Churn factor: One third of the Senate has been wiped out since the last election
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Churn factor: One third of the Senate has been wiped out since the last election

A third of the nation's 76 senators swept into power at the 2016 election have resigned, retired, been kicked out by the High Court or dumped by their own colleagues, as major parties prepare to pick up as many as six seats from crossbenchers at this year's federal election.

An analysis of Senate changes ahead of Parliament's return in February shows voters will confront a Senate ballot paper unrecognisable from the one they faced at the 2016 poll.

The Senate poses for a photograph during the final sitting fortnight of 2018.

The Senate poses for a photograph during the final sitting fortnight of 2018.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The number of minor parties and independents reached a record high in the current Senate with the Coalition, Labor and Greens only accounting for 66 of the 76 members.

But a string of external factors and a high number of retirements have contributed to an extraordinary Senate churn - the largest since the advent of proportional representation at the 1949 election.

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High Court rulings on eligibility issues including dual citizenship, profit under the crown and being sentenced for a crime attracting at least a year's jail time, knocked out 10 of the 26 senators who left the upper house.

Several of those are hoping for a return. Labor's Katy Gallagher (ACT), the Centre Alliance's Skye Kakoschke-Moore (SA), One Nation's Malcolm Roberts (Queensland) and Jacqui Lambie (Tasmania) all succumbed to adverse rulings by the High Court.

All are standing again with Gallagher, a former Labor frontbencher and ACT chief minister, the best chance to return to the Senate while Larissa Waters of the Greens has already found her way back.

While the High Court's rulings on senators and members of the House of Representatives led to a number of disqualifications, the Senate has changed markedly since the 2016 for other reasons.

There have been a string of defections among the parties.

These include Liberal Cory Bernardi's decison to found the Australian Conservatives, the move by Family First's Lucy Gichuhi (who got to the Senate after the High Court disqualified Bob Day) to join the Liberal Party and the decision of One Nation's Brian Burston to join Clive Palmer's United Australia Party.

Senator Gichuhi has since been placed in the largely unwinnable fourth spot on the Liberal Party's South Australian Senate ticket.

Fraser Anning, under fire for attending a neo-Nazi rally in St Kilda at the weekend, entered the Senate after the High Court knocked out One Nation's Malcolm Roberts on dual citizenship grounds. But just as he was sworn in, party leader Pauline Hanson forced him out of One Nation.

He then moved to Katter's Australia Party before fallout from his first speech in which he used the term "final solution" resulted in his expulsion from that party.

Senator Anning now sits as an independent, along with South Australia's Tim Storer who filled a spot on behalf of the Nick Xenophon Team but who was expelled from the party before moving into the Senate.

While the fallout from the High Court has permeated through many of the changes, retirements and party machinations have also played a major role.

Prominent ALP senator Stephen Conroy, former attorney-general George Brandis and Greens representative Lee Rhiannon have all retired since the 2016 election.

Others have announced their retirement at this year's poll including the Nationals' John "Wacka" Williams and Labor's Doug Cameron.

Labor frontbencher Sam Dastyari resigned in disgrace and was replaced by former NSW premier Kristina Keneally.

Some are moving voluntarily, such as Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm, who is attempting a shift to the NSW Parliament. Others are being moved involuntarily with long-term LNP member Ian Macdonald in fourth spot on his Senate ticket and fellow Queenslander Barry O'Sullivan missing out on a position altogether.

The election itself could usher in change. Depending on the performance of some minor parties at this year's federal poll, Labor and the Liberals could each pick up an extra three seats.

Labor's Lisa Singh defied history to retain her Senate spot in 2016. She faces an even tougher battle this year.

Labor's Lisa Singh defied history to retain her Senate spot in 2016. She faces an even tougher battle this year.Credit:Peter Mathew

Labor's Lisa Singh leap-frogged a member of her party's Tasmanian Senate ticket at the 2016 poll to become the first person elected on below-the-line votes since the previous system was introduced in 1984. She has again been pushed down Labor's ticket but will require a much larger vote to retain her position.

The Senate is scheduled to sit just five days before May when Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to go to the polls.

Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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