Australia Today

The Greens Lost an Unloseable Election on Saturday

Their victory in Batman showed Labor still has currency in Melbourne's inner north.
March 19, 2018, 12:20am

Despite being in the best possible position to win this weekend’s by-election in Batman, Victoria, Greens candidate Alex Bhathal lost to Labor candidate Ged Kearney.

Bhathal had every reason to expect a strong result on Saturday: the social worker is a Batman local who has campaigned in the seat for five consecutive federal elections—notably coming within a knife’s edge of ousting ALP incumbent David Feeney in 2016, gaining a higher proportion of the primary vote. Batman has been a safe seat for Labor since 1969, but in large part due to Bhathal's efforts the party’s support base has eroded over time.

Advertisement

This, combined with the fact the Liberal party didn’t even put forward a candidate in the by-election, and her strong stance against the controversial Adani coal mine, meant Bhathal was a firm favourite to join Greens MP Adam Bandt in the federal House of Representatives.

Instead, Kearney won 54.63 percent of the two-party-preferred vote, gaining back some of the support lost by Feeney last year when he scrounged his seat only through preference flow from the Liberals. It was a 3.6 percent swing away from the Greens overall on Saturday.

So what went wrong? Plenty. Greens leader Richard Di Natale told the ABC that a series of damaging “personality based” leaks against Bhathal from inside the Victorian branch of her own party had hurt her chances. “We need to find out who they are, and I think the party’s going to look at that and there will be an investigation,” he told National Wrap.

The leaks in question accused Bhathal of bullying and branch-stacking—the practice of attempting to influence party pre-selections through dogged recruitment tactics.

Another probable factor: Labor’s victor, Ged Kearney. Unlike her predecessor, who notably failed to declare to parliament both an investment property and an Irish citizenship (the by-election was only happening in the first place due to the latter issue, which led Feeney to retire from parliament), Kearney feels like a clean slate—someone who could potentially become known more for her policies than controversies. She’s a prominent trade unionist and managed to skilfully target both progressive and working class voters while campaigning in Batman in past months.

It was a bad weekend for the left overall, with the Liberal party winning a state election in South Australia too. Former Labor Premier Jay Weatherill announced his resignation as Labor leader on Sunday night.