Late count: Herbert finalised, Senate results imminent

Prospects for a legal challenge to Labor’s 37-vote win, as the AEC prepares to press the button on Senate election counts across the country.

New South Wales and Queensland results (Thursday)

So then. New South Wales as expected: 1. Payne (Lib); 2. Dastyari (ALP); 3. Sinodinos (Lib); 4. McAllister (ALP); 5. Nash (NAT); 6. O’Neill (ALP); 7. Fierravanti-Wells (LIB); 8. Cameron (ALP); 9. Rhiannon (GRN); 10. Williams (NAT); 11. Burston (PHON); 12. Leyonhjelm (LDP).

But in Queensland, the second One Nation candidate, Malcolm Roberts, pulled off what I deemed the improbable in getting enough preferences to win a second seat:

1. Brandis (LNP); 2. Watt (ALP); 3. Hanson (PHON); 4. Canavan (LNP); 5. Chisholm (ALP); 6. McGrath (LNP); 7. Moore (ALP); 8. Macdonald (LNP); 9.Waters (GRN); 10. O’Sullivan (LNP); 11.Ketter (ALP); 12.Roberts (PHON).

The primary vote front-runner, Gabe Buckley of the Liberal Democrats, received a remarkably weak flow of preferences, and Roberts was further able to pull ahead of the Nick Xenophon Team, Family First, Katter’s Australian Party and Glenn Lazarus Team candidates at various points in the count. The chart below shows the results at Count 9, at which point Pauline Hanson was elected and her surplus flowed on to Roberts, and the race for the final three positions out of the last nine surviving candidates.

2016-08-02-qld-senate-count

Thursday

The AEC has announced the button will be pressed in Queensland at 9am, with New South Wales apparently likely to follow either late today or some tomorrow. I’ve now done a spreadsheet for Western Australia, to go with the one I did earlier for Tasmania, showing the frequency with which voters for the various parties included the various other parties in the top six of their preference order (which in most cases means giving them a preference full stop, since most voters simply numbered six boxes above the line). As before, each party’s first preference vote and preference allocations are listed by row, and there are separate worksheets accessible at the bottom left for above-the-line and below-the-line votes.

Victorian result (Wednesday)

1. Fifield (Lib); 2. Carr (ALP); 3. Di Natale (GRN); 4. McKenzie (NAT); 5. Conroy (ALP); 6. Ryan (LIB); 7. Collins (ALP); 8. Paterson (Lib); 9. Marshall (ALP); 10. Hinch (DHJP); 11. Rice (GRN); 12. Hume (Lib).

No surprises there then.

South Australian Senate result (Tuesday)

1. Birmingham (LIB); 2. Wong (ALP); 3. Xenophon (XEN); 4. Bernardi (LIB); 5. Farrell (ALP); 6. Griff (XEN); 7. Ruston (LIB); 8. Gallacher (ALP); 9. Fawcett (LIB); 10. Kakoschke-Moore (XEN); 11. Hanson-Young (GRN); 12. Day (FFP).

A defeat for Labor as the fourth candidate on its ticket, Senator Anne McEwen, loses out to Bob Day of Family First. McEwen had 39,378 votes after the surplus from the third-placed Labor candidate was distributed, ahead of Bob Day on 31,548. As the table below illustrates, McEwen maintained a lead of 50,515 to 44,907 as the various also-rans were excluded, leaving candidates of six substantial parties competing for the last three seats. However, the exclusion of the fifth Liberal, Senator Sean Edwards, unlocked a decisive flow of preferences to Day, a considerable number for the third Nick Xenophon Team candidate, Skye Kakoschke-Moore, and pitifully few for McEwen, and fewer still for the Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young – who nonetheless came within 16 votes of a quota at this point of the count. Then followed the exclusion of One Nation, and an approximately equal flow of preferences to Day and the Kakoschke-Moore, and much fewer to McEwen and Hanson-Young, although sufficient for the latter to win election at this point. This left Day to a still greater lead over McEwen, which was dented only slightly by the distribution of Hanson-Young’s surplus.

2016-08-02-sa-senate-count

Western Australian Senate result (Monday)

1. Cormann (LIB); 2. Lines (ALP); 3. Ludlam (GRN); 4. Cash (LIB); 5. Sterle (ALP); 6. Smith (LIB); 7. Dodson (ALP); 8. Reynolds (LIB); 9. Back (LIB); 10. Pratt (ALP); 11. Culleton (ONP); 12. Siewert (GRN).

