Western Australian Legislative Council endgame

Running commentary on the resolution of the Western Australian Legislative Council results.

Update: 8/4

The preference distributions are available from the WAEC here. Of note:

Agricultural. The final seat in Agricultural ended with second Nationals candidate, Martin Aldridge, elected with 13,310 and Stuart Ostle of Shooters Fishers and Farmers defeated on 11,329.

East Metropolitan. Brian Walker of Legalise Cannabis prevailed because their candidate remained in the count at what the ABC calculator identifies as Count 19 by a margin of 12,403 to 11,712 over the Western Australia Party — a margin of 691, a fair bit more comfortable than the 212 projected by the ABC.

Mining and Pastoral. The decisive point in the count here was where, in the race for the last two seats, Wilson Tucker of the Daylight Savings Party had 6007 votes, Neil Thomson of the Liberals had 5304, Jacqui Boydell of the Nationals had 5211 and Matt Priest of Shooters Fishers and Farmers had 4473. Because it was Shooters that fell out at this point, their own preferences boosted Daylight Savings Party and Australian Christians and One Nation preferences flowed on to the Liberals over the Nationals. If the Nationals had dropped out, the last two seats would have gone to the Liberals and Shooters; if the Liberals had done so, they would have gone to the Nationals and the Shooters.

North Metropolitan. The second elected Liberal, Tjorn Sibma, had 52,748 votes at the final count, with defeated Greens member Alison Xamon finishing on 41,512.

South Metropolitan. This came down to which out of the elected Greens candidate, Brad Pettit, or the fifth Labor candidate, Samantha Helps, survived the second last exclusion, at which Pettit held out by 27,942 votes to 27,032, a margin of 910. With its assumption that all votes behaved as above-the-line, the ABC projection had him 60 votes behind.

South West. When Rick Mazza of Shooters Fishers and Farmers was excluded, Sophia Moermond of Legalise Cannabis, James Hayward of the Nationals and fourth Labor candidate John Mondy were the three remaining candidates in the race for the last two seats. The distribution of Mazza’s preferences pushed Moermond and Hayward just clear of the 29,300 vote quota with 30,724 and 29,307 votes respectively, with Mondy just missing out on 27,590.

Update: 6/4

The results for the three metropolitan regions have been finalised, and related on Twitter by Antony Green. Both the close races went against Labor, who were thus denied extraordinary fifth wins in East Metropolitan and South Metropolitan. This meant in the former case a second seat for Legalise Cannabis, and a result of four Labor (Alanna Clohesy, Samantha Rowe, Matthew Swinbourn and Lorna Harper), one Liberal (Donna Faragher) and one Legalise Cannabis (Brian Walker).

South Metropolitan has narrowly returned the Greens’ only member, leaving the party with fewer seats than Legalise Cannabis. The result there is Labor four (Sue Ellery, Kate Doust, Klara Andric and Stephen Pratt), one Liberal (Nick Goiran) and one Greens (Brad Pettit). North Metropolitan played out as anticipated, with four for Labor (Pierre Yang, Martin Pritchard, Ayor Makur Chuot and Daniel Caddy) and two for Liberal (Peter Collier and Tjorn Sibma).

Final result: Labor 22, Liberal seven, Nationals three, Legalise Cannabis two, Greens one, Daylight Saving Party one. The WAEC will hopefully publish preference distributions for all six regions shortly.

Original post

Buttons are being pressed on the three non-metropolitan regions for the Western Australian Legislative Council this afternoon, with the metropolitan regions having to hold out until Tuesday. If I’m reading the WAEC website correctly, none of the preference distributions will be published until all of them are, which means next week. Hopefully though they will be informally doing the rounds sooner than that.

Note that you can view my Legislative Council election results display here, which features party vote totals broken down by lower house electorate, together with my Legislative Assembly results here. These are up to date with the WAEC website and media feed, but presumably aren’t final based on what Antony Green is saying about the Daylight Saving Party’s winning vote tally.

To be updated as more information becomes available:

South West

Antony Green tweets that South West has gone three for Labor (Sally Talbot, Alannah MacTiernan and Jackie Jarvis) and one each for Liberal (Steve Thomas), Nationals (James Hayward) and Legalise Cannabis (Sophia Moermond). There was some doubt as to whether Legalise Cannabis would jump through the required hoops and win a seat off 2.11% of the vote, as per the ABC projection, but it’s happened, with knock-on effects that gave the last seat to the Nationals rather than a second Liberal.

