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Why Australia Could End Up With Another Hung Parliament

With the polls neck and neck, neither party might have the required 76 seats to form government—which would take us straight into a second election.

Right now, Australia is in the middle of its longest election campaign in nearly half a century. Things have started getting a little absurd. Our Immigration Minister already accidentally quoted South Park, telling a news presenter that refugees "would be taking Australian jobs." And there's still another seven weeks to go.

But what if I told you that as soon this election is over we could be heading right back to the polls for _another one_? Sound like a nightmare? Well, it is a nightmare. And it's all to do with the fact we could end up with another hung parliament.


The idea of two, back-to-back federal election campaigns might sound ludicrous but media outlets are rating it as a "real possibility". So how could it happen?

As the first double dissolution since 1987, this federal election is already a bit special. On top of electing 150 members to the House of Representatives, we're also electing all 76 members of the Senate. Normally, only half of our senators are fighting their seats each election.

While the Senate is quite a powerful political body that has the authority block legislation, the House of Representatives is where the action is. That's where government is formed, and where the Prime Minister hangs out.

To form government a party needs to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. The magic number is 76 seats. For most of recent history each election has resulted in either Labor or the Liberal-National Coalition neatly winning more than 76 seats and then going on to form government.

Things start to get messier when the votes have been tallied after the election and it turns out neither major party has the required 76 seats. This is the "hung parliament."

We got one of these back in 2010, when Julia Gillard's incumbent Labor government ended up with 72 seats and the Coalition had 73. With neither party able to form government in their own right, the attention turned to the one Greens MP and four independent members in the House of Representatives.


After an intense process of haggling over policies, Labor ended up securing the support of the Greens and three independents, getting over the 76 seat mark.

Hung parliaments are pretty rare in Australia. In fact, we've only had one since World War II. But with extremely close polls this year there's fresh speculation that we could end up in the situation where neither major party wins enough seats to form government.

So what would actually happen under this scenario? Let's look at a hypothetical result that has a reasonable chance of occurring according to the current polls:

It's possible, for example, that we could be looking at a House of Representatives where Labor and the Coalition end up on 72 seats each (four seats short of a majority). The remaining seats would be taken up by four independents and two Greens MPs. These MPs, who don't belong to any major party, are referred to collectively as the "crossbench."

In this scenario, both Labor and the Coalition would need to convince four to six of these crossbench MPs to support them, in order to form government. Whichever party gets the support of these four MPs first, wins. The Greens have already declared their preference for supporting Labor in the event of a hung parliament, which could boost Bill Shorten's chances of becoming Prime Minister.

But how could all this lead to a second election? If we end up with a hung parliament, and neither major party can convince enough crossbenchers to support them, then there's only way to resolve the deadlock—heading back to the polls. So if we take our above example, let's say Labor gets the support of the two Greens and one independent. But the Coalition manages to secure the backing of the other three independents. That means both parties are on 75 seats each. The likely end result? A new election. To make things even more complex a couple of likely independent MPs have already ruled out supporting either major party. The Greens have also explained that while they would prefer a Labor government to a Coalition one, they may refuse to support either party. What happens if most of the crossbench refuse to support either party? Again, it's a new election.


Both major parties have actually ruled out trying to do a deal with minor parties in the event of a hung parliament, but no one is taking this too seriously because both are pretty hungry for power. However, if they stick to their word though and absolutely refuse to even try secure the support of minor parties, the result is familiar: a new election.

Basically, the closer the election result, and the more minor party and independent MPs that get elected, the higher the chances of a hung parliament. And if neither major party can cobble together the 76 seats required to form government, we may well follow up this eight-week campaign with a re-run of the election.

That could mean Australians spending a full three months being subjected to repetitive election ads, and dull, repetitive slogans like "Jobs," "Jobs and growth," and "Growth, growth, and more growth."

Pray for us.

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