The recommendation by the parliamentary committee on electoral matters that the ACT and the Northern Territory should get two extra Senate seats cannot be justified on the numbers or on any grounds of equity or representation.
Viewed with even a modest amount of scepticism, it is a stitch-up by the major parties.
Let's call it the one-third, one-half principle. Since the decline in support for major parties and rise of independents and minor parties the rule works roughly like this.
If a major party gets a third of the vote it gets half of the seats. It happened for Labor federally in the House of Representatives. It happened for Katy Gallagher in the ACT Senate race.
These days, the primary vote is roughly falling into thirds. A third each for the major parties and a third for minors and independents.
The major party that gets more than the other major party gets half the seats, give or take, and usually can govern. The major party that gets less than the other major party usually gets about 40 per cent of the seats and the unfortunate minors and independents get about 10 per cent of the seats for their third of the vote.
It is pretty good for the major parties.
So, what would happen if the ACT had four Senate seats. On the 2022 figures, Labor would get two seats; the Liberals one; and an independent one.
Labor's usual one-third of the vote would get it half of the seats - the one-third, one-half principle.
The Northern Territory is a bit different. Minors and independents do not do as well as in the rest of Australia. But, on a good day, the Coalition could expect to get two Senate seats; Labor one, and the Greens one. Or more likely two each.
In any event, the Coalition must consider the possibility that, without change, they will not get an ACT Senate seat for quite some time. That would leave them with just one of the four Senate seats in the ACT and NT (25 per cent of the seats). With four senators in each territory, they could expect three seats or 38 per cent of the seats. Not a bad deal.
However, it would be much fairer if each territory got three senators. Invariably, there would be one Labor, one Liberal, and one minor or independent.
That would roughly reflect the voting pattern on the ground. It would be fair. So, the major parties are not interested.
Even on population grounds, the case for four senators for each territory is weak.
Four senators in the ACT would be one for every 112,000 people and in the NT one for every 61,500 people.
Let's compare that with the states. Each original state has 12 senators.
In Tasmania, that is one for every 48,000 people. In NSW it is one for every 690,000 people.
Sure, under the new arrangements the territories would have fewer senators per head than Tasmania.
But Tasmania is a special case as an original state given extra representation so it would not be drowned out by the larger states.
But the territories would be grossly over-represented compared to NSW and Victoria.
If you look at the median point of Senate representation between Tasmania and NSW it is one senator for every 370,000 people.
With two senators each, the territories have one senator for every 230,000 people and 123,000 people respectively. The can hardly complain.
What if the ACT and Canberra were more like Washington DC and the city of Washington? Washington DC is a tiny federal territory and about 90 per cent of the residents of the city of Washington live in adjacent Maryland and Virginia.
If Australia were like that, the residents of Belconnen, Gungahlin, Tuggeranong, Woden and Weston would be residents of NSW - having just one senator for every 650,000 people.
There might be an argument for three senators for each territory to give the independents and minors more secure territory representation in the Senate and for electors uncomfortable with the major parties to have someone to go to, but any plan for four territory senators should be seen for what it is: an unjustified major-party stitch-up.
- Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times and regular columnist. www.crispinhull.com.au