Mining and Pastoral

As expected, this has produced the group voting ticket system’s most perverse result yet, with four for Labor (Stephen Dawson, Kyle McGinn, Peter Foster and Rosetta Sahanna), one for Liberal (Neil Thomson) and one for the Daylight Saving Party (Wilson Tucker), the latter elected off a base of 98 votes, or 0.2% of the total.


The pressing of the button was in this case a formality, confirming a clear result of three Labor (Darren West, Shelley Payne and Sandra Carr), two Nationals (Colin de Grussa and Martin Aldridge) and one Liberal (Steve Martin).

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.

57 comments on “Western Australian Legislative Council endgame”

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  1. Wow. Daylight Saving did get up. I was crossing fingers on BTLs.

    I think it’s a shame Legalise Marijuana pipped Diane Evers.

  2. Great news! Looking forward to seeing a Daylight Saving bill being introduced by Wilson this year and debated in parliament after 15 years. Labor do have a history of supporting such bills, but I’m guessing they probably wont.

  3. Group ticket voting could be reformed, not abandoned. For example, a threshold of say 2% (or even 5%) could be placed. Those votes for groups that get lower than that are not lost, but simply go to the first candidate that belongs a group that has more than the threshold. This would make the preference whispers job harder.

    Victoria is the only other place still using Group ticket voting like WA and it worked in favour of the current government at the last election so I can’t see them changing things before the next election. But if it is a complete mess post 2022, I can see it going.

  4. The fact DSP got elected with such a tiny vote would probably count against their ability to get a debate going on their pet issue. The last four referendums voting no, no, no and no would also get in the way.

    Money-wise, they get $196 in funding from the WAEC, but also owe Glenn Druery $50,000 (probably their only major campaign cost). If they don’t have that kind of money lying around, this could turn into legal comedy.

  5. William Bowe says:
    Thursday, April 1, 2021 at 8:10 pm
    The Liberals get 300,796 votes in the Legislative Assembly, win two seats. The Nationals get 22,208 votes in Agricultural region, win two seats.

    The Nationals won NW Central with 3,997 votes after prefs. Great work when you can get it.

  6. Meaning that in Fremantle it was a ALP-Green TPP count. There was talking on election night that a few other seats would be ALP-something other than Liberal/National TPP count (the Christian Party was looking like they going to get close to overtaking the Liberals in one seat). But I, guess this didn’t happen as postal votes generally go to major parties.

  7. BSF: That was Armadale. The Christians beat the Libs to second on ordinary votes, 7.6% to 6.7%, but with postals and early votes added that became 5.7% to 7.5%. They got 26% in one booth, nothing else above 10% – their vote seems to be hyper-localised, based around particular churches.

  8. Two sheep and one human = Three votes in the Upper House in WA — in some of the more disparate areas of the State….But as our country friends in these areas would say, unless the sheep vote for us, who will?

  9. Some of these result would have to be national records in contested seats? Record low LNP primary? Highest ALP primary? That sort of thing.

  10. Tricot: the lower house is even better. Land gets to be on the electoral roll, in blocks of 67 sq km (roughly). The Nats haven’t figured out how to give that land voting rights yet, but they’re probably working on it.

    The LDA is another thing that’s become troublesome, by the way. It exists to make the remote electorates less impossibly huge, but Central Wheatbelt and Roe have tripped that 100,000 sq km limit (they fail the “can drive across it in a day” test), and redistributions keep on relying on it to shuffle phantom voters between the remote districts. There’s a section of the Gibson Desert that’s been in three different districts since 2008 for that reason. It’s not so blatantly undemocratic, but it is pretty silly and the WAEC shouldn’t be using it as a crutch. Just enlarge the lower house.

  11. Regarding lower house records there were old state election cases of, eg, ALP vs Communist in some states where the Labor candidate got over 90%. For contests between major parties, some cases with higher primary votes for the winning party have been found but there is no clearcut case with a higher 2PP than McGowan’s. There is one that might have been had preferences been distributed.

