Wounded Turnbull Faces Unwieldy Aussie Senate After Close Vote

  • Bid to clear independents from country’s upper house backfires
  • Anti-immigration firebrand Pauline Hanson wins 4 Senate seats

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s election gamble to clear independent lawmakers from Australia’s Senate has backfired, leaving him facing a battle to pass key legislation in the next three years.

His Liberal-National coalition now holds 30 seats in the 76-member Senate, from 33 before the July 2 election, while the number of independent or minor party lawmakers has jumped to 11 from eight, the Australian Electoral Commission said Thursday.

Lacking a majority in the upper house, the government will need to negotiate with anti-immigration firebrand Pauline Hanson, who controls four seats, and protectionist Nick Xenophon, with three seats, to pass laws -- including measures to rein in the nation’s budget deficit.

“It won’t be easy for Turnbull because the Senate will be filled by populists and economic protectionists,” said Haydon Manning, a political analyst at Flinders University in Adelaide. “Their priority won’t be budget repair and sound economic management, which Turnbull himself has told voters is the single-most important objective of his government.”

The final Senate tally announced Thursday is an additional blow to Turnbull, who saw his government’s 14-seat majority in the lower house whittled to just one in the election, eroding confidence in his leadership. The former banker’s ability to strike deals will be tested as he seeks to pass laws, including a clampdown on union corruption and a tax cut for small businesses.

So-called crossbench lawmakers in the last term of parliament blocked A$13 billion ($9.9 billion) of savings measures, even as ratings agencies warned the nation’s AAA credit rating would be under threat from a deficit forecast to reach A$37.1 billion next year. S&P Global Ratings last month lowered the outlook on Australia’s rating to negative from stable.

The final tally in the Senate is as follows:

  • Liberal-National coalition 30
  • Labor 26
  • Greens 9
  • Pauline Hanson’s One Nation 4
  • Nick Xenophon Team 3
  • Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party 1
  • Family First 1
  • Liberal Democrats 1
  • Jacqui Lambie 1
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