04 July 2016
by Fleur Anderson

Senate changeover signals wild ride for democracy

Ricky Muir and Glenn Lazarus are out, and Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch and a clutch of Xenophonites are in. But the extent of the Senate crossbench takeover may not be known for weeks.

The number of crossbenchers is likely to rise from eight to an even more unpredictable nine or 10 and major political parties are glum about their chances of passing significant policies.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who battled the class of 2013 crossbench senators over his 2014 budget, said the growing influence of balance-of-power senators and move away from the two-party system threatened Australia's future.

"This is a serious long-term problem for our country, the real Americanisation of our politics is not privatisation," Mr Abbott said on Sunday, referring to Labor's Medicare Americanisation campaign.

"The real Americanisation of our politics is the growing difficulty the executive has in getting its legislation through the parliament. That's the real Americanisation of our politics."

Even if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is able to form a majority Coalition government in the House of Representatives, his signature $50 billion company tax cut plans faces stiff odds of ever becoming reality because of the new Senate.

The Australian Electoral Commission will not start counting Senate ballot papers again until Tuesday. That leaves party strategists to guess how the Senate makeup will play out. Only 60 per cent of the vote is counted under the new and untested Senate voting arrangements.

There are only loose estimates that Labor will claim between 23 and 27 Senate seats, the Coalition between 26 and 30, the Greens between six and nine, Nick Xenophon's NXT candidates up to four spots, Ms Hanson between one and three spots and Mr Hinch one spot.

"This is the first time I've ever voted in my life," Mr Hinch said. "I've waited 72 years to find someone worth voting for. I'll be the oldest man in the Senate, but I can handle that.
Representing such diverse policy platforms ranging from on some zero net immigration (Ms Hanson) to animal justice (Mr Hinch's Justice Party), there are fears the horse-trading required to secure crossbench support will eventually cruel the democratic process.

And there will be bickering among the Senate players.

"We can be certain that Pauline Hanson has made a successful return to the Senate," Greens leader Richard Di Natale said. "Let me just say that the Greens will stand against her racist and bigoted agenda."

With 39 votes needed to pass legislation, the Coalition will have to get the support of either Labor, the Greens or nine members of the crossbench including the Xenophon bloc.

If Labor wins in the House of Representatives, on every occasion it is challenged by Coalition senators it will have to get the help of the Greens and at least four of the crossbenchers.

The two major risks for the Coalition are its company tax cut and superannuation policies.

In the case of the company tax cut, all those in the position of holding the balance of power oppose all or part of the tax cut package. In the case of superannuation, Labor, the Greens, NXT and Ms Hanson all have their own ideas on super reform.

"Every bill, every difficult bill, now has to be fought through vote by vote, clause by clause," Mr Abbott said.

"I think this is a real problem, particularly for a government that has to make tough decisions on spending, economic and national security."