    I’m not sure what the record for lowest Coalition primary vote is in a seat at state or federal level. Labor has polled worse than any of these, eg Warringah 2019. However these low scores in WA could be new records for a major party on the proviso that the major party made the top two.

  12. Disasterboy: MLC #6 is Steve Martin of the Libs. One of a pair of bewildered newbies (along with the Lib in Mining and Pastoral) who are gonna have to learn how to be senior politicians real quick, whether they like it or not.

  13. Wikipedia provides a neat summary, if not yet final: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Western_Australian_state_election#Legislative_Council

    It’s great to see a decisive Labor majority in the Upper House. Also gratifying is the fact that One Nation lost all three of its seats, the LDP lost its single seat and no seats went to “Christian” groups.

    This is a historic opportunity for Labor to get stuff done in WA. They must seize the opportunity.

    That includes reforming the Upper House before it returns to a virtually permanent right-wing majority in 2025. In this, Labor could look to how NSW does it – elect half the House every four years by proportional representation – one vote one value. Transition might be messy but NSW managed it.

  14. Steve777 says:
    Friday, April 2, 2021 at 1:55 pm
    Wikipedia provides a neat summary, if not yet final: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_Western_Australian_state_election#Legislative_Council

    It’s great to see a decisive Labor majority in the Upper House. Also gratifying is the fact that One Nation lost all three of its seats, the LDP lost its single seat and no seats went to “Christian” groups.

    This is a historic opportunity for Labor to get stuff done in WA. They must seize the opportunity.

    That includes reforming the Upper House before it returns to a virtually permanent right-wing majority in 2025. In this, Labor could look to how NSW does it – elect half the House every four years by proportional representation – one vote one value. Transition might be messy but NSW managed it.

    Chambers with staggered elections are inherently conservative. Think of the US Senate or our own. Electoral reform should consist of two parts
    – removing the electoral weighting for remote and rural seating in the Legislative Assembly, to be achieved by increasing the number of metropolitan/urban electorates, say to 90 seats; and
    – creating upper house seats whose boundaries approximately overlap an equal number of lower house seats, say 3 lower house seats to each upper house seat.

    Election should be by the customary preferential voting in each house, and constituencies in either house would have a single member.

    However, if State-wide proportional representation were retained for the upper house, then GTV/preferential voting would have to be abolished for that house; meaning candidates/party tickets would need to achieve quota/s under their own steam.

    In a chamber of 30 members the quota would be 1/31 of the State wide vote + 1 vote. A party/ticket that achieved, say, 45% of the vote would elect 13 members on whole quotas and have a carry-over part quota of 0.95 seats. This may be enough in the last round to mean the 14th candidate on that ticket would also be elected. This would require a provision for last-round candidates to be chosen from tickets with less than a full quota, such that tickets with the largest part quotas would win a seat until all seats had been filled. This would mean that minor parties could still win seats, but the threshold would be much higher than is now the case.

    Even the hapless NWB could achieve a seat under such a regime. Tiny single issue outfits with no electoral support would invariably be eliminated and their votes would not contribute to the election of other unrelated candidates.

    Elections for both chambers would be held at the same time on fixed 4-year terms, as is now the case.

  15. I see there are media reports to the effect that Mr Tucker of DSP (who has been elected to LegCo in Mining & Pastoral region) lives in the United States. If that is the case it may transpire he was ineligible to be elected – s. 76A of the WA Electoral Act imposes a requirement that candidates must have been resident in WA for 1 year. There were 2 DSP candidates so presumably the other candidate may end up being elected, if there is a challenge to the result.

  16. I’m told the WA Electoral Commission’s view of s.76A is that you only need *ever* to have been resident in WA for one year — not specifically before the election.

  17. @N

    Why bother with two houses elected by the exact same method?

    If you are going to do that you may as well just have 1 house.

  18. As a voter in Mining and Pastoral I am a little bemused by the argument re the need to change the Upper House because of a permanent conservative majority. For me it is simply undemocratic that my vote counts for around 6 times what a metro upper house vote counts for. That is simply undemocratic – every person’s vote should be more or less of equal value – leave the sheep voting to our NZ cousins. I also find the regions need equal representation argument laughable as well. The lower house is dominated by members largely elected because of their party affiliation. It’s also hard to see what say Kalgoorlie and Kununurra have in common but they are both in Mining and Pastoral. The current system encourages wasteful schemes like Royalty for Regions that fund big, shiny new projects to provide cover for the lack of ongoing funding forent essential services. Any change is only likely to be an improvement.

