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What you need to know – in a 10-minute briefing

The Senate – Why a Double Dissolution is rare and important
The House of Representatives – What it would take to change government
How to Vote – new voting system and voting early
Thinking of taking a punt on the Election? Opinion Polling Vs the betting market and "who do you think will win"

See also: Head to Head: Where the parties stand on business policy

 The Senate – Why a Double Dissolution is rare and important

This is not just any Federal Election. It is a double dissolution election – only the 7th such double dissolution in our political history.

A double dissolution is used to break a deadlock when bills have been rejected twice by the Senate with a three-month gap between the rejections. 

Rather than half the Senators standing for re-election to six-year terms as they usually do, all 76 Senators stand at once. 

After the election, the new government has the option of putting those rejected bills to a joint sitting of both houses of parliament. Because of the greater numbers in the House of Representatives, it would generally mean that the bills would pass at that joint sitting.

Double Dissolution triggers

The triggers for the double dissolution election were the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 and the Bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). 

Ai Group has strongly argued for the Senate to pass both of those Bills. The community and business have an obvious, direct interest in ensuring that the rule of law is upheld in the construction industry through the restoration of the ABCC, and the Registered Organisations Bill will ensure higher standards of governance and accountability for unions and other registered organisations. 

Implications of a double dissolution election

This double dissolution has a number of implications.

There are seventy-six senators – twelve for each state and two each for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. Senators are elected by a system of proportional representation for a period of six years, but in a double dissolution election half are elected for six years and the remainder for three years.  This is in order to bring the Senate back into sync with the normal and roughly three-yearly cycle of House of Representatives and half-senate elections.

Because there are double the usual number of senators standing, it means that an individual senator can be elected with a quota half the size of a normal election. That means that in the smaller states, such as Tasmania and South Australia, minor parties have a much greater chance of success than they normally would have. It lowers the quota for election from 14.3% of the vote to 7.7% of the vote.

The Nick Xenophon team, for example, has a chance of electing three or possibly four Senators in South Australia due to the lower quota. Well known Tasmanian independent Senator, Jacqui Lambie, also has a good chance of being re-elected, as would Glenn Lazarus in Queensland whose name recognition is also very high.

Bob Day would also have a chance of re-election as Family First have a relatively consistent 4% of the vote in his state of South Australia to build on. For the same reasons, Pauline Hanson would have to be a chance for election in Queensland as well.

Currently Labor has only 27 Senate seats after winning just 10 of the 36 Senate seats on offer at the 2013 election. Current polling suggests that at the double dissolution election Labor will surpass the 30.8% it needs to win four seats in all states except South Australia (because of the Xenophon party), and could win as many as five seats in most states.  

The Government holds 33 senate seats. This is likely to be reduced in the poll, but if returned it will have the double advantage of potentially passing the blocked bills through a joint sitting and having a Senate with fewer independents. This would ideally mean simpler negotiations for the passage of bills despite it being virtually certain that the Government will not have a Senate majority.

The fact that half the newly elected Senators will earn six-year terms and the other half three-year term has implications for the smaller parties and independents.  Those new senators with the highest vote are generally the ones given six-year terms. The minor parties and independents are more likely to be in the three-year term group. So this means that any of the independents who are returned from the 2013 intake of Senators will get to serve only until the next normal election – as they would have if there hadn't been a double dissolution poll.

Little known Senate facts:

The 1975 election was a double dissolution called by Liberal Leader Malcolm Fraser after the dismissal of Gough Whitlam. But the Bills that were the triggers for the election were not Fraser's – they were Gough Whitlam's. After the election the double dissolution trigger bills were quietly forgotten and there was no joint sitting.

The last double dissolution was in 1987 when Bob Hawke tried to push through the Australia Card. That bill also never went to a vote in a joint sitting because of advice it would not have survived a subsequent Senate vote due to the fact it relied on regulation in the Senate.


