The Poll Bludger


Senate: Victoria

Victoria had a curious record in the period of six-seat Senate elections from 1990 to 2013, in that it failed to produce a Greens Senator until 2007 and elected micro-party Senators on three separate occasions, despite generally being a strong state for the former and a weak one for the latter. The result in 2013 produced the most conspicuous example of micro-party preference harvesting when Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party won the sixth seat from a base of 0.5% of the vote. Prior to 2013, Victoria had been the only state to have elected micro-party Senators, with John Madigan’s win for the Democratic Labour Party in 2010 and Steve Fielding’s win for Family First in 2004.

Ricky Muir’s win in 2013 was achieved amid an increase in the number of Senate groups to 39 from 21 in 2010, and an increase in the collective micro-party vote from 13.2% to 16.7%. Muir’s base of 0.51% was on a par with Australian Christians, but behind Rise Up Australia, Shooters and Fishers, Animal Justice, the Democratic Labour Party and Help End Marijuana Prohibition. However, unlike each of those parties, Muir’s Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party was reasonably inoffensive to both left and right, and hence uncommonly well placed to become the beneficiary of interlocking preference deals. With five parties remaining in the count, Muir with 5.48% had emerged ahead of Palmer United with 4.88%, almost all of which then flowed to Muir (included in this total were the votes for the DLP and Katter’s Australian Party, which had flowed to PUP as preferences). Muir was now clear of the Sex Party and slightly behind the third Liberal candidate, Helen Kroger, but the distribution of the Sex Party’s 6.0%, which had mostly been gained as preferences from various left-of-centre concerns, decided the result for Muir ahead of Kroger.

John Madigan, then of the Democratic Labour Party, won his seat in 2010 at the expense of the Coalition, who had not previously failed to win a third seat going back to 1990. Madigan received preferences from the Liberal Democrats, One Nation and Christian Democrats, allowing him to get ahead of Steve Fielding, who was seeking re-election with Family First, and then received Fielding’s preferences in turn. With the Liberals polling their lowest in the state since the Second World War, Madigan was now clear of the third candidate on the Coalition ticket, Nationals-turned-Liberal Senator Julian McGauran. Steve Fielding’s win in 2004 was a consequence of preference deals Labor and the Democrats entered into with Family First in the unrealised hope of being their beneficiary. When Fielding emerged ahead of them in the count with help from One Nation and Liberals for Forests preferences, a transfer of preferences took place from the “left” to the “right” in the shape of the Democrats vote and Labor surplus flowing to Fielding, freezing out the Greens.

Richard di Natale finally achieved the Greens’ breakthrough in comfortable fashion at the 2010 election, scoring a quota in his own right with 14.6% of the vote. Despite a strong result for Labor at that election in the lower house, their Senate vote slipped by nearly 4%, which precluded the possibility of winning a third seat. The Greens vote slipped to 10.8% in 2013, but as the Labor vote slumped all the way from 41.4% to 32.8%, Greens candidate Janet Rice was able to stay ahead of their third candidate and pick up enough of a surplus to make it to a quota. Meanwhile, the Coalition was only able to improve its vote from 33.0% to 37.5%, which provided insufficient defence against the Ricky Muir preference snowball.


senatensw-lnpThe top four places on the Coalition ticket are occupied by the four incumbents, with Bridget McKenzie of the Nationals granted second place under the terms of the coalition. In first place is Mitch Fifield, who filled a casual vacancy in March 2004 and led the ticket in both 2007 and 2013. Prior to entering parliament, Fifield was an adviser to the then Treasurer, Peter Costello, and was closely associated with his never-to-be-realised leadership ambitions. He assumed the outer ministry position of Assistant Minister for Social Services after the 2013 election victory, then won promotion to cabinet as Communications and Arts Minister after Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership coup. Fifield was an active participant in Tony Abbott’s coup against Malcolm Turnbull in December 2009 and continued to support him during the February 2015 spill motion, but defected to the Turnbull camp in the September 2015 leadership challenge.

Bridget McKenzie won election for the Nationals in 2010 from the second position on the ticket the party was granted at alternating elections. The position became available after Julian McGauran quit the party to join the Liberals, only to be accommodated with the ultimately losing proposition of third place on the ticket behind McKenzie.

Scott Ryan was elected from third position in 2007 and then promoted to second place in 2013, reversing positions with Helen Kroger, who lost her seat as a result (she is now running in the lower house seat of Bruce). Key to Ryan’s promotion ahead of Kroger was his attaining a shadow parliamentary secretary position after the 2010 election, which on some readings of party convention entitled him to the higher position. Like Mitch Fifield, Scott Ryan and Helen Kroger had both been associated with the Michael Kroger-Peter Costello axis in the Victorian Liberal Party (Helen Kroger being Michael’s ex-wife), but this tie had weakened with Costello’s disengagement from politics and falling out with Michael Kroger. Also in common with Fifield, Ryan opposed the February 2015 leadership spill motion, but backed Turnbull the following September.

