Wrapping up our guide of the Senate with a review of the two territories, which are unlikely to turn up any surprises on Saturday night.
The two territories have each been represented by two Senators since the 1975 election, following Whitlam government legislation which survived High Court challenges in 1975 and 1977. Whereas the state’s Senators serve six year terms which are fixed but for the possibility of a double dissolution, the territory Senators’ terms are tied to the House of Representatives, so that the Senators facing re-election had likewise done so in 2010.
The formula for election is the same as for the states, but it has very different consequences given that two Senators are elected rather than six. The quota in either case is one divided by the number of seats up for election plus one, so a territory election quota is 33.3% rather than 14.3% at a half-Senate state election, or 7.7% at a double dissolution. A party is thus guaranteed of a seat if it wins a third of the primary vote, which the major parties have only failed to manage on a small number of occasions: the Liberals in the Australian Capital Territory in 1983, 1984 and 1998, and the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory on the one occasion they faced opposition from the Nationals in 1987. On each occasion, preferences were easily enough to get their candidates over the line.
Consequently, none of the territory Senate elections has produced a result other than one seat each for Labor and the main Coalition party. The most likely scenarios to disturb this would involve one or other major party winning both seats, in effect requiring it to win two-thirds of the two-party preferred vote, or one party failing to reach a quota and the preferences of minor parties and the surplus of the other major party coalescing behind a minor candidate. The only credible contender for the latter in the ACT is the Greens, whose task has been made more difficult by the Liberals placing them last on their preference order, such that it will no longer be enough for them to simply overtake the Liberals. However, as Antony Green notes, Labor could potentially face that difficulty in the Northern Territory, with all preferences favouring the Australian First Nations Political Party, an Aboriginal rights party which polled rather modestly at last year’s Northern Territory election. It would first need to get ahead of the Greens, whose own chances are negated by the Coalition having them last on preferences.
Australian Capital Territory
Labor’s Senate seat in the AUstralian Capital Territory has been held since 1996 by Kate Lundy, who became the party’s youngest ever female member of the federal parliament with her election at the age of 28 (since surpassed by Kate Ellis). Lundy served in opposition as parliamentary secretary from August 1997 and a junior minister from after the 1998 election, but was dropped when Labor came to power in 2007, perhaps going some way to explain her steadfast support for Julia Gillard during subsequent leadership battles. She recovered her parliamentary secretary status under Gillard after the 2010 election, then returned to the junior ministry in the sport, multicultural affairs and industry and innovation portfolios following Rudd’s failed leadership challenge in February 2012. After Rudd’s return in June she was dropped from sport, but retained her other portfolios. Lundy is a member of the Socialist Left faction.
The Liberal candidate is Leader Zed Seselja, who led the Liberals in the territory parliament from December 2007 and February 2013, including during the unsuccessful 2008 and 2012 election campaigns. Seselja secured preselection at the expense of incumbent Gary Humphries, whom he defeated in a party ballot in February by 114 votes to 84. Humphries had held the seat since 2003, earlier serving as the territory’s Chief Minister from OCtober 2000 to November 2001. Humphries supporters called a general meeting of the territory branch in response to his defeat, complaining that party members had wrongly been excluded from the motion to overturn it was defeated by 168 votes to 138. Success for the motion would reportedly have meant a new ballot encompassing 400 extra party members who were denied the first time around as they had not attended a branch meeting in six months.
The candidate for the Greens is Simon Sheikh, who has achieved a high profile as the founding director of GetUp! Other contestants for the preselection were Kate Hamilton, a former councillor in Leichhardt in inner Sydney, and local party member Stephen Darwin.
Nigel Scullion has held the Country Liberal Party’s Northern Territory seat since the 2001 election. He had a brief spell as a junior minister in the Howard government, serving in the community services portfolio from January 2007 until its defeat the following November. Scullion sits in parliament with the Nationals, having joined it for parliamentary purposes in 2006 to prevent the Nationals from losing party status after Victorian Senator Julian McGauran defected to the Liberals. He became the Nationals’ deputy leader and Senate leader after the 2007 election defeat, but lost the latter position to Barnaby Joyce at the time Malcolm Turnbull became Liberal leader in September 2008. In opposition he assumed the agriculture, forestry and fisheries portfolios, moving to human services under Turnbull and indigenous affairs when Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009.
Labor’s candidate for the coming election is Nova Peris, who became nationally famous under her married name Nova Peris Kneebone when she became the first Aboriginal woman to win an Olympic gold medal as part of the women’s hockey team. She then switched to athletics and competed in the 400 metres individual and relay teams at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Peris was contentiously anointed as a captain’s pick by Julia Gillard in January 2013, redressing the party’s long-running failure to achieve Aboriginal representation in the federal parliament.
Coming in the wake of Labor’s disastrous showing in remote communities at the Northern Territory election the previous August, Gillard’s move seemed well timed. However, it came at the expense of Trish Crossin, who had held the seat since 1998 and was not of the view that the time had come for her to move on, and was achieved by overriding local preselection processes. It was also very widely noted that Crossin had been a supporter of Kevin Rudd’s February 2012 bid to return to the leadership. Vocal critics of the move included two former Labor Deputy Chief Ministers, Marion Scrymgour and Syd Stirling, along with Left faction powerbrokers Doug Cameron and Kim Carr. Scrymgour and another former Territory minister, Karl Hampton, expressed their displeasure by nominating against Peris for the vote by the party’s national executive, and it was reported that at least two of its 24 members voted against the Prime Minister’s wishes. There was speculation that Kevin Rudd might overturn Peris’s preselection upon his return to the leadership in June, but this did not transpire.