 The House of Representatives – What it would take to change government

The Government is of course decided in the House of Representatives and despite this long election campaign there has been relatively little movement in the national opinion polling, which suggests a tight 50-50 outcome. 

But even with the close polls, Labor has a big task to win the 76 seats it needs to form government. Labor currently holds 55 seats (notionally 57 seats after the redistribution which changed electoral boundaries earlier this year) and started the election campaign in its worst position in Parliament since 1996.

The Coalition won 90 seats at the 2013 election and would retain its majority despite the loss of 12 seats on a swing of 3.2%.

On the new boundaries which are the basis of this election, to win outright and form government without independents and the support of minor parties Labor needs to win 19 seats or a uniform swing of 4.0 per cent. This is in addition to assuming that it will win two notionally Labor seats currently held by the coalition with sitting Liberal members. 

If the Coalition can limit its net losses to 12 seats, it will retain office. But a close result raises the prospect of both a hung Parliament and the Government not having the numbers in a joint sitting to pass the disputed double dissolution bills. This would prevent the passage of the ABCC and Registered organisations bills which were the basis of the double dissolution and renew leadership pressures in the post-poll environment.

The Government has the added concern of the potential for an increased number of Australian Greens MPs and Xenophon candidates on the cross bench. Independent conservative MP, Bob Katter, is also set for re-election, while Coalition Deputy and Liberal National Party Leader Barnaby Joyce is gaining ground against a challenge from former independent MP, Tony Windsor.

Rather than a uniform swing, polls suggest the possibility of an uneven swing that may amount to 4 per cent nationally but be concentrated in seats already held by Labor. This would lead to a situation where the Government may win the majority of seats and the opposition may win the majority vote as occurred in the Kim Beazley-John Howard election in 1998. 

In that election, despite winning almost 51 percent of the vote, Labor fell short of forming government. The Coalition Government was re-elected with 49.02% of the two-party-preferred vote (the vote after preferences are distributed), compared with 50.98% for the losing Labor Party. 

The most marginal seats Labor needs to win to win government:

Petrie (Qld)

Luke Howarth



Capricornia (Qld)

Michelle Landry



O'Connor (WA)

Rick Wilson


50.9 v NWA*

Lyons (Tas)

Eric Hutchinson



Solomon (NT)

Natasha Griggs



Hindmarsh (SA)

Matt Williams



Braddon (Tas)

Brett Whiteley



Banks (NSW)

David Coleman



Eden-Monaro (NSW)

Peter Hendy



Lindsay (NSW)

Fiona Scott



Page (NSW)

Kevin Hogan



Robertson (NSW)

Lucy Wicks



Deakin (Vic)

Michael Sukkar



Macarthur (NSW)

Russell Matheson



Reid (NSW)

Craig Laundy



Bonner (Qld)

Ross Vasta



Gilmore (NSW)

Ann Sudmalis



Corangamite (Vic)

Sarah Henderson



Durack (WA)

Melissa Price


53.9 v NWA*

La Trobe (Vic)

Jason Wood



Bass (Tas)

Andrew Nikolic



# Light green is notionally Labor after the electoral redistribution.
* Nationals Western Australia


 How to Vote – new voting system and voting early

Legislative changes earlier this year to the Senate voting system will make it harder for the smaller or micro parties to be elected.  The changes were driven by claims after the 2013 election that the Senate vote had been "gamed" to the extent that some Senators who received a very small number of first preference votes were elected on complex, computer-generated preference swaps. 

The new voting rules resulted in automatic group preference tickets being abolished. The only between-party preferences that will count under the new system are those filled in by voters themselves. Parties can still suggest how preferences should be distributed in how-to-vote cards but it is no longer possible for any party or candidate to determine the between-party preferences of a ballot paper itself.

What that means is that while electors in the past voted 1 above the line where the party groups are listed and preferences were distributed as directed by the party concerned, at the 2 July poll electors will be able to put six numbers above the line with no preferences distributed. This means that parties or individuals elected with a handful of votes but large numbers of preferences will no longer be elected.

