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Senate: Australian Capital Territory

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 the Liberals losing their Australian Capital Territory seat to the Greens. The latter task has been made more difficult for the Greens at this election by the Liberals placing them last on their preference order, so it will no longer be enough for them to simply overtake the Liberals. In any case, Greens hope for the seat at recent elections have gone unrealised, with only a slight increase in their vote from 21.5% to 22.9% at the 2010 election despite a much stronger swing nationally.

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.

Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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