There is a characteristic possessed by me to which no other Canberra-based political commentator can make claim. I am a friend to Bob Day. Naturally I am very sad at what has happened to him. He was truly an honourable senator.

Needless to say I was not aware of these things back on 11 April when my article on him was published on this website ‘Why I admire Bob the Builder’. In that article I did something I have done only very rarely. I recommended South Australians to vote for him. In my 50 years of public political commentary I can count on one hand the number of times I have done that for a politician. Below, I detail more reasons why I am very pleased with myself for having, in effect, campaigned for Bob’s re-election.

Now that Bob’s Senate seat is vacant attention turns to what will happen. My take is to say that the seat will be filled some time next month or later, in other words after the 2016 session of federal parliament is completed. In the meantime let me describe the Senate situation, which is better for the Turnbull Government than most pundits are now saying. The Senate’s size is reduced from 76 to 74, meaning that a majority is now 38 not 39, which effectively is the same as having Day automatically voting with the government on everything with the added bonus of him not being there to do it himself.

When I started to think about this article I drafted the words ‘Senate’s size is reduced from 76 to 75’ but then Rod Culleton of One Nation announced he would not vote in the Senate while his constitutional position is cleared up. So actually there are 75 senators but effectively there are 74. If the Coalition’s 30 senators are added to by three from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, three from the Nick Xenophon Team plus David Leyonhjelm and Derryn Hinch the total is 38. If the Labor-Greens total of 35 senators is added to by Jacquie Lambie then that number would be 36. Consequently I think the government is quite correct to proceed with its legislative agenda.

Coming back to the Day vacancy I say there is an 80 per cent chance the Family First party will have that seat when the Senate resumes next year, a 15 per cent chance the seat will be held by Labor’s Anne McEwen and a 5 per cent chance it will be held by Steven Burgess of PHON. So let me say the seat is Family First’s, the problem is to name the senator in question. The answer I give is three chances in four it will be held by Lucy Gichuhi and one chance in four it will be held by someone else nominated by the FF machine. Kenyan-born Gichuhi was second to Day on the FF two-person list back in July.

The first question to be decided by the High Court is whether Day was qualified to be elected. If the Court rules he was qualified then his election was valid. That is possible but not likely. Then his resignation would be accepted and the SA Parliament would move to fill the vacancy with the FF machine nominee. If the Court disqualifies him then, based on two recent previous judgements, his seat would be filled by a re-count of ballot papers having first removed Day’s name and distributed his preferences accordingly. The precedents are those of Robert Wood in 1987 (elected as a Nuclear Disarmament Party senator for NSW) and Heather Hill in 1998 (elected as a PHON senator for Queensland).

Given my prediction that Gichuhi will be the senator all I can do is tell readers that a mathematician by the name of Grahame Bowland has done a simulation of the July votes as though Day’s name had been removed. He comes up with the calculation of 69,442 votes for Gichuhi and 65,841 for McEwen. There are other scenarios which give the seat to McEwen and one which gives the seat to Burgess but I lack the space to elaborate here.

Culleton’s position is easier to describe. Unlike Day he has not resigned. If the High Court upholds the validity of his election in July then his position is secure until 30 June 2019. If the ruling goes against Culleton then there would be a re-count of the WA vote and Peter Georgiou would be elected. He was second on the PHON three-person list at the July election in Western Australia.

I wrote above that “I am very pleased with myself for having, in effect, campaigned for Bob’s re-election”. Apart from the reasons stated in my article Why I admire Bob the Builder I make this point. It seems to me that there were only three people in the whole of Australia who REALLY understood the whole point about so-called ‘Senate reform’. Bob was one, I was another and the third was a Victorian man by the name of Chris Curtis. All of us were passionately hostile to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act passed in March this year.

What we understood was that the institution of the Group Voting Ticket was essential to the integrity of the above-the-line voting system. Without the GVT the ATL system is indefensible. Now Bob is gone and Chris and I differ on what is to be done. We have both made submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters of the Parliament. He says, in effect, “restore the GVT but make some other changes”. I say “get rid of ATL entirely and make the system like Hare-Clark”. Due to my total lack of faith in our federal politicians I expect both of us will be snubbed. The politicians will try to ‘improve’ this disreputable system by putting lipstick on the pig, so to speak. However, in my opinion this system is so bad it cannot last very long. I am still hopeful, therefore, that I shall win this war in the long run.

Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fell at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus.