The Poll Bludger


Senate: New South Wales

New South Wales has consistently produced conventional results since the era of six-seat half-Senate elections began in 1990, with a minor party winning a seat on six out of nine occasions and the seats dividing evenly between Labor and the Coalition the other three times. One of many remarkable Senate results of the 2013 election was that the minor party seat went to David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrats, who was a beneficiary of a first placement on the largest federal election ballot paper in Australia’s history and, it seems, confusion between his own party and the Liberal Party. Minor party victories have reduced Labor to two seats in 1996, 2001, 2010 and 2013, and the Coalition to two in 1990 and 1998. The Liberals and Nationals have consistently run joint tickets throughout the modern era with the Nationals alternating between second and third position, giving them a safe seat at every second election and a less safe one in between.

David Leyonhjelm’s win in 2013 was achieved from 9.5% of the primary vote, for a party that has struggled to clear 2% without help from fortuitous ballot paper placement. Preferences from various micro-parties boosted Leyonhjelm to a 14.3% quota to win the fifth position, with the sixth place going to the third Coalition candidate, Arthur Sinodinos. The Greens vote fell from 10.7% at the 2010 election to 7.8%, or 0.55 quotas, to which Labor was only able to contribute a further 0.21 quotas when their unsuccessful number three candidate was eliminated. The party’s incumbent Senator for the state, Lee Rhiannon, was elected on the back of a national surge of support at the 2010 election at the expense of Labor, which had a particularly weak result in New South Wales. The only previous Greens victory came in 2001 when Kerry Nettle was elected on the back of an ideologically troubling transfusion of preferences from One Nation, who had favoured Nettle ahead of Democrats incumbent Vicki Bourne. Nettle was squeezed out by the swing to Labor at the 2007 election, when the Coalition and Labor both won three seats.

Based on 2013 election results, a double dissolution election with the lower quota would very likely have delivered five seats to the Coalition, four to Labor and one each to the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Palmer United. The Liberal Democrats vote will surely be much lower this time, as the party is only two columns away from the Coalition on the ballot paper (fourth and sixth respectively), and confusion should be further diminished by the introduction of party logos on ballot papers. This gives the Coalition a strong chance of winning five seats, even if there is a swing away from them in the lower house. Leyonhjelm may well still win a seat, as he has had nearly three years to build a profile and has both major parties directing preferences to him on their how-to-vote cards. The Christian Democratic Party and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers both have received second and third preference on the Coalition how-to-vote card, and have sufficient presence at state level that they could potentially emerge in contention for the final seat, together with the Nick Xenophon Team. A sixth seat for the parties of the left would likely require that the combined Labor and Greens vote increase by about 5%, which is beyond what state-level polling is indicating.



The double dissolution added a further complication to the factional warfare that has engulfed the Liberal Party in New South Wales in recent years, as it upset the hopes of the Centre Right faction to find a spot in the Senate for its favoured candidate, Hollie Hughes. Hughes initially secured first place in a preselection held last year for a presumed half-Senate contest, which relegated incumbent Connie Fierravanti-Wells, a member of the Hard Right, to second place. This roused controversy because the preselection panel included two lobbyists and moderate factional operatives, Michael Photios and Nick Campbell, two years after the former had been forced off the state executive by a Tony Abbott-sponsored rule forbidding the involvement of lobbyists. It was also in defiance of the wishes of Malcolm Turnbull, who had recently signalled his support by promoting her to the ministry.

Hughes forestalled a looming intervention by the party’s state executive in agreeing to swap places. However, the real blow to her immediate prospects came with the announcement of the double dissolution election, and the broad agreement that emerged that incumbents should be favoured in the new preselection. This left Hughes jostling for space not just with Fierravanti-Wells, but also with the Liberal incumbents elected in 2013, Marise Payne and Arthur Sinodinos. Since the third and fifth positions were reserved for the Nationals, this caused Hughes to be relegated to sixth place, from which she is unlikely to win.

Top position on the ticket goes to Marise Payne, who had a slow ascent from her entry to parliament in 1997 to her elevation to cabinet as Defence Minister after Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister in September 2015. Payne filled a casual vacancy in March 1997 and won re-election from second position in 2001 and 2007, before being elevated to the top of the ticket in 2013. Her preselection ahead of Arthur Sinodinos, who had to settle from the loseable number three position, was seen by some as an affront by the state party to Tony Abbott. The Nationals’ claim on second position has been used to accommodate Fiona Nash, who was promoted from the outer ministry to cabinet in February in the regional development, rural health and regional communications portfolios.

Arthur Sinodinos again has third position, but this time in the much more favourable context of a double dissolution ticket. Sinodinos filled a casual vacancy in November 2011 after distinguishing himself as John Howard’s chief-of-staff from 1997 to 2006, but has struggled since 2014 with donations scandals that beset the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party during his period as its treasurer. This caused him to resign from the outer ministry position of Assistant Treasurer in December 2014, before emerging from the sin bin stronger than ever as cabinet secretary after Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership coup in September 2015, for which he had been an agitator.

In fourth position is Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who was demoted from outer shadow ministry to parliamentary secretary status after the 2013 election, then to the outer ministry as Minister for International Development and the Pacific in February. The second Nationals position, at number five, goes to John “Wacka” Williams, who was first elected in 2007 after deposing incumbent Sandy McDonald for preselection. Sixth-placed Hollie Hughes is a Moree-based autism support advocate and the state party’s country vice-president.


Labor’s four top positions are filled by its four incumbents, only one of whom as faced election as a Senator. In first position is Sam Dastyari, Right faction powerbroker and former general secretary of the state party branch. Dastyari filled a casual vacancy ahead of the 2013 election that was created when his predecessor as general secretary, Matt Thistlethwaite, moved to the lower house as member for Kingsford Smith. In October 2015 he won promotion to shadow parliamentary secretary status. In second position is Jenny McAllister, a former party national president and technical director of a civil engineering firm who came to the Senate in May 2015. McAllister filled a vacancy reserved to the Left faction when party elder statesman retired. Third position goes to Deborah O’Neill, who held the Central Coast lower house seat of Robertson from 2010 until her defeat in 2013, then promptly found a seat in the Senate through vacancy created by Bob Carr’s post-election resignation in November 2013.

In fourth place is Doug Cameron, former national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary and a figure of influence in the Left, who was elected from second position in both 2007 and 2013. His preselection in 2007 was gained at the expense of his predecessor as Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary, George Campbell, who made way for him rather than face preselection defeat. Cameron emigrated from Scotland in 1973 at the age of 22, and has retained his distinctive accent. He maintained a high profile as a factional spokesman and supporter of Kevin Rudd’s leadership bids, and won promotion to parliamentary secretary when Rudd returned to the leadership in June 2013, and then to the outer shadow ministry in the human services portfolio following the September 2013 election defeat. Fifth place is taken by a newcomer from the Right faction, Tara Moriarty, the state secretary of the United Voice union.


The Greens ticket is headed by the incumbent, Lee Rhiannon, who served in the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1999 until 2010, when she quit for her successful run in the Senate. Rhiannon is associated with the party’s hard Left tendency, having been a member of the Soviet-aligned Socialist Party of Australia in her youth. A large field of candidates ran against Rhiannon at a party preselection vote last year, among whom was her hard Left colleague Jim Casey, state secretary of the Fire Brigade Employees Union and now the candidate for the winnable lower house seat of Grayndler. Second on the ticket is Newcastle councillor Michael Osborne.


Elected to the Senate in 2013 for a term that began in mid-2014, David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrats is a former veterinarian and founder of an agribusiness consultancy firm, who was a member of the Liberal Party until 1996, when he resigned in protest against the stricter firearms laws brought in by the Howard government in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, and later the chair of the Shooters Party. The Christian Democratic Party candidate is Nella Hall, who has campaigned against the Baird government’s council amalgamations. Hall won preselection from a field that included Silvana Nero, the wife of Fred Nile, whose candidacy fostered dissension in the party over Nile’s conflict of interest. The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate is Karl Houseman, IT manager for construction company Stowe Australia.