in two senses. It will be BOTH separate from a general election for the House of Representatives AND ALSO separate from half-Senate elections in all the other states.
On the other hand the event on April 5 is going to cost taxpayers a cool $20 million. Why should such a sum be spent for the amusement of people like me?
Hayne gave the answer in his excellent judgment. Given the various provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act there was no way he could concoct statistics to produce a result different from the declared result, stated in my fourth sentence above. Nor could he confirm the declared result, given the loss of 1,370 ballot papers. So the ordering of a fresh election was the only course open to him.
Readers may be interested to know the statistics for the parties of the left in each of these states.
In Western Australia, on first preferences, Labor had 1.8613 quotas and the Greens 0.6643, for a total of 2.5256.
In South Australia, again on first preferences, Labor had 1.5862 and the Greens 0.4962, for a total of 2.0824.
The important point is that in neither state did parties of the left have three quotas. They were, therefore, bound to win two seats combined, not three. In both states Labor was closer to two seats than the Greens were to one. So why did not Labor win both seats for the left in both states, and see Ludlam and Hanson-Young defeated?
The answer is that, in both cases, the preferences of Palmer United Party candidates (Zhenya Wang in WA and James McDonald in SA) favoured the Greens over Labor.
Among my fellow psephologists there is an almost universal hostility to the group voting tickets of the present system. They argue that the tickets are illogical and are always the product of nasty deals between parties. I dispute that view.
In the case of the two Greens senators elected on PUP preferences I argue that Clive Palmer’s refugee policy is much closer to that of the Greens than it is to Labor’s. Especially in the case of Hanson-Young I see it as entirely logical that Palmer preferences would favour her at the expense of the other four candidates who were serious contenders at the time McDonald’s preferences were distributed.
Notice, however, that she was elected with less than half a quota. If I were less charitable than I actually am I could accuse her of preference harvesting. As it is I merely accuse her of being very lucky.
In the case of Wang’s preferences there were only two candidates left in the count. Before his exclusion the votes were 163,784 for Pratt, 131,022 for Ludlam and 79,023 for Wang. The final votes, after the distribution of Wang’s preferences were 200,866 for Ludlam and 166,551 for Pratt. The quota, by the way, was 187,183 votes.
This article was written on Friday 14 March and nominations for the “re-election” (to use the correct description) have closed. We know that there are 77 candidates. However, it will be a week until I can study the group voting tickets and derive some meaning from them.
For me, however, one thing is clear. The share of votes for parties of the left will rise but it will probably not be three quotas.  I believe Labor is better placed than the Greens. Consequently I predict Labor will get two full quotas so Pratt will be re-elected.
The re-election of Ludlam is much less assured. I am inclined to think he will lose the sixth spot to Zhenya Wang of the Palmer United Party.
If so, when the writ is returned to the governor the successful candidates, in order of election, are likely to be Johnston, Bullock, Cash, Pratt, Reynolds and Wang. In party numbers that would be three Liberals, two Labor and one for PUP.
In overall terms that would be good for parties of the right. The alternative would be for both Pratt and Ludlam to be re-elected. That would be a good result for parties of the left.
Reverting to my comment early in this article I think history will record that there were two lucky female senators, Sarah Hanson-Young and Louise Pratt and two unlucky male senators, Don Farrell and Scott Ludlam.
(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Public Policy Institute in the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus.