How important was your vote in the Senate?

Graham Cooke 6 July 2016

It depends on where you live.

Australia may be alone in having a voting paper so long for our upper house that it will not actually fit on the polling booth shelf. As anyone who voted in last week’s general election will tell you, the senate voting process is terribly long and confusing, with a double dissolution meaning voters were advised to preferentially rank six parties or twelve individual candidates – most of whom the average Australian will know nothing about.

Add into the mix complex preference allocations which can lead to parties with a tiny share of first preference votes being elected, and parties with misleading names (such as the Health Australia Party, actually an anti-vaccination group), it’s no wonder the final senate ends up being a mixed bag of big party centrists and small party idealists.

However there’s one other element to senate voting which is bemusing and which a lot of Australians are unaware of: the number of citizens voting for each senate seat varies hugely across the states and territories. There are 12 senate seats allocated for each state, and two for each territory, regardless of population. This means that Tasmania gets one senator for every 30,784 voters, based on electoral roll numbers from the Australian Electoral Commission. In NSW, on the other hand, there is one senator for every 419,196 voters.

This means that Tasmanians have nearly fourteen times stronger representation in the senate than NSW residents, eleven times better than Victorian residents and eight times more than Queenslanders. Canberrans and Territorians both also fare better than those living in the big states, with one senator per 65,055 and 97,228 voters respectively.


Taking this idea to the extreme - if seats were allocated more proportionally, and the 76 senate seats were divided across the voting population of 15.5 million, one seat would be allocated for every 203,531 voters. This would leave Tasmania with only two senate seats, and the ACT and NT would both get one. NSW would lead the field with 25 seats.

StateCurrent senatorsVoters per senatorAllocated Senators with even population distribution
New South Wales12419,19625
Western Australia12129,2328
South Australia1297,2886
Australian Capital Territory2138,1991
Northern Territory265,0551

The senate voting system may be in need of reform, and in that process it makes sense to set it up so that all Australians are more equally represented in the upper levels of government. In the meantime if you want your voice to be heard louder in the upper house, you need to move to Tassie.

Graham Cooke's Insights Blog examines issues affecting the Australian consumer. It appears regularly on

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