The stars came out to play in Hobart on Saturday night, streaming into the Hotel Grand Chancellor — a butt-ugly ’80s pile, wrecking the waterfront — in all the most cutting-edge fashions of the late 1990s, to watch the white-knuckle excitement of the 2018 Tasmanian election, conducted under the Hare-Clark-Robson system. Would there be a hung parliament? Would the Lambie Network gain the balance of power? Would some plucky independent surge ahead?
Not at all. Nothing like that happened even slightly. In the Federation Hall, with all the excitement a tally room gives — the multiple TV panel set-ups, the piercing klieg lights everywhere, the general public streaming in, reporters and TV crews vox-popping, desperate to find a Hobart Lambie voter, a Green bisexual quad-biker from Burnie, etc — the Liberal vote started well and crept up remorselessly through the evening.
The blue line on the bottom of the screen just kept going, six, seven, eight seats, while Labor was on three or four. The Libs had their 13 in the 25-seat house by 9.45pm or so. Labor was having its party in another room in the hotel, so on five minutes notice, they streamed into the tally room, a sea of red T-shirts and windcheaters, to hear Rebecca White give a concession speech in an election with such poor limits on party donations and disclosure, and such an imbalance of spending and saturation — about $5 million by and for the Libs and the pokies, as opposed to about $500k for Labor, and $250k for the Greens — as to take it to the edge of democracy.
White quite understandably omitted congratulating Will Hodgman on an election win saturated in cash from pokies’ interests, and that was generally taken to be the worst thing ever done in Tasmania, for which there is stiff competition, and for which White had to apologise the next day, which must have felt great, just great.
The big losers of the night were the Lambie Network, on zero seats — with Lambie giving the usual battler speech from some pub somewhere to what looked like an audience of about eight people — and the Greens, who are virtually certain to lose one of their three seats, and maybe two, leaving party leader Cassie O’Connor as their sole rep. Though it’s a disaster for the Tasmanian Greens, given their historical role here, it really amounts to normalisation: their vote will be about 10%, as it is everywhere.
Finally, Will Hodgman emerged, a smooth, plastic man with the demeanour of a TV newsreader from Burnie, surrounded by a rat-pack of grinning dolts, barrelling through the crowd to the stage. Outside, the Libs, white people in blue, streamed in from their party offsite, coming up the elevator, like a Hokusai wave of four more years of the goddamn same.
Hodgman said — I can’t recall actually, it was boilerplate, I was blitzed in the side bar, admiring the fashions, which was like the Melbourne Cup car park in 1979, when there was no birdcage, and people just served lobster out of the backs of cars. Then, as he finished speaking, and his family and goon squad barrelled out again, it was all over.
For the night. Allocating the last two seats will take days, weeks, of fiendish maths. Hilarious. Labor got a 5.4% swing, a great result, but it may have been at the Greens’ expense. The Libs may come out of it with the same 15 seats they had at the beginning.
The fight around a whole series of issues then goes to the upper house, which, uniquely in Tasmania — a phrase now shift-F5 on my keyboard — is 15 single-member electorates, two of which go to the polls each year, in an eight-year rolling cycle. Seriously.
Labor has four members, there are four left-leaning independents, and another seven genuine independents, local (very local) identities, about three-four right shifted, three-four issue-by-issue. However, much of the pokies’ boondoggle, which will see them extended for years, is by regulation. Tasmania will be a company town for a while yet.
Meanwhile a dozen struggles go on, in this most forward backward of places: to throw logging and 4WDs out of the Tarkine, to stop quick-buck salmon farming trashing the bays, even the brutal struggle over cycle paths in the north-west. Whether it’s hydro, forestry, or gaming, the one big company always thinks it has the state locked up. It always loses, eventually. Tasmania has surprised us before. It will again.
But not in a room where politicians mix with ordinary people, and everyone comes together to see the results of their vote. For this was the last of the Tasmanian tally rooms, the last tally rooms in the country, until we revive them. For shame. Victory in such places is outstanding. And loss? Well there is nothing like leaving, past the stray streamers and burst balloons, the big screens talking to no-one, and the bow-tied bar staff picking up glasses, to stagger down the street, under such stars as can be seen, to drown your sorrows with fellow defeatists, at whatever losers’ club will have you.