The 2016 federal election has finally come to an end, with the Australian Electoral Commission declaring who will sit in the next Senate. The results suggest the Turnbull government will have to master the art of negotiation if it is to implement its policies.
New system, new Senate
As this was a double-dissolution election, the quota for election was halved, making it easier for candidates to win Senate seats.
The Senate is made up of 76 seats (12 from each state and two from each territory). The government must gain the support of at least 39 senators to pass its legislation.
The Coalition has 30 seats; Labor holds 26; there will be nine Greens. There are now 11 other crossbench senators from six different parties. The Turnbull government will therefore need the support of at least nine non-Green votes from the crossbench if Labor and the Greens oppose its legislation.
The 2016 election used a new system of voting for the Senate. The group voting ticket (GVT) was abolished, and voters were able to more directly send their preferences to their favoured candidates. This had a significant impact on the re-emergence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
In 1998, when the then-nascent party enjoyed relatively high levels of support, the major parties preferenced One Nation last. But, as the Senate had changed its voting system, One Nation in 2016 was no longer dependent on preference deals to the same extent and now returns to the federal parliament.
So, who’s who on the new Senate crossbench? And what role will they play in the 45th parliament?
The Greens lost one seat but continue to hold the largest bloc on the crossbench, with nine seats. The government may pass its legislation if it can get the Greens’ support.
This will be a challenge, however. The Greens will continue to advance a policy agenda that covers broad conservation and socially progressive aims.
While such views appear to be shared to some extent with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, there may be flashpoints on social policy in particular. This may depend on how much influence the Coalition’s conservative element has on proposed legislation.
The Greens may be a very important ally to the government, but they will not be supporting legislation that conflicts with their agenda.
Then again, the Greens will face some challenges of their own. Losing one seat and associated parliamentary resources means the party will be focusing on preparing to consolidate and expand in the Senate at the next election.
The Nick Xenophon Team
A big winner of this election is Nick Xenophon and his new political party, which claimed three Senate seats.
The Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) has a mix of protectionist economic and socially progressive policies. Part of its appeal has been its focus on enhancing government accountability and promoting manufacturing in Australia.
While Xenophon himself has been vocal on these topics, as well as his long-term concern about predatory gambling, the challenge will now be to make a legislative impact in these areas. If voters get a sense that his party has been unable to fulfil its promises, they may choose to give their votes to someone else next time.
The Jacqui Lambie Network
Jacqui Lambie, who was elected in 2013 as a Palmer United Party candidate in Tasmania, also created a new party and will be returning to the Senate.
Presenting herself as a strong advocate for her state, Lambie built a high public profile by positioning herself as an anti-establishment figure.
Concerns about protecting jobs and the provision of government services dominated her campaign, as did her opposition to sharia law supposedly being imposed in Australia.
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party
Derryn Hinch will be in the Senate representing Victoria. He has a high public profile as a controversial journalist and will advocate for reforms to a suite of law-and-order issues.
Hinch has for many years called for a public register of convicted sex offenders. His party also seeks to reform matters concerning sentencing and parole, as well as domestic violence.
The party is also in favour of voluntary euthanasia. This spread of policies will allow Hinch to transcend any sense of rigid party politics in the Senate.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation
Like the proverbial phoenix, One Nation has risen again in Australian politics.
Pauline Hanson, who became a prominent figure when she was first elected to the lower house in 1996, will lead her reinvigorated party back into the Senate after winning the third-highest primary vote in Queensland after the Liberal National Party and the Labor Party.
Presenting herself as an anti-establishment figure, Hanson won support from some sections of the electorate for her concerns about race and migration. She also promotes a broadly protectionist suite of economic policies.
The One Nation party of 2016 has also expressed greater concern about religion and climate change than it did in the 1990s.
The party famously imploded when it had just one senator from 1998 to 2004. Hanson’s challenge will be to keep a cohesive group together and avoid recreating past disunity.
Hanson has already flagged that her party’s senators are free to vote against the party when they see fit, making negotiations for the government even more complicated. It will not be able to count on the party to vote as a bloc.
Bob Day will return to the Senate representing Family First. His party advances socially conservative policies, including a desire to ensure same-sex marriage does not become a reality in Australia.
Maintaining the idea that a nuclear family is best, as well as opposing liberal social policies, will be at the core of Family First’s focus.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm will return to pursue policies that limit government power. As a libertarian, Leyonhjelm will oscillate from being friend and foe for the government. His reported opposition to some government services may be in line with the Coalition’s. But his support for legalising same-sex marriage will be troublesome for some in the government.
The Turnbull government and the new Senate
The double-dissolution election has injected into the Senate a wider range of parties and policy demands than before. The government will need to have strong working relationships with the crossbench to have any chance of getting their support.
Policy that is seen to be ideologically driven will have little prospect of passing. Major reforms will need much careful negotiation and an acceptance that compromise will be inevitable.
The composition of the Senate means the government’s team, especially Senate leader George Brandis, will have to work extremely hard to negotiate their way through the disparate policy demands.
Turnbull, vaunted as a great communicator, will also have to be a consistent top performer if his government’s policies are to get through the Senate.