Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will need to negotiate with a clutch of small parties to get his legislative agenda through parliament from mid-2014 after final counting showed them holding the balance of power in the Senate.
Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition, which won a majority in the lower house on Sept. 7, is set to hold 33 of the 76 seats in the upper house when the new Senate is formed on July 1, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. Labor is on course for 26 spots, the Greens nine and smaller, mainly center-right parties eight. They include the Palmer United Party, formed six months ago by mining magnate Clive Palmer, which looks to have won three seats.
The result means Abbott requires the support of at least six Senators outside his coalition to make good on his election promises to repeal the previous Labor government’s carbon price mechanism and mining tax, and introduce a maternity-leave plan that will cost A$5.5 billion ($5.2 billion) a year. Labor and the Greens are unlikely to support most of his intended laws.
“Abbott will be reasonably confident that he will be able to cobble together a right-of-center group in the Senate to get his laws passed, particularly on economic issues,” said Paul Williams, a political analyst at Brisbane’s Griffith University.
The election saw 40 of the 76 member Senate up for grabs. Until July 1 the balance of power is held by the Greens, giving them final say over legislation. Abbott is yet to announce when parliament will sit for the first time under the new government.
The AEC said in an e-mail statement late today it deferred the formal declaration of results for the Senate seats in Western Australia after candidates submitted requests for a recount.
Abbott has vowed a “blood oath” to dismantle Labor’s emissions-trading program and said he was prepared to call a double dissolution, which see both houses of parliament dissolved and new elections take place, should the Senate block legislation to do so. As center-right parties will hold the balance of power after July 1, that scenario is now unlikely, Williams at Griffith University said.
Palmer, 59, who plans to build a full-scale replica of the Titanic, claimed voters were tired of the major parties, creating his party in April and mustering candidates for all 150 lower-house seats, as well as 18 Senate positions. He may yet secure a seat himself: The AEC on Oct. 1 ordered a full recount of more than 89,000 votes cast in the Queensland lower-house district of Fairfax, after initial counting showed he won by just seven votes.
The make-up of the Senate, where a state such as New South Wales has the same amount of representatives as Tasmania despite a population that’s about 15 times larger, has long been a bone of contention among politicians in the major parties. In 1992, then-Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating referred to the members of the upper house as “unrepresentative swill.”
Australia’s complex system sees Senate contenders ranked from highest to lowest, with preferences cascading to other candidates as those with fewer votes are knocked out. Voters can either rank the contenders themselves, or tick just one box on the ballot paper and let their preferred party decide on how the preference votes are distributed.
The system can give candidates Senate seats even after winning small fractions of first-preference selections. Ricky Muir won a Victoria Senate seat after his Motoring Enthusiast Party won 0.5 percent of the primary vote in the state. Other parties to win a Senate slot include the Liberal Democratic Party and pro-Christian Family First.
While Abbott looks to implement his legislative agenda, the defeated Labor party is yet to select a new leader.
The opposition is holding a ballot of its rank and file members and lawmakers to choose a leader after Kevin Rudd stood down in the wake of the election defeat. Bill Shorten, a former unionist and party power broker, and Rudd’s deputy, Anthony Albanese, are competing for the job, with the new leader due to be named Oct. 13.
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