the upside-down and inside-out Senate race

There are 350,000 voters who select six senators every half-Senate election and it’s a weirdly wonderful battle for the crossbench.

(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas/Private Media)

The back wall of the Martini café in Burnie is lime green, just one wall, the way they used to do it in the ’70s. It’s been repainted since, but always in the same hue I’m told by the proprietress. You can still do that in Tasmania. The lace curtains go back further.

It’s in an arcade of which Burnie has more, per capita, than Paris — little art deco warrens running inwards. Things just stick around in Tasmania: the gold-bevelled windows of the “manufacturing jeweller” in Ulverstone; the brown-brick and star-shaped mirrors in the Voyager seaside motel’s restaurant; the lolly store in each town; and the railyards around rusting metal chutes folded three storeys high; the old cinema restored and its red velvet-raked seats; the broad green sweep of the racecourse at the edge of town. Sometimes when you’re here, it is impossible to believe that you have not dreamt it, the mirage across a cold sea.

That is no less so than in its politics. Everything is upside down, Ruritanian. The lower house is Australia’s only multi-member system, five times five elected on the Hare-Clark-Robson systemthe last of these designations dictating that the five names on a ticket are randomly rotated ballot-by-ballot. When they get there, there’s only about 10 of them, and they all have six ministries and collapse from exhaustion, like wild salmon. The upper house, meanwhile, is a set of 15 single-member electorates with staggered elections, three one year, two the next. It was until recently wholly non-party political.

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