The Senate divided: a quick guide

30 June 2022

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Lisa Richards
Politics and Public Administration


Most of the decisions before the Australian Senate are determined by a vote ‘on the voices’. In these cases, no record is made of which senators voted for or against the question. Decisions are generally taken by a vote on the voices when the question is uncontested, but it is also not unusual for contested questions to be determined by a voice vote when senators know and accept the way in which the majority is voting.

A voice vote involves senators who are present in the chamber calling out ‘aye’ or ‘no’ in response to a question put by the President of the Senate. The President then declares that the question is agreed to or negatived based on the voices heard. If no senator in the chamber challenges this declaration, then the question is agreed to or negatived on the voices without a record of who voted. If only one senator dissents, their vote may be recorded.

Individual senators’ votes are recorded during a formal vote (division). Divisions only occur when requested by more than one senator present in the chamber and can only be requested by senators deemed by the President to be in the minority. When a question is put and a division is called for, the President instructs the Clerk to ring the bells for four minutes ‘to enable senators to assemble in the chamber’. After the bells have stopped and chamber doors locked, the senators present divide into two groups—those voting ‘aye’ and those voting ‘no’ to the question put—so that their vote and name may be recorded. If there is only one senator voting on one side during a division, the count is abandoned, the President declares the result immediately and only the name of the senator in the minority is recorded.

Not all senators attend the chamber to vote in every division that is held. Where a senator is absent from a vote, they will not appear in the record of the division. Senators may be absent from a vote for a variety of reasons, including: being on leave or paired (an arrangement between major parties); abstaining from a vote; or participating remotely (by video link). In addition, by leave (with permission of the Senate) senators in the minority may have their votes recorded without proceeding to a division. This practice usually relates to senators who are absent from the chamber and was used extensively during March and April 2020, when the number of senators attending the Chamber was reduced to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.

Notably, the President of the Senate is entitled to a vote on all questions before the Senate, with all tied votes being negatived (see section 23 of the Constitution). By contrast, the Speaker of the House of Representatives may only cast a vote in order to decide the outcome when the numbers in a division are equal (see section 40 of the Constitution).

The Coalition Government did not hold a majority in the Senate during the 46th Parliament and relied on crossbench support whenever the Opposition (ALP) dissented. As such, the voting records of crossbench senators received particular attention during the 46th Parliament.

This Quick Guide provides statistics on the voting records of the Senate crossbench during divisions held in the 46th Parliament. Such statistics on divisions provide an incomplete record of Senate votes, given they do not include votes on the voices or occasions where a division was abandoned. This factor should be considered when interpreting divisions data.

Breakdown of divisions

There were 1,258 divisions in the Senate during the 46th Parliament. The following breakdown of division categories is based on an analysis of the divisions, which in some cases is a matter of interpretation.

The most common type of divisions were motions on Bills (40%), which include:

  • 25% substantive amendments to Bills (amendments to the content of a Bill)
  • 15% first reading, second reading and third reading motions (e.g. that a Bill be read a second time) and amendments to second reading motions

Opinion motions accounted for 26% of divisions. These are motions that ‘seek the Senate's endorsement on an issue of domestic or foreign policy, or recognition of a particular achievement or event’.

The approximate portion of other motions that went to a division include:

The remaining divisions were on a variety of procedural matters and other motions not listed.


Crossbench senators of the 46th Parliament were (*did not serve the full-term):

Australian Greens

Other minor parties/Independents

Senator Sam McMahon became a member of the crossbench after resigning from the Country Liberal Party (Coalition Government) on 7 April 2022. However, her voting record has not been included because no divisions were held while she served as a crossbencher.

Senate voting records during 46th Parliament divisions

Table 1 and Figure 1 show how often the crossbench voted with and against the Government and Opposition on all divisions held during the 46th Parliament—including on legislation, proposed committee inquiries, urgency motions, etc.

Table 1: Crossbench votes during all 46th Parliament divisions (no.)

Voted with Gov Voted against Gov Voted with Opp Voted against Opp Voted with Gov and Opp Voted against Gov and Opp
Greens 70 1,187 796 462 57 449
Bernardi 204 10 86 128 82 6
Griff 293 536 554 276 158 141
Patrick 322 769 719 373 182 233
Lambie 453 535 613 376 229 152
PHON (Hanson) 756 248 415 590 272 105
PHON (Roberts) 755 249 416 589 272 105

(a)     Where split votes occurred, the majority side has been counted. The 1 evenly split Government vote has been excluded.
(b)     Senators Hanson and Roberts votes were split during 2 divisions and are therefore listed separately.
(c)     Senator Patrick’s voting data includes the Centre Alliance voting record when he was a member (2 July 2019–August 2020).

Source: Parliamentary Library calculations based on Senate Statsnet divisions data.

Figure 1: Crossbench votes during all 46th Parliament divisions (%)

(a)     Voting percentages are based off the total amount of divisions attended.
(b)     Where split votes occurred, the majority side has been counted. The 1 evenly split Government vote has been excluded.

Source: Parliamentary Library calculations based on Senate Statsnet divisions data.

Table 2 provides the number and proportion of divisions attended by crossbench Senators.

Table 2: Divisions attended in the Senate during the 46th Parliament

Senator Divisions attended (no.) Divisions absent (no.) Divisions attended (%) Divisions absent (%)
Greens 1,258 0 100.0% 0.0%
Bernardi 214 77 73.5% 26.5%
Griff 830 428 66.0% 34.0%
Patrick 1,092 166 86.8% 13.2%
Lambie 989 269 78.6% 21.4%
PHON (Hanson and Roberts) 1,005 253 79.9% 20.1%

(a)     Includes divisions attended by at least one PHON senator.
(b)     Includes divisions attended by at least one Centre Alliance senator during the period when Senators Griff and Patrick both represented the party (2 July 2019–9 August 2020).
(c)     The percentages for Cory Bernardi are based off the 291 divisions held while he was a 46th Parliament senator (2 July 2019–20 January 2020), not the total amount of divisions held overall (1,258).

Source: Parliamentary Library calculations based on Senate Statsnet divisions data.

Government (Coalition) and Opposition (ALP)

The Government and Opposition voted against each other during 751 divisions (59.7%) and with each other during 506 divisions (40.3%).

Split votes/floor crossings

The Government vote was split during 30 divisions (at least one Government MP ‘crossed the floor’ to vote against the Government’s position). Of these 30 divisions, 16 were related to the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve’s Law) Bill 2021, which were free votes.

The Opposition’s vote was split only during the 16 free vote divisions related to the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve's Law) Bill 2021. Unlike the Liberal Party and the Nationals, the ALP formally bind their members to support party positions except where a free vote is designated.

Divisions data

The Excel spreadsheet below contains Senate voting records by party/Independent for divisions held during the 46th Parliament. This data has been extracted from the Senate’s Statsnet website, the accuracy of which cannot be guaranteed by the Parliamentary Library.


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