Federal Election 2016: Which senators will get a six-year term and which will only get three?

Australians are about to endure the first double dissolution election in a generation. This throws up a number of peculiarities, not least for sitting senators.

To restore the normal electoral rhythm after polling day, some of the newly elected senators will receive a six-year term, while others will get three years.

So how is this decided? That was the question posed to us by several curious Australians.

Any journalist setting out to research this topic owes a debt to ABC election analyst Antony Green, who has blogged extensively on it.

The short answer, as Green points out, is that the Senate itself will decide which senators will serve longer terms.

In the past, the Senate has used one of two methods; the Order-Of-Election or a Recount.

First – some background. Australia has 76 senators, 12 from each state and two from each territory. State senators are usually elected to staggered six-year terms, with half of each state's senators facing the electorate every three years.

The election of Territory senators is tied to elections in the House of Representatives, so they usually serve terms of about three years.


There have been six previous double dissolution elections in 1914, 1951, 1974, 1975, 1983 and 1987.

After each of these elections the new Senate has used the Order-Of-Election method to choose which senators serve a full six-year term. This means the first six senators elected in any state get six years, numbers seven through 12 get three years.

But as Greens points out in his blog, Order-Of-Election can create some strange and potentially unfair outcomes.

To get around this problem, Section 282 was inserted into the Commonwealth Electoral Act in 1984.

Hugs and kisses during the swearing in of new senators at Parliament House in Canberra.   Janet Rice, Jacqui Lambie and Ricky Muir celebrate during the swearing in of new senators on July 7, 2014. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

The Recount method

It provides for a different method, one we'll call the Recount method.

In this model, the votes are counted as if the double dissolution were a normal half-Senate election for six seats instead of 12. The senators elected in this method would get a full six years, and the rest would get three-year terms.

Interestingly, the Recount was used for the 1987 double dissolution election, but the Senate chose to ignore it and instead allocated terms using the Order-Of-Election method.

The Senate has since moved resolutions under both Coalition and Labor governments stating its intention to use the Recount method. But there's nothing to bind a future Senate to it, and a majority of senators would be free to act in their own political interests.

Green says the choice of method could have significant implications for the left of politics.

"This is most likely to have an impact on the Greens in New South Wales and Queensland where the two methods are likely to produce different results on whether Labor or the Greens are allocated long term seats," he wrote in his blog.

He says under the Order-of-Election method, it is also possible the Greens could win two long-term senators in Tasmania, Western Australia and Victoria. He says the method would be certain to deliver the Nick Xenophon Team two long-term senators in South Australia.

A new start date

As an interesting aside – this double dissolution will almost certainly bring to an end to the long delay often experienced by new senators taking their seats.

Had a normal election been held later this year, new senators wouldn't start until July 2017. But under double dissolution rules, the new Senate's term will be backdated (only a day) to July 1st this year.

That means another Senate election would be due by July 2019, bringing it into much closer alignment with the House of Representatives term.

Source: ABC News

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