The outcome of the final seat appeared to be up in the air before the count was finalised, with preferences set to determine the winner out of Rachel Siewert and Kado Muir of the Nationals. In the even, Siewert did it surprisingly easily. With the election of Louise Pratt to the tenth seat and the distribution of her small surplus, two seats remained to be filled with three candidates left in the count, of whom Rod Culleton of One Nation had 104,782 votes, Siewert 936,266, and Muir 67,657.

Earlier

First up, The Australian reports that “the Senate count is also due to be finalised this week, with results to be known in South Australia and Western Australia tomorrow, Victoria and Queensland on Tuesday, and New South Wales on Wednesday”.

The other big news today was the finalisation of the recount in Herbert, which delivered Labor a final winning margin of 37 votes. The AEC should declare the result some time this week and must return the writs by next Monday, initiating a 40-day period inal which a challenge can be made before the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns. This court can either uphold the result, reverse it, or order a fresh election. Overturning could conceivably happen if the court ruled ballot papers had been incorrectly interpreted, or declaration votes wrongly excluded. However, all the talk has been of a by-election initiated on the basis that voters had been wrongly denied votes in numbers exceeding Labor’s winning margin.

There are three stories circulating as potential basis for such a challenge: the Australian Defence Force’s confirmation of a failure to vote by 628 Australian Defence Force personnel participating in Exercise Hamel, a military exercise conducted around Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Whyalla in South Australia, including up to 85 who might have been based in Townsville; claims that people were unable to lodge absent votes in the neighbouring seat of Kennedy due to a shortage of ballot papers; and a statement Senator Ian Macdonald says he has from medical staff a Townsville Hospital that AEC officials neglected to provide ballots in a particular hospital ward.

A number of legal precedents are of note here. At the Queensland state election in July 1995, the Labor government under Wayne Goss eked out a one-seat victory that depended on a 16-vote victory in the Townsville seat of Mundingburra. This result was voided by the Court of Disputed Returns on the grounds that 22 military personnel serving in Rwanda did not receive the postal votes they applied for in time due to a transportation bungle by the Australian Defence Force, combined with errors made by the Electoral Commission. A by-election was ultimately held the following February and won by the Liberals, resulting in the fall of Goss’s government.

On a purely legal level, the relevance of a case centred on postal votes to the claimed irregularities in Herbert is limited. However, the centrality of Defence Force personnel to the Coalition’s case is very important as a matter of political strategy. The Murringburra by-election was followed at the end of that year by another litigation-initiated electoral re-match — this time in the federal seat of Lindsay in western Sydney, where Jackie Kelly’s win for the Liberals had been overturned on grounds of her employment by the RAAF, an “office for profit under the Crown”. On that occasion, Labor was humiliated when voters gave Kelly a further 5.0% to add to the 11.8% swing she received at the election. If a fresh election in Herbert is to have any chance of being to the Liberals’ ultimate advantage – a very dubious proposition under the best of circumstances – it is crucial that it be presented as a means of redressing the disenfranchisement of military personnel, and not the sort of sore loser act Labor was indulging in in Lindsay.

The second clearly relevant precedent from federal level was the seat of Ballarat at the 1919 election, when Labor’s Charles McGrath was defeated by Nationalist candidate Edwin Kerby by a margin of one vote. This was overturned on the grounds that a handful of voters had been wrongly denied ballots due to various official errors, which in two cases involved voters being denied absent votes. At that time, polling stations were issued with blank ballot papers for absent voting, on which officials would fill out the names of the candidates for the relevant division and provide them to the vote. However, a polling station in Corangamite ran out of such papers, and the presiding officer advised deprived voters to await the arrival of new papers. None arrived, and after several hours, the officer decided instead to issue altered ballot papers for Corangamite – but by this time, two affected voters from Ballarat had given up and gone home.

