By Malcolm Mackerras 

Australia’s 8th Senate general election on July 2 was a delight to me - but due to all the reasons for which I should be ashamed to admit. By that, I mean I was delighted my Senate predictions worked out to be so close to the results. In my contributions to this website, I correctly predicted the number of Coalition, Labor and Xenophon Team senators. I was also delighted that the results have discredited the new Senate electoral system.

See my articles here: “Xenophon tipped as biggest Election Day winner”, posted on June 30, and “Senate reform must be scrapped” posted on July 6. I did, of course, make one serious error by under-estimating Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party – but I owned up to that error in my conversation with Marty Switzer on the programme on the night of Wednesday July 27. Even then I jumped the gun, saying of Hanson: “She came within a whisker of having four senators”. Wrong! She came within a whisker of having FIVE senators. Fortunately for me, the politicians who put this thing together cannot brag too much. When they did their filthy deals it, apparently, never occurred to them that they were fully restoring Hanson to her former glory, by which I mean her term as member for Oxley in the House of Representatives from March 1996 to October 1998. At least I knew she would be elected to the Senate this time, which is more than they can say. So I take the men in order of their importance. Let me describe what has happened to each of them.

Malcolm Turnbull has won a House of Representatives general election. His second success was stated by me in my conversation with Marty: “He has rigged the Senate electoral system in favour of Pauline Hanson”, I averred. However, the other Malcolm cannot be very pleased that he now has 24 Liberal senators compared with the 27 there were under Tony Abbott. Seriously, though, Turnbull has had a triumph in Victoria, gaining a new seat in the House of Representatives (Chisholm) plus a new senator – both won by women. In the days of Bob Menzies, the Liberals used to describe Victoria as “the jewel in the crown” of their party. Turnbull has restored that jewel. And perhaps another success awaits Turnbull. If he can get either Senator Hanson or Senator Xenophon on side (preferably both) he may succeed in getting his trade union governance legislation accepted by the new parliament, the 45 Parliament. That would be a REAL triumph.

Barnaby Joyce came late to the Senate deal wanted by Turnbull. He came on board only because Turnbull (and The Greens and Nick Xenophon) agreed to the third and fourth contrivances in the new system (i.e. the deceitful ballot paper instructions to voters, above the line – third contrivance – and below the line – fourth contrivance.) Joyce only came on board in the belief his party would win a senator from Western Australia. He failed miserably in that and finds himself left with the same six senators he had before the double dissolution. However, at least Joyce can crow about a very good result in the House of Representatives election.

Richard Di Natale bombed out disastrously. Before polling day, he predicted all sorts of gains of seats in the House of Representatives. None came his way. However, he did save his doubtful senators from Western Australia and Tasmania and he knew his second from South Australia could not be saved. However, think of this. In the days of Bob Brown and Christine Milne, Tasmania was the Jewel in the crown of The Greens. This time they barely scraped back in their second senator from Tasmania. The title of “best state for The Greens” has passed to Victoria where they now have two safe seats in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. In Queensland, the Senate vote for The Greens is not even big enough to elect a senator at a half-Senate election.

Finally, a brickbat and a bouquet. First, we have Xenophon. He did get what he wanted – except for this. Contrary to his expectations, he is now outshone mightily by Hanson who has four senators - two from Queensland and one each from New South Wales and Western Australia. He has only three – all from South Australia. The bouquet goes to Senator Bob Day, whose re-election I predicted and supported. I wrote an article on him which was posted on this website on April 11. It was titled “Why I admire Bob the Builder”. In that article I wrote of him: “His case proves the political benefit of consistency based on principle.” Three cheers for the Family First senator for South Australia!

(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)