  19. Catprog: Sounds to me like a return to the province system we had before 1989. The reason he would like it is because it wipes out all parties except the big two (including his bete noire, the Greens). It’s obviously a stupid idea.

    Staggered terms… I dunno. In the senate that means six years, but for us that’s eight (similar to SA and NSW). In SA, that made the death of the Democrats more long and drawn-out than it needed to be, and then they had the two elected on Xenophon’s coattails still there long after they’d fallen out with him. NSW has Justin Field, who gets four years as an independent after leaving the Greens, and whatever happened to the motley crew elected on the 1999 tablecloth ballot. Eight years is too long. (It does not, however, make the chamber more conservative.)

    Electing the whole house at large would make the quota small enough that you end up with some fairly small parties getting in anyway, even without GVT. Say 36 (so the quota is 2.7%), and this election would’ve given ALP 22, Lib 6, Grn 2, Nat 1, and the other 5 a mess (maybe Legalise Cannabis, Shooters, Christians, another each for ALP and Lib). Depends what you think is an acceptable threshold for parties to get elected.

  20. N may not have come up with his obviously stupid idea himself — I have actually heard that Labor are putting it about, though I hesitate to believe they would actually go through with it.

  21. William Bowe says:
    Friday, April 2, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    N may not have come up with his obviously stupid idea himself

    But I did, William, sorry to say. I quite like single member constituencies. Parliamentarians have to be answerable to someone…might as well be their own voters.

  22. I think even McGowan would have trouble scrapping the Legislative Council, as it requires a referendum.

    Queensland voted down abolishing its appointed Legislative Council in 1917, using the dispute resolution referendum provision, long before the current proportionally elected upper house had taken off in other mainland parliaments (increasing the popularity of upper houses by making their alterations to legislative outcomes more equal opportunity for different parts of the political spectrum and increasing comparatively fair parliamentary inquiries). (The subsequent abolition was achieved through appointments to the Legislative Council giving the ALP a majority.)

  23. I’m not a fan of single-member electorates. For nearly all practical purposes the “local” member is not accountable to the voters in the geographical region covered by their electorate but to their party apparatus, normally one of the two majors. An independent who manages to win is the exception that proves the rule.

    In my case, in Federal lower house elections, no matter who I vote for, the “Liberal” always wins. Fair enough – I’m outvoted by my neighbours. However, under this arrangement the individual member is immaterial – he or she will be a cipher for an ugly, corrupt and incompetent right wing regime. My local member is a “Liberal” “moderate” but he might as well be Eric Abetz, Peter Dutton or any one of a number of culture warriors, chancers, dog-whistlers and hard right ideologues in the Party.

    At least under some form proportional representation, including multi-member electorates*, all broadly held views in the community get representation.

    * with a decent number of members – at least 5

  24. Looking at this from afar (I’m in the UK) I think it’s outrageous that a candidate / party can be elected to the legislature with so few first preference votes and then ends up ahead of the party with well over 50 times his first preferences in the order of those elected.

    It’s also outrageous that essentially a few men – the preference whisperers – can determine the preference orders for so many minor parties and determine the results of the elections.

    How many electors actually understand how the preference system works down to this level of detail and this can be the consequences of it? And if they did do they actually approve of it?

    You could make a start by changing the preference system. Why should E.g. Labour be forced to allocate a preference to parties diametrically opposed to their agenda. Same with the Liberals and Nationals. Why should a party have to explain why it put the Christians before the Anti Vaxxers or the day light savers over the Waxit at the end of their preference lists?

    Electors who want to vote BTL shouldn’t be forced to number dozens and dozens of candidates in correct order for their vote to count. Certainly they should have to preferences a minimum the same number of candidates as there are vacancies but more than that should be down to the individual as long as they are made aware of the consequences of their choice.

    If I want to preference Labour candidate 5 then the 6th Green and the 4th National and the 2nd Anti Vaxxer and then top two Shooters then I should be allowed to without having to decide how to preference a load of people lower than that who I don’t know or don’t like. Giving a forced preference still means I have given some sort of legitimacy to a party I may loathe.

    The representation levels between the metropolitan and rural areas needs to be brought more into balance. The current 50-50 split when the population merits 75-25 is undemocratic. Of course the rural areas need a voice in the LC but 50-50 is too much. Perhaps 66-33 would be more fair?

    Other countries give certain regions a larger number of seats in their legislature than the population would strictly merit without it causing a such a huge disparity. In the UK Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had more Westminster seats than their strict population would merit but we lived with it and since devolution the number of seats they have has been reduced.

    Other countries have thresholds for a party to pass to get seats in their houses. The list seats in New Zealand (5% or winning a constituency seat) and seats in the Dutch Lower house has a thresholds.

    In the Netherlands it’s 0.67% of the vote to get a seat in their 150 member house voted as a national constituency, In their election a couple of weeks ago they had 37 parties put up candidates but only(!) 17 passed that threshold to get at least one seat.

  25. Notice even the West made the point this morning about the absurdity of a member being elected to the State Upper House with fewer votes than patrons at the local picture theatre on a bad day……….

  26. While we await the final count, I wish to chew the fat on three matters.
    First, allow me to shout from the rafters my firm belief in a substantial quota/threshold to eliminate joke/minor/micro/no-hoper parties and candidates. I would prefer a fixed 5% – like in Germany – instead of the mathematical gymnastics that N relates above (Friday @ 3.09pm). Just keep it bloody simple! Those parties not achieving a quota – and those parties with excess quotas – would have their votes distributed only to those parties above quota. In the current climate, it would mean only 2 or 3 parties would be left dancing. It would necessitate a merger between the Libs and Nats, but that’s their concern. The counting time would be such that results may well be guesstimated on election night. Crucially, quotas must be based only on primary votes, not snowballs. How good is all that?

    Second, this won’t be popular, but I support the upper house elected on a Senate-like state-wide basis under PR to represent parties like the Greens who are over 5%, but well short of being elected in single-member electorates due to their dispersed vote. Why should the Nats benefit more than the Greens simply because they live in close proximity? There will be no malapportionment and no redistribution problems every other election as state borders are static. Keep everything bloody simple!

    Third, now you’re really going to hate me – if you don’t already. I would keep the GTV system for the time being simply because it reduces informal voting. The current system encourages large numbers of hopeless candidates who want to game the system. Over time, a high quota would dissuade no-hopers from becoming candidates and it will force mergers. Then maybe you could make further changes. I support a system having the option of BTLs, but only if the number of candidates is markedly reduced. The current system dissuades any ‘intelligent’ use of BTLs due to frustration and innumeracy. So, keep everything bloody simple! When’s my next race…..?

  27. I’d like to add a fourth. About the frequency of elections, Our Lord Gough used to go on and on about the need for ‘contemporary parliaments’. So, no more 8-year terms, no more squatocracies, and no more relics left over from the previous parliament. Kick the bloody lot out every 4 years and start again.

  28. Catprog says:
    Friday, April 2, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    Why bother with two houses elected by the exact same method?

    If you are going to do that you may as well just have 1 house.

    Then have a State-wide single electorate. Abolish GTV. Enact proportional representation and a quota/seat system, as outlined above. Get rid of preferential voting in the upper house.

  29. https://www.pollbludger.net/2021/04/01/western-australian-legislative-council-endgame/comment-page-1/#comment-3585727

    The biggest parties prefer majority government, at least for when they are in power, making proportional representation extremely hard to get any traction for in houses of government (the exceptions being Tasmania, where it has been in use for over a century and the ACT which is so politically lopsided that it would struggle to have a functional multi-party system with single member electorates).

    The House of Reps cannot have full MMP (with overhang seats) because of the strict formula for apportioning seats to states that can only be altered by a referendum that passes in every state.

    Australian referendum voters historically have also tended to be opposed to unicameralist measures.

  30. I would like to see a Hare-Clarke type voting system in WA but I cant see how you would work that out myself.

    Otherwise when scrapping the malapportioned LC, I think a NSW or SA model makes the more sense than just watering GTV down like Vic.

    Get rid of it all, but yeah no 8 year term for MLCs. Those that would get those positions on the top of the ticket for the major parties will still get picked anyway so career poltical furniture need not worry.

  31. The closest I can see for a shift to a proportional representation-based lower house is in SA, simply because of how the Liberal vs. Labor voters are spread out and how it has led to some curiously disparate popular vote v. parliamentary seat results in recent years. And it certainly would be a better solution than the quasi-gerrymandering solution of the so-called “Fairness Clause.”

    However, I don’t detect much motivation for that. Labor are hesitant on that front for obvious reasons and the Liberals seem to have conveniently decided it’s not an issue anymore after they won power.

    In SA (yes, I know this is a WA thread) I’d personally favour a unicameral Hare-Clark system but with around 10 electorates electing 7 members. I wouldn’t base it on federal boundaries though because that number is shrinking over time but it’s because of slower relative population growth not because of population decline, so it makes no sense to shrink the number on the state level.

  32. Has anyone considered the benefits of a mixed member-proportional (MMP) system, when it comes to getting the best of all worlds for Parliamentary representation? New Zealand has been operating on it since ~1990, and it appears to be working just fine.

    One reason I want to shift to MMP is so that political parties’ overall level of support is reflected in the number of seats they get in Parliament. It’s a perverse reality that the Nationals, thanks to having a concentrated little bloc of voters, can count on the same 10-12 seats every election, while the Greens typically get twice their vote total, and (at most) 1 or 2 seats in the House. And yes, this would also apply to parties I passionately loathe (such as PHON) – if we’re supposed to be a representative democracy, then Parliament should actually be representative of the wishes of the people.

    One benefit – among many – of MMP is that affairs like the “Sports Rorts” scandal would be entirely pointless; with the list seats making up for discrepancies between votes and seats, marginal seats would (at long last) be little more important than safe seats. Why? Because every vote that the parties get counts when it comes to using the list systems, unlike now where it doesn’t matter if a party wins a seat on a margin of 0.5%, 5% or 35%.

  33. The flaw with MMP is that parties which hold a seat due to the incumbent gain no benefit. This is because said incumbent’s personal vote will not aid the party on the list vote.

  34. N:

    That’s irrelevent. Electoral systems should be designed to represent the will of the people, not to make things easier for a particular party. Why shouldn’t the Greens, One Nation, Shooters and Fishers, and the like have a place in parliament if they have the public support to warrant it?

  35. I actually think the system used federally and in most states, with a single-member lower house and proportional upper house, works pretty well for the most part. You get the best of both worlds, really – the party / coalition with the most public support will (with a few exceptions) form government, but smaller parties will generally have some leverage on legislation going through in the Senate (with the opposition also existing as an alternate avenue for governments looking to bypass the crossbench). Electorates all have their own individual members, allowing for locally-focussed independents and parties to still exert influence, while minor parties with board but thinly-dispersed support bases (eg. The Greens) generally do well in the senate, with a few more seats falling to even smaller parties with a big enough niche following.

    I also don’t really agree with the great Gough when it comes to the merits of the our federal Senate. The state-based malapportionement is a colonial anachronism that should have been nixed decades ago, but otherwise I think it’s an effective and neccesary check on government power, albeit one that is due for some reform.

    There are problems with our current electoral systems, no doubt, but not of the sort that require a complete rework in my opinion.

    The House, I think, is pretty much fine as is. We’re probably long overdue due for another expansion – currently the average federal electorate has around twice the electors that they had prior to the last big expansion in 1949 (brought about by the post-war population boom and MP complaints about how big the electorates were getting), and over three times the population of the average electorate immediately after ’49. A bigger House of Reps would make life easier for independents and many smaller parties, as well as for the electoral commission when allocating seats to the NT, ACT, and Tas. This may be controversial, but I’m actually not super opposed to optional preferences over full-preferential in the house either, provided that there’s a minimum number of preferences one must list (three or four sounds right), but I don’t think sticking with full-preferential is an issue either. First-past-the-post must be avoided at all costs. All of the above can basically apply to state House of Assemblies too, though Tas and ACT seem fine as they are, and there is a solid argument for introducing some form proportional representation in South Australia’s HoA too. (MMP would probably solve its unique, er, issues more elegantly than the current “fairness clause”)