The fourth-placed incumbent is James Paterson, a 28-year-old former deputy executive director with the Institute of Public Affairs, who came to the Senate in March after emerging a surprise winner in the preselection to fill the casual vacancy created by the retirement of Michael Ronaldson. It had been generally expected that the position would go to Jane Hume, a policy adviser for Australian Super who had the influential backing of Michael Kroger, who had won an earlier preselection vote for number three on the ticket in the event of a half-Senate election. Hume now takes the number five position on the Coalition ticket.

senatevic-alpLabor’s ticket is headed by Kim Carr, a Senator since 1993 and the leading figure in the state party’s Socialist Left faction. Carr served in cabinet from the election of the Rudd government in November 2007 until his demotion to the outer ministry in December 2011, which came two months before Kevin Rudd’s first challenge to Julia Gillard’s leadership, and was generally thought to reflect Carr’s association with Rudd’s ambitions. He resigned from the ministry after Rudd’s abortive leadership bid in March 2013, and was restored to cabinet when Rudd deposed Gillard the following June. Since the 2013 election defeat he has held the shadow cabinet portfolio of higher education.

In second place on the ticket is Stephen Conroy, who came to the Senate in April 1996 after emerging through the Transport Workers Union. Conroy is a powerbroker in a Victorian Right sub-faction together with Bill Shorten, which has been party to a “stability pact” with the Socialist Left that has dominated the state branch of the party in recent years. For most of the Rudd-Gillard period he served in cabinet as Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, giving him oversight of the National Broadband Network. His antagonism towards Kevin Rudd led to his resignation when Rudd returned to the leadership in June 2013, which also placed strains on his alliance with Shorten, whose defection to the Rudd camp proved a decisive factor in Gillard’s demise. Conroy resumed a senior role after the 2013 election defeat as Shadow Defence Minister.

Labor’s third candidate is Jacinta Collins, a member of the Right faction associated with the socially conservative Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. Collins first entered the Senate in a casual vacancy in 1995, and was re-elected from third position on the ticket in 1998, before being squeezed out by Steve Fielding’s election in 2004. She returned after securing the top position on the ticket at the 2007 election, and was re-elected from number two in 2013, having exchanged positions with Gavin Marshall. Collins shifted her support from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd ahead of the latter’s successful leadership challenge in June 2013, after which she attained the outer ministry portfolio of mental health and ageing. However, she was reduced to parliamentary secretary rank as shadow cabinet secretary following the September 2013 election defeat.

Fourth-placed Gavin Marshall was first elected in 2001 then re-elected in 2007, both times from second position, before taking top spot in 2013 despite having failed to win promotion from the back bench. Marshall is a former Electrical Trades Union official and an associate of Left faction powerbroker Senator Kim Carr, and like him was a principal of the move for Julia Gillard to be dumped in favour of Kevin Rudd. The fifth Labor candidate is Jennifer Yang (listed on the ballot paper as Chien-Hui Yang), scientist and former mayor of Manningham who unsuccessfully sought preselection for the lower house seat of Chisholm, and ran for the state seat of Mount Waverley in 2014.

senatevic-grnThe Greens ticket is headed by Richard di Natale, who won a seat at the 2010 election and assumed the party’s parliamentary leadership upon the retirement of Christine Milne in May 2015. A former general practitioner and public health specialist, di Natale ran unsuccessfully for the Victorian state seat of Melbourne in 2002 and 2006. It had long been thought di Natale would be one of three contenders for the succession along with Western Australian Senator Scott Ludlam and Melbourne MP Adam Bandt, but in the end he was elected unopposed. The second position on the Greens ticket goes to the candidate elected in 2013, Janet Rice, who had been mayor of Maribyrnong, staffer to state upper house MP Colleen Hartland, and a transport planner for the City of Hume.

senatevic-othJohn Madigan was elected for the Democratic Labour Party at the 2010 election, but quit the party in September 2014, complaining of “political intrigue” on the party’s state executive and interference in his electorate office. He is now running under the banner of the Manufacturing and Farming Party.

Ricky Muir was a sawmill manager who had recently lost his job at the time of the 2013 election, when he emerged startled into the national spotlight as a newly elected Senator. Muir initially entered into an alliance with the three Senators of the Palmer United Party, but this disintegrated together with the party’s unity. Muir also grappled with a split within his party, together with a high turnover in his office. Nonetheless, he earned a measure of media and public sympathy amid a dramatic improvement in his media and parliamentary performances.

Perhaps the most formidable micro-party contender is Derryn Hinch, a nationally famous radio and television broadcaster running at the head of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party. The party’s platform champions a tougher stance on crime in general and child sex abuse in particular.