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Liberals Clinging To Three Seats In WA Senate Election; Labor Thrashed As Greens Triumph And Palmer Surges

The Senate election re-run in Western Australia has resulted in swings against both major parties with the Liberals winning two seats and the ALP one. The Greens have significantly increased their vote and re-elected Scott Ludlam, whilst the Palmer United Party seems assured of winning a seat. The sixth position looks likely to be a contest between the Liberals and the ALP.

As counting continued late last night, the Liberal Party was assured of winning two of the six available seats on a primary vote of 33.71%, a fall of 5.49%. Senator David Johnston has been re-elected to a third term and Senator Michaelia Cash has been re-elected to a second term.

A swing of 4.83% against the ALP saw its vote fall to 21.76%, its worst result in any state since the introduction of proportional voting in 1949. A Senate quota is 14.3% of the vote, so the ALP will struggle to win a second seat. Its controversial candidate, union leader Joe Bullock, has been elected to his first term as a senator.

The Greens increased their vote by 6.39% to 15.88%, easily securing a quota and returning Senator Scott Ludlam for a second term. Despite losing a significant proportion of their vote last year, the Greens will increase their numbers from 9 to 10 when new senators take their seats on July 1.

The Palmer United Party polled 12.49%, an increase of 7.48% since last September’s general election. Zhenya Wang seems assured of winning a seat but he will need preferences to get over the line. His election would give the PUP three senators after July 1. Augmented by Victorian senator-elect Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiasts Party, the Palmer group will command 4 votes and a crucial slice of the balance of power in the Senate.

The sixth position appears to be a contest between the Liberal Party’s number 3 candidate, Linda Reynolds, and the ALP’s Senator Louise Pratt. Reynolds is aiming to transfer to politics from a military career, whilst Pratt is seeking a second term in the Senate.

At this stage, it appears that Reynolds is likely to prevail over Pratt, although the final result is by no means clear. However, the Liberals are likely to improve their position when postal and pre-poll votes are counted. Pratt may benefit from below-the-line votes cast by Labor supporters unwilling to support Bullock following revelations of his derogatory comments about the ALP to a Christian group last November.

Few observers predicted that the final seat would be a contest between the two major parties. Whilst around 16% of Western Australians voted for candidates from parties other than the Liberals, ALP, Greens or PUP, no group seems able to work its way to a quota through preference deals, as occurred last year when the Liberal Democrats, Motoring Enthusiasts and Sports Party were able to elect candidates.

As results flowed in last night, some in the ALP, including newly-elected member for Perth, Alannah MacTiernan, renewed their calls for ALP reform. MacTiernan supports rank-and-file ballots for Senate preselections. Since last year’s election, the ALP has gone backwards in the Senate election and in Queensland’s Griffith by-election. Its vote fell under 30% in the Tasmanian state election three weeks ago. Despite gaining the support of an independent to hold onto government in South Australia, the ALP decisively lost the popular vote.

The Western Australian result will anger the Liberal Party which won three positions on both counts last September. That election was voided by the High Court following the Electoral Commission’s loss of around 1300 votes.

If the final result is Liberals 3, ALP 1, Greens 1 and PUP 1, the Coalition will hold 33 seats in the new Senate. The ALP (25) and the Greens (10) will hold 35 and there will be 8 crossbenchers. The Abbott government will need 6 of the 8 crossbenchers to pass legislation opposed by the ALP and Greens. The Palmer group of 4 will be crucial.

If the ALP’s Louise Pratt manages to defeat Linda Reynolds, the Coalition will feel particularly aggrieved, especially in light of its victory last year and yesterday’s collapse in the ALP’s vote. Liberal Party representatives also stepped up their criticism yesterday of the Australian Electoral Commission over its administration of the election.

It will take up to four weeks before the final result is known.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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