Counting for Australia’s House of Representatives will continue until the end of next week, the deadline for receipt of postal votes. But as usual only a handful of seats remain in any real doubt. Kevin Bonham, whose analysis I recommended the other day, now lists just four: Gilmore, Lyons, Brisbane and Macnamara. The first two are being fought between Liberals and Labor, the other two between Labor and Greens.
Labor is favored in Macnamara and (less strongly) Lyons; Brisbane is very close but the Greens seem to have a slight edge, and Gilmore could easily go either way, with perhaps just a faint lean to Labor. If those advantages all hold, and there are no surprises elsewhere, Labor will finish with 77 seats, a narrow majority, against 58 Coalition, four Greens and 12 independents and others.
So in one sense the election is very close; Labor’s majority is still not assured, and at best it will be very small. But the Coalition is way out of the running. In fact unless it can reel in both Lyons and Gilmore its share of the House, at below 40%, will be the lowest it has been since the 1940s. And almost all of the crossbench, if pushed to a choice, would support Labor rather than a Coalition government.
Obviously, new Labor prime minister Anthony Albanese would prefer to have a majority – 77 seats would give him the ability to appoint a Speaker from his own ranks and still have a majority on the floor of the House. Failing that, an independent for Speaker is a serious possibility. But either way, the government will be keen to maintain good relations with the Greens and independents.
In addition to the delicate state of the House, another reason for doing so is the Senate – where, apart from a short period in 2005-07, no government has held a majority since 1981. Senate counting is not so far advanced (and will take much longer to finalise), but we already have a good picture of what the new Senate will look like. (Official results are here; the ABC’s version is more user-friendly.)
The background to understanding it is that (as I explained in my preview) each state normally splits 3-3 (and each territory 1-1) between, broadly speaking, left and right. In 2019 one state, Queensland, deviated from the pattern and gave the right a 4-2 advantage. Since the senators elected then will sit until 2025, the left had to win a corresponding advantage somewhere this time in order to return to parity.
And it appears to have done so, in two places. In Western Australia, which swung savagely against the Coalition, Labor is set to win three Senate seats plus one for the Greens. And in the Australian Capital Territory, the sitting Liberal senator has been unseated by a “teal” independent, David Pocock.
The other five states will most probably split 3-3 (and the Northern Territory 1-1), although there is an outside chance of an extra Labor senator in Victoria, and an even rougher chance in South Australia. That means the government will have a reasonably friendly Senate, with 26 Labor, 12 Greens and Pocock providing 39 seats out of 76.
It’s actually a bit better than that, because two of the 37 notionally “right” seats will belong to the Jacqui Lambie Network, which won a new seat in Tasmania to join Lambie herself. Labor may well be able to attract their support as an alternative to Pocock on some issues. But it has no prospect of doing without the Greens except by relying on the Coalition.
The composition of the other 35 seats on the right is not yet definite. The Coalition has won two in each state and one in the Northern Territory, plus a third in New South Wales, bringing it to a total of 31. One Nation has held its Queensland seat, giving it two. Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party is ahead for the final seat in Victoria, but the Coalition and One Nation are also in the running. And the final seat in South Australia is a lottery, with the Coalition and One Nation looking the best placed.
So with the benefit of a couple of educated guesses, we can say 32 Coalition, 26 Labor, 12 Greens, two JLN, two One Nation, one UAP and one teal independent. That’s not a bad reflection of voting strengths, and maybe a bit less balkanised than the old Senate. And with the new senators sitting until 2028, it would take a big swing back next time to put the Coalition in contention.
Albanese will certainly be able to govern, but there will be no escaping the need for some sort of understanding with the crossbench, and particularly with the Greens. Tomorrow we’ll have a bit of a look at what that might involve.