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Last weekend’s WA Senate election represented a most unusual situation in itself, but its outcome is unlikely to have a significant impact on the make-up of the upper house.
With over 90 percent of first preference votes counted, the Greens have experienced a 6.3 percent improvement in the re-run, albeit off the back of a 3.3 percent nationwide swing against them last September. This was helped by the massive grass roots campaign in support of number one candidate Scott Ludlam, undoubtedly propelled by his disgraceful speech to the Senate last month.
The Palmer United Party has so far seen an even larger upward swing, securing a seat for lead candidate Dio Wang. Not surprisingly, the party’s advertising campaign outspent all the other parties put together.
Although Labor has only experienced a 4-5 per cent swing against it so far, the result is a primary vote of less than 25 per cent across the state. Nevertheless, the party will secure at least one seat for former union boss Joe Bullock, a traditional Labor Right candidate who voted against Whitlam in 1975.
While they hope to gain a second seat (after only winning one in the original count), it is more probable the Liberals’ third candidate will take the final spot, with the remaining postal votes likely to work in her favour. In any case, the Liberals would have been expecting to experience a swing against them – governments tend to perform worse in by-elections, and this Senate result has been no exception.
Of more concern is the Abbott Government’s failure to make any major strides in implementing its first term agenda. The release of the budget next month may provide a solid platform to expedite reform, particularly in areas like health and welfare, but sitting governments only get one “first budget” before they must begin demonstrating their own credentials.
If they fail to do so, the dissatisfaction against the major parties shown in Western Australia may well be seen across the whole country at the next poll (bearing in mind the high chance the AEC will see a massive overhaul in the interim).
At the end of the day, although media coverage has focused on the huge gains made by the minor parties, the reality is that the worst-case scenario for the government would leave their prospects in the Senate largely unchanged.