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The Guardian - AU

Senate may have a progressive majority as Greens and David Pocock make election gains

Successful Greens lower house and Senate candidates celebrate with senator Larissa Waters after the party’s success in Saturday’s election.
Successful Greens lower house and Senate candidates celebrate with senator Larissa Waters (third from right) after the party’s success in Australia’s 2022 federal election. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

While election night coverage was mostly focused on the House of Representatives, there has been a significant shift to the left, potentially setting up a progressive Senate majority, unlike the deadlock experienced by the first Rudd government.

Labor and the Greens hold only 35 seats in the outgoing Senate, meaning they need to win four more for the Greens to hold the sole balance of power. Labor will want to avoid the deadlock experience from 2008 to 2011, when Labor needed the Greens, Nick Xenophon and Family First senator Steve Fielding to pass legislation. This deadlock led the Rudd government to instead work with the opposition on climate legislation, among other issues, and thus opened up the space for Tony Abbott to wreck the government’s agenda.

Now it looks as though Labor, the Greens and the progressive independent David Pocock may together form an absolute majority in the Senate.

Labor and the Greens will disagree on plenty of issues, but both will have an incentive to ensure success in the next term. And with up to four Greens elected to the House of Representatives, legislation with Greens support will have a handy buffer in the lower house.

The Greens look set to win a senator in every state, which would give them a total of 12. They appear to have gained a seat in Queensland, ousting LNP senator Amanda Stoker, and in South Australia from the former Centre Alliance independent bloc. Former senator Nick Xenophon’s comeback bid was a failure, sitting on 2.7% of the primary vote when counting was paused on Saturday night. The Greens are also set to take Labor’s third seat in New South Wales, the vulnerable seat that Kristina Keneally vacated to make her ill-fated run for Fowler.

A large swing to Labor in Western Australia has put them on course to win three seats, in addition to the incumbent Greens senator. That third Labor seat also comes at the expense of the Liberals.

So the Liberals have lost their third seats in Queensland and Western Australia, and look unlikely to win more than two seats in any other state except for New South Wales.

Tammy Tyrrell of the Jacqui Lambie Network is in the box seat to take the third Liberal seat in Tasmania, unseating veteran Liberal senator Eric Abetz.

The race is wide open for the final seat in South Australia and Victoria, where the major parties and the Greens will win five seats between them, but are not in a position to challenge for the last seat. The United Australia Party is leading in Victoria and One Nation is leading in South Australia, but their lead is narrow and could easily change as more votes are counted. In addition to the two larger right-wing minor parties, Legalise Cannabis looks surprisingly competitive for these seats.

The most interesting result is in the Australian Capital Territory, where former Wallaby David Pocock is narrowly behind Liberal senator Zed Seselja on primary votes, 23.4% to 22.1%. The ACT shares some demographic similarities with the inner city seats where Liberal lower house MPs were defeated en masse, and the Liberal vote has crashed across central and northern Canberra.

While Seselja is leading, Pocock should benefit from preferences from the Greens, who are polling 10.5%, and fellow independent Kim Rubenstein, sitting on 4.5%, and should do respectably on preferences from most of the remaining candidates.

If he wins, as seems likely, this will be the first time since the introduction of proportional representation in 1949 that one of the major parties is entirely locked out of a jurisdiction.

There are still a lot of Senate votes yet to be counted, including all prepoll votes. And of course preferences are very unpredictable and may produce unusual results.

While the successes for minor parties and independents in the House of Representatives were more dramatic, a record crossbench in the Senate may prove almost equally significant. There were 18 crossbenchers in the Senate elected in 2013, but the current results suggest there may be as many as 19 in the next parliament, reducing the major parties to their lowest ever share of seats.