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Single-issue groups set to take balance of power

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Tim Colebatch is The Age's economic editor.

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Balance of power

The exact make up of the new Senate is yet to be determined, but up to eight small parties and independents look likely to hold the balance of power. Tim Colebatch explains.

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A barnyard of minor parties will control Australia's new Senate when they take office next July, judging from provisional figures from the Electoral Commission.

Despite its thumping majority in the lower house, the new Abbott government has lost at least one Senate seat and probably two. Labor appears to have lost six seats. One in four Australians voted for one of the dozens of minor parties whose names sprawled across their metre-long Senate ballot paper.

The large size of the New South Wales senate ballot has attracted criticism.

The large size of the New South Wales senate ballot has attracted criticism.

With 66 per cent of the Senate vote counted, eight minor party senators from separate groups, some of them virtually unknown entities with no record and no real policies, appear set to be given the balance of power in Australia's Parliament, to decide whether or not each government bill should be passed.

On the latest figures, the Coalition appears likely to have only 32 or 33 seats in the new 76-member Senate. To pass each piece of legislation, it will need the support of either Labor, or the Greens, or at least six of the eight cross-benchers, some of them elected as single-interest candidates.

They include Wayne Dropulich, a gridiron-playing engineer who on current figures would win election as a senator from Western Australia. His Australian Sports Party has no policies other than advocating lots of sport, and won just 0.22 per cent of the vote. But with preferences from other small parties, he stands to get a Senate quota ahead of the second Labor candidate, who had 12.69 per cent.

In Victoria, Ricky Muir is set to win the final seat. He stood for the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, which appears to have no policies apart from representing what it sees as motorists' interests. He won 0.52 per cent, but with a swag of preferences he appears set to unseat Liberal senator Helen Kroger, who had 10.54 per cent.

In NSW, facing a ballot paper of 45 party columns and 110 names, almost 300,000 voters responded by putting a 1 in the first box on the ballot paper, which belonged to a party calling itself Liberal Democrats. An astonishing 8.88 per cent of voters voted for the Liberal Democrats, which will take a seat from Labor.

Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who is expected to be Australia's new finance minister, looks likely to hold on to the final Senate seat in NSW, edging out the Greens. A challenge from One Nation founder Pauline Hanson failed when she won just 1.12 per cent of the vote.

The surge in votes for Clive Palmer's party will see former rugby league star Glenn Lazarus score a Senate seat from Queensland, with more than 10 per cent of the vote. Less certain, but still likely, Palmer's Tasmanian candidate, ''events ambassador'' Jacquie Lambie, could also sneak through to take the final seat there.

In South Australia, independent Nick Xenophon will have to be content with one seat despite outpolling Labor, almost outpolling the Liberals, and winning 1.8 quotas. Instead, South Australia's last seat seems to have gone to perennial candidate Bob Day, a prominent builder and former Liberal candidate, running for Family First.

Add in Victorian senator John Madigan, elected in 2010 with 2.3 per cent of the vote, and they would form a crossbench of eight.

The Greens won fewer votes than in 2010, but on current figures, will see their Senate numbers increase by at least one and possibly two. A former mayor of Maribyrnong, community activist Janet Rice, appears set to take a Senate seat in Victoria from Labor.

Prominent refugee advocate Senator Sarah Hanson-Young looks likely to scrape home for the Greens in South Australia, as will Senator Peter Whish-Wilson in Tasmania, despite a landslide in which the Greens' Senate vote in its home state plunged from 20.3 per cent to just 11.6 per cent. In the ACT, former GetUp! director Simon Sheikh looks set to lose narrowly to former ACT Liberal leader Zed Seselja. Small changes in votes, however, could still change results in WA, Tasmania and the ACT.

The Sports Party's seat in WA could yet go to the Palmer party. Labor could edge out the Greens.

Several million votes remain to be counted, including all those cast below the line. Small changes in the votes can result in a different order of elimination of candidates, and hence different results.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article said Simon Sheihk was in the lead against Zed Seselja.

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