The Australian Electoral Commission rules are such that while voters are told to number six squares above the line, if only one box is numbered the vote is still considered formal and accepted.

Errors are also allowed for under the new rules when voting below the line. Voters are directed to fill in 12 boxes below the line, but filling in as few as six is accepted as a formal vote.

How to vote

The public affairs website, The Conversation, has this helpful guide on voting under the new electoral system.

Voting Early?

Early voting commenced on 14 June – more than 3 million people voted early at the last election and that number is growing (this compares with 900,000 in 2010).

A tight election could go down to days of counting of postal votes in marginal seats.  This year there are predictions that as many as 40 per cent of electors will vote early.

The Australian Electoral Commission accepts a broad range of reasons for voting early either in person at pre-poll stations or by post, including:

  • You are outside the electorate where you are enrolled to vote;
  • You are more than 8km from a polling place;
  • You are travelling;
  • You are unable to leave your workplace to vote;
  • You are seriously ill, infirm or due to give birth shortly (or caring for someone who is);
  • You are a patient in hospital and can't vote at the hospital;
  • You have religious beliefs that prevent you from attending a polling place;
  • You are in prison serving a sentence of less than three years or otherwise detained; and
  • You are a silent elector and have a reasonable fear for your safety.

A nail-biting election night?

With opinion polls predicting a tight result, the huge number expected to vote ahead of July 2 could add to a nail biting or inconclusive election night. At the 2013 federal election 3.2 million people voted early, representing 27.1 per cent of all votes counted. This year there are predictions the early vote could go as high as 40 per cent.

Only ordinary votes from polling places are counted on election night. That is, the ordinary votes that are cast at a polling place where the voter's name is marked off the electoral roll at the time of voting. This means that more and more close results will be unknown on election night and reliant on the growing number of pre-poll votes which will be counted later.

The cost of democracy

The 2013 Federal Election cost over $110 million to run, plus election funding payments of approximately $60 million. The election funding rate for candidates, if they achieve at least 4 per cent of the formal first preference vote, is 248.800 cents per vote.

Stubby Pencils? It's the law:

One of the clichés of voting day relates to the 'stubby pencils' handed out for use in polling booths. But why pencils and not pens?  The provision of pencils in polling booths is actually a law – it is a requirement of section 206 of the Electoral Act. One reason they are preferred is because they work better than pens in tropical areas. There is, however, nothing wrong with an elector taking their own pen along and marking their ballot paper with it if they wish. The stubby pencils are also not wasted – they can be stored between elections. 


 Thinking of taking a punt on the Election? Opinion Polling Vs the betting market and "who do you think will win"

Insiders often look to the betting markets to predict the election outcome. They believe that people who risk their own money on an outcome put more thought into the decision and consult more people before deciding than people who answer opinion polls.

While the opinion polls are predicting a 50-50 outcome, as of this week Centrebet is offering $5.50 for an ALP win and $1.15 for a Coalition victory. That equates to around an 83% chance of a Coalition win. This "win" would include in the odds the possibility of a Coalition win with cross-bench support.

Marginal seat betting odds

Some betting agencies also allow betting on individual seats, which provides an insight into how the seats that could change or secure government are tracking. 

Recent analysis of the marginal seat betting suggests a result along the lines of the following:

  • 4 NSW seats going to ALP from the Coalition and with Eden Monaro 50:50;
  • Hindmarsh in SA going to ALP;
  • Burt and Hasluck in WA going to ALP with Swan 50:50;
  • In QLD Petrie and Capricornia going to ALP and Fairfax going back to LNP from Palmer United Party;
  • Solomon in NT also changes to ALP.


In summary: 10 from the Coalition to the ALP and 2 on a knife edge. But LNP pick up one.

This suggests an election result in the following range:

Coalition 81
Crossbench 4
ALP 65


Coalition 79
Crossbench 4
ALP 67

But as with all elections… anything can happen.