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More ACT senators means more for the left

A committee has called for the number of senators to increase from two to four for both territories. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Extra senators for ACT and NT will benefit the left but increase ‘malapportionment’, says ADRIAN BEAUMONT.

THE most contentious recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) that was released Monday is that the number of senators for both the ACT and the NT be increased from two to four.

In the current 76-member Senate, every state has 12 senators, with half elected at a normal election for the House of Representatives and half the Senate. In a special double dissolution election, all senators are up for election.

The ACT and NT have two senators each, with all their senators up at every House election.

Elections use proportional representation with preferences. At a half-Senate election, the quota for election is one-seventh of the vote or 14.3 per cent in a state. In the ACT and NT, the quota is one-third or 33.3 per cent.

The Australian Constitution requires all states to have the same number of senators, so Tasmania is greatly overrepresented. Analyst Kevin Bonham wrote in July 2022 that Tasmania has 21 senators per million people while NSW has only 1.5 senators per million people.

Australia overall has three senators per million people, the NT eight and the ACT 4.4. So both territories are already overrepresented in the Senate.

Doubling the number of ACT and NT senators would increase the NT’s senators per million people to 16 and the ACT’s to 8.8.

Proponents of more territory senators compare territory representation to Tasmania. But doubling the number of territory senators will increase Senate “malapportionment” – this term is used to describe situations where unequal numbers of people elect parliamentarians.

JSCEM did not recommend staggered terms, so all four NT and ACT senators would be up for election at every House election. The quota for election would drop from one-third to one-fifth or 20 per cent.

For the left to get a 2-0 split in the ACT, they currently need about a 67–33 winning margin over the right. When David Pocock and Labor’s Katy Gallagher won the two ACT senators in 2022, it was the first time the ACT had not split 1-1 between the major parties.

With four senators, a 60-40 left win would be enough for the left to take three of these four. Bonham said that every federal election since 2007 would have given the left a 3-1 split of ACT senators. So the left would benefit from this increased malapportionment.

The four senators from the NT would be expected to split 2-2 between the left and right.

Adrian Beaumont, Election Analyst (psephologist) at The Conversation; and Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of Melbourne. This article is republished from The Conversation. 

Two more senators for ACT, says report

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