    The Senate has always been the “messier” house, a weird fusion of the the US Senate and the undemocratic colonial upper houses that resulted from the compromises necessary to make Federation possible, and while the basic structure has remained the same, there are been significant changes in how senators are elected – apart from the addition of GTV, these have generally been or the better. (The state upper houses would also be reformed in the early 20th century to be more like the Senate.) Its initial purpose as the states’ house is pretty much defunct now – instead, as both Australia and the Senate’s own electoral system as evolved, it’s become a house of review, a check on government power which typically has a varied mix of crossbenchers holding the balance of power. The various legislative councils have followed similar paths.

    Two (possibly three) big-ish reforms would improve the Senate massively, in my opinion. First would be (mostly) ending the malapportionment. Simplest solution is that each state/territory has roughly. half as many Senators as house seats, with a minimum of, say, two (so NT and ACT will still have little more representation than otherwise. NSW, Victoria, and possibly Queensland would probably be split into divisions that each elect a block of around 4-8 senators, each division having (roughly) equal representation. With proportional rep and staggered terms, the Senate composition would generally be sufficiently different from the House to justify its existence as a house of review, while it would be incredibly unlikely that oppositions have a blocking majority (sometimes that is already an increasingly unlikely occurence since the rise of smaller parties.) The cases for malapportionment in state upper houses have even less merit – there is cause for rural areas to be weighted slightly higher than urban areas, but nothing remotely like the ridiculous situation in WA.

    Secondly, the Senate’s powers to block supply desperately need reform. The only thing stopping another 1975 situation is that no opposition has been in a position to block supply since then (you just know Abbott would have done it in 2010-13 if he could.) Either the Senate needs to be incapable of blocking supply bills, or it needs to have the ability to legitimately force an earlier election through a super-majority. Leaving things as is just asking for another game of constitutional chicken to happen in future.

    On staggered terms, I’m actually in support of them, at least when we’re talking six year terms. (I agree that eight years is a bit too long.) I don’t think it’s a bad things that a government who has won consecutive landslides has more legislative freedom than one that just scraped into power from opposition with a bare majority – the problem with unicameral parliaments, or bicameral parliaments that regular deliver majorities to the government in both houses, as that there often isn’t much difference between majority of one and a majority of fifty. In my opinion, it should be hard to win a majority in the upper house. It should be something that happens in big landslides or after multiple election wins. Minority and opposition voices deserve a place in parliament, and deserve to be able to exert some influence onto the legislative process.

    That said, Whitlam’s old complaint about “senators elected in 1968 and 1971 obstructing a government elected in 1972” (I’m probably incorrect on the year of at least one of those half-senate elections) certainly wasn’t without cause. It rarely comes up these days since it’s been so long since the last solo half-senate election (whereas they were the norm rather than the exception when Whitlam became PM), but it’s a situation that could easily recur. Perhaps the answer would be some sort of provision that, say, after X half-senate elections in a row, the next election must be a double-dissolutions.

    Don’t know much about how state upper houses function in regards to blocking supply and solo elections (I imagine fixed terms render the latter moot for the most part), but otherwise the above all applies to them too, along with the obvious neccesity for any states still using GTV to abolish it as soon as feasible. With four year terms, electing the entire upper house each term is probably the better bet than staggered terms, though even that is less of a concern without the bizarre results GTV throws up at times.

    As for minimum quotas in upper houses, I don’t think that’s nessecary, at least in systems that don’t use GTV. With Group Ticket Voting taken out of the mix, states and legislative council districts just don’t elect enough senators per election for any candidates to get up without the support of a significant portion of the public. The sort of ridicilous leapfrogging you see with GTV just doesn’t happen in a standard preferential system – there’s just too much preference leakage for anyone to get up without a substantial primary as a base. Even in the 2016 election, with the quotas halved, the only minor parties that got elected were those who polled decent primaries. Just abolish GVT, and you don’t have to worry about anyone getting elected on 115 votes or whatever again.

    Oh, and one final thing, regardless of their sizes and electoral systems, both upper and lower houses need to have an odd number of members. Even numbers are just asking for gridlock.

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