One thing I see come up fairly regularly as a criticism against Senator Roberts is that he only received 77 personal votes in the 2016 election. He’s often the only Senator against which I see that criticism being made.

My problem with this is that, given above the line senate voting, personal votes are an irrelevant rating of Senators. Most Senators tend to the low end of that scale.

Senator Roberts may well be the outlier at the lowest end, but in terms of general vote levels and systemic behaviour, he’s far from alone. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at some numbers for the 2016 election.

Here’s a breakdown of personal first preferences in orders of magnitude[1]:

Vote Range Number of Senators %
<1,000 13 17%
1,000 – 2,000 18 24%
2,001 – 10,000 25 33%
10,000 – 20,000 10 13%
20,000 – 43,000 10 13%
76 100.00%


So nearly 40% of Senators were elected on less than 2,000 personal votes[2]. Nearly ¾ were elected on less than 10,000.

But, but, that doesn’t allow for variations in the state/territory populations I hear you cry.

Good point.

So let’s look at personal votes expressed as quotas[3] needed for election. In some respects that looks even worse

% of Quota Number of Senators %
<0.5% 9 12%
0.5% – 1% 17 22%
1% – 2% 11 14%
2% – 10% 20 26%
10% – 20% 12 16%
20% – 40% 5 7%
40% – 50% 1 1.5%
50% – 80% 1 1.5%
76 100.00%


So nearly 50% of Senators were elected on less than 2% of the quota for their state in personal votes.

90% had less than 20% of a quota in personal vote. The rest of their quotas came from above the line votes and preference distributions.

In this much, at least 90% of Senators are no different to Senator Roberts: they were elected by party votes and preference flows.

I’m not saying that Senator Roberts is beyond criticism. Indeed, he should be criticised early and often.

Just to start with Senator Roberts is a climate denialist, an anti-vaxxer, and generally subscribes to the policies of Pauline Hanson’s One Notion[4] party when he isn’t shaping those policies. There’s plenty of substantive material, often from his own mouth, to criticise Senator Roberts for.

The 77 votes? That’s meaningless, and a waste of time. It is a criticism that, arguably, can be applied to all but Senators Lambie and Singh from Tasmania, especially once you scale the votes to quotas.

So please focus on criticisms that actually mean something, that’s all I ask.

[1] Source: http://results.aec.gov.au/20499/Website/SenateDownloadsMenu-20499-Csv.htm, select the First preferences by state by vote type CSV download. This was then manually cross-referenced against http://results.aec.gov.au/20499/Website/SenateSenatorsElected-20499.htm to identify the first preference votes for Senators elected.

[2] Most members of the House of Representatives need something like 40-50,000 votes after preferences. 2,000 is chickenfeed against that.

[3] Source: http://results.aec.gov.au/20499/Website/SenateStateFirstPrefs-20499-NSW.htm Clicking on each state in turn will reveal the quota for that state. I then divided the 1st pref votes by the relevant quota to get the percentages.

[4] Racism would be that one notion in case you weren’t already aware of it.