The first in a six-and-a-bit part series which will, hopefully, get the whole Senate covered by polling day.
New South Wales has consistently produced conventional results since the era of six-seat half-Senate elections began in 1990, with either the Greens or the Democrats winning a seat on five of eight occasions and the seats dividing evenly between the major parties on the other three. 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. The minor party seats came at the Coalition’s expense in 1990 and 1998, and Labor’s in 1996, 2001 and 2010.
Kerry Nettle became the Greens’ first Senator for the state at the 2001 election when preferences from minor left-wing parties engorged her 4.3% base vote by enough to overtake One Nation on 5.6%, whose preferences then favoured her over both major parties and Democrats incumbent Vicki Bourne. The fading of One Nation and the Australian Democrats at the 2004 election caused Labor, the Coalition and Greens votes to increase, but in the latter case it was not enough to put them ahead of Labor’s surplus over the second quota, and the final seat went to Labor’s third candidate. The surge to Labor in 2007 likewise precluded the possibility of the Greens winning the third left seat, and Kerry Nettle failed to win re-election. Lee Rhiannon achieved a breakthrough for the party in 2010 when a surge in support for the party combined with a swing against Labor in New South Wales allowed her to achieve victory conventionally by overtaking the third Labor candidate and winning on their preferences, and not by the philosophically uncomfortable transfusion of One Nation preferences which had occurred in Nettle’s case.
The two main factors in assessing the likely outcome at the coming election are whether the collective Labor and Greens vote falls low enough to allow the “right” to win four seats rather than the usual three, and whether a third “left” seat, if there is one, goes to Labor or the Greens. The chances of this happening increase where parties order their preferences in such fashion as to potentially cause their votes to cross the ideological divide. Potential examples of this include Wikileaks and the Sex Party, who have dealt their way into a preference harvesting operation involving such catchily named entities as Stop the Greens and Smokers Rights, the provenance of which has been delved into by Andrew Crook of Crikey. The most likely beneficiary is Shooters and Fishers, which polled 2.3% in 2010, although another is Pauline Hanson, who is now back with One Nation. However, Hanson has been placed last by the Coalition, and thus does not stand to absorb the surplus after the election of their third member. In fact, she may have reduced the chance of a four right, two left result, as other micro-parties with the potential to win a seat with Coalition preferences could find themselves excluded due to a failure to overtake her.
Labor’s ticket is headed by Bob Carr, Foreign Minister and former Premier of New South Wales from 1995 to 2005, who entered parliament in March 2012 upon filling the casual vacancy caused by the resignation of Mark Arbib. Arbib was a former secretary of the state party and Right faction warlord whose considerable muscle allowed him to enter parliament from the top position on the ticket at the 2007 election. However, Arbib was one of the key initators of the coup against Kevin Rudd in June 2010, and he struggled to live down his reputation as one of the party’s pernicious “faceless men”. It was nonetheless a great surprise when he announced his resignation immediately after Kevin Rudd’s first failed leadership challenge in February 2012, saying he wished to spend more time with his family and allow the party to recover from the division in which he had played a key role. Julia Gillard saw in Arbib’s departure an opportunity to enlist Bob Carr to fill the vacancy created by Kevin Rudd’s resignation as Foreign Minister, and boost her political stocks in the process. However, this provoked resistance from Stephen Smith, who hoped to recover the portfolio he had ceded to Rudd after the 2010 election, and Simon Crean, who hoped to replace Smith in defence. Gillard appeared at first to have made a politically damaging backdown, before reasserting herself with a surprise media announcement with Carr at her side that he would indeed be taking the job.
The second and third positions on the Labor ticket remain unchanged from 2007, reflecting an arrangement which reserves the first and third positions for the Right and the second for the Left. In second position is Doug Cameron, who made his parliamentary debut at the 2007 election when George Campbell, his predecessor as national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, made way for him rather than face defeat at preselection. Cameron emigrated from Scotland in 1973 at the age of 22, and has retained his distinctive accent. He has maintained a high profile as a factional spokesman, and as a supporter of Kevin Rudd’s leadership bids. After Kevin Rudd’s return at the end of June, he won promotion to parliamentary secretary for housing and homelessness. Number three on the ticket is Ursula Stephens, an Irish-born practising Catholic who before entering parliament was a school teacher and adviser in the NSW Premiers Department during Bob Carr’s tenure. Stephens secured the top position on the Senate ticket at the 2001 election, but was obliged to take the Right’s number three position in 2007 to make way for Mark Arbib. She served as a parliamentary secretary through Labor’s first term in government, but was dropped after the 2010 election.
The Coalition ticket is headed by Marise Payne, a generally low profile figure whose preselection ahead of Arthur Sinodinos was seen by some as an affront by the state party to Tony Abbott. Payne has been in the Senate since March 1997 when she filled a casual vacancy caused by the resignation of Bob Woods, who left under a cloud over allegations of misuse of parliamentary privileges, and was re-elected from the number three position in 2001 and 2007. She faced down a preselection challenge on the latter occasion from the party’s rural vice-president Scot Macdonald, which was knocked on the head at John Howard’s direction through a creative rejection of McDonald’s nomination by the body designed to vet candidates on grounds of character or ethics. Payne was promoted to shadow parliamentary secretary after the 2007 election defeat and then to the shadow ministry in December 2009, holding the housing portfolio since after the 2010 election. In the second position reserved for the Nationals is John “Wacka” Williams, a former Inverell businessmen who defeated incumbent Sandy McDonald for preselection before the 2007 election. This result was reported in terms of a desire to follow the example of Barnaby Joyce, who had demonstrated the electoral value of an image of independence from the Liberal Party, although Williams has failed to match Joyce’s profile. That has left number three for Arthur Sinodinos, who served as chief-of-staff to John Howard from his election in 1996 until 2006 when he took up a position with Goldman Sachs JBWere. Sinodinos entered the Senate in November 2011 after the resignation of Helen Coonan, a senior Howard government minister who had served in the Senate since July 1996. He has so far won promotion only to the position of parliamentary secretary, achieved in September 2012, and it has often been said he has bene a victim of Tony Abbott’s determination to maintain a stable front-bench line-up at the cost of maintaining the positions of lesser lights.
The lead Greens candidate is Cate Faehrmann, who filled the vacancy in the New South Wales Legislative Council when Lee Rhiannon was elected to the Senate at the 2010 election. Faehrmann is said to be part of the environmentally motivated tendency within the state party, as distinct from the “hard left” faction associated with Lee Rhiannon. After the party’s disappointing performance at the 2011 state election she wrote a newspaper column criticising the party’s focus on the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. She resigned from her position in the Legislative Council to embark on her Senate campaign in June.