In response to this episode, a number of legislative changes were made in 1922 – one of which proved to be significant after the Western Australian Senate election was botched in 2013, and another of which has an important bearing on the present circumstance. In determining whether the official errors in Ballarat at the 1919 election were sufficient to warrant a fresh election, the court deemed it material that the deprived voters had intended to vote in a way that would have changed the result. It was felt this violated the secrecy of the ballot, so the Electoral Act was changed to specify that no such evidence was to be admitted. After the 2013 election, this section was invoked to refute the argument that the voting intention of the 1375 voters whose ballots had gone missing during the WA Senate recount should be ascertained with reference to the first count.

This changed to the act widened the scope for potential challenges, so the 1922 amendments also imposed limits on who could give evidence about having been denied a vote. This survives today as section 367 of the Electoral Act, which allows evidence to be admitted only from those who made a claim to vote. Media reports say the AEC set up seven polling stations within the Exercise Hamel area at which 1274 votes were cast, and that a further 1371 force members were taken to vote at surrounding population centres. However, 628 did not cast votes for reasons the Defence Department has declined to shed further light on. Unless these members actually fronted up to vote and were knocked back, section 367 would allow no basis for the court to hear their complaint.

As well as that, the Courier-Mail reports the Liberal National Party has written to postal vote applicants in an attempt to identify anyone who failed to receive their ballot paper. The party’s efforts to cover all bases calls to mind another legal challenge at state level in Queensland, following Labor’s 74-vote victory in the Brisbane seat of Chatsworth in 2009. An LNP fishing expedition cited 130 postal vote applications for which no vote was processed, 30 cases of multiple voting, and various other bits and pieces. Most of these were deemed to have had innocent explanations, and the 10 genuine discrepancies that were identified were too few to influence the result. But with the federal division of Herbert having three times as many voters as the state district of Chatsworth, and fewer than half as many votes having decided the result, there seems to be an even money chance that a court challenge will give the Coalition what it appears to believe it wants.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

362 comments on “Late count: Herbert finalised, Senate results imminent”

  1. “But the gold goes to the Renewable Energy Party (who else) which polled 8008 ATL votes, zero of which got to even #4 on the party card.”

    So not even the person who wrote the card followed it? Or maybe it was written by someone from out of state? Or written by committee such that no one person agreed with it in its entirety?

  2. moksha @ #350 Friday, August 5, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    Is the two party preferred figure final now? 50.37 to LNP?

    Not necessarily; they are still counting Reps votes and may well be doing so for a while. Five seats have had updates in the last few hours. It could be that at least all seats are now fully included in the 2PP, in which case it is unlikely to change much as remaining scraps are tidied up.

    The declaration of results in all seats just means the AEC knows who has won every seat. In 2013 it took two months and three weeks from election day to release the final national 2PP.

  3. The current 2PP figure of 50.37 is based on c13,531,000 out of c13,541,000 total formal votes – so about 10,000 still to be put in but hard to see how a change of more than .01 could occur from here.

  4. @Moksha
    Actually it may have been my fault. I voted for a non-Greens micro party for my 1st preference to make a point (even though I knew they had no hope of being elected), then for the Greens. I think the net effect was that my vote ended up at full value with Andrew Bartlett completely by accident. I voted tactically by accident.

  5. I need something explained.

    The Greens Senate result for this election says the following:
    The Greens 1,197,657 8.65 -0.58

    Which implies they went down 0.58% on their vote from last election. But the 2013 results say they ended up on 8.65%, so the change should be 0%.

    Is this just the result of the WA Senate rerun? The current results are using the WA rerun in the Senate swing?

  6. Moksha – quite right – the -0.58% change solely results from comparing against the Senate re-run figure for WA. No change from the figures on the national figures from the main 2013 election.

  7. @Moksha,
    I disagreed with the Greens decision to support the current copyright system in all its glorious public domain strangling glory so I went Pirate Party first. I knew they’d get excluded before the Greens so it made no difference. Same with the left wing micro parties I put between the Greens and Labor. And the centrists between Labor and the LNP (I stopped at that point but I’m kind of regretting not putting the Lib Dems before One Nation right now. Garbage Fires both that they be.)

  8. @Timothy Rawlins: I’m still trying to work out whether I voted sensibly. I voted 1 Science Party, then my vote went via AJP and Xenophon (skipping over the Greens and Labor cause they were all elected/excluded already) before ending up with the LDP at preference 18 at full value. I guess I’m glad that my vote helped keep the CDP out, but getting an LDP instead isn’t a huge consolation.

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