Batman poll pushes parties to the limit

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Alex Bhathal on the campaign trail with Greens leader Richard Di Natale at the 2016 election in Batman.

By ANDY MANGELSDORF

The loss of Batman in tomorrow’s federal by-election would pile the pressure on Labor leader Bill Shorten, political scientist Dr Nick Economou said this week.

“He’s already had one abject failure, that’s when Kristina Keneally didn’t win Bennelong …he could be presiding over another abject failure, where Labor loses a seat to the Greens,” Dr Economou said.

A loss in this poll would push Mr Shorten into damage control, he said.

Dr Economou expected it to be a close contest between the Labor Party and the Greens in the inner-north seat.

“I think that the Greens are more likely than not to win Batman, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Labor actually won it.”

The seat has shown signs of leaning to the Greens: Indigenous Greens MP Lidia Thorpe took the state seat of Northcote (which sits within the Batman electorate) in a landslide win last year.

Political scientist Dr Nick Economou. Picture Andrew Mangelsdorf

While it has traditionally been one of the safest Labor seats over many elections, the Greens have whittled away the margin to just 1.1 per cent at the 2016 election.

Greens candidate Alex Bhathal has run for the seat of Batman five times and when she first ran in 2001, Labor won by 25 per cent and the main opposition was still the Liberal Party.

Dr Economou said the Liberal Party’s decision not to contest this seat would probably boost the Greens, as it did in the Northcote by-election last year, which was also not contested by the Liberal Party. 

Tomorrow’s by-election was triggered when then Labor MP David Feeney resigned after failing to produce documentation proving he had renounced UK citizenship before the 2016 election.

He was one of several MPs disqualified during the infamous citizenship saga, which saw five ministers removed from Parliament

Ged Kearney

Labor candidate Ged Kearney, former president the ACTU, has battled this week in the aftermath of Labor’s tax announcement, its Adani stance and a powerful backlash against the use of Greek language under a Macedonian headline in a election pamphlet.

Throughout the campaign, tempers have frayed between the Greens and Labor after allegations of bullying by Greens candidate Alex Bhathal was reported by media outlets last week.

The Australian reported Ms Bhathal had been accused of intimidation, spreading lies, and encouraging factionalism within the Greens, in an internal complaint lodged by 18 party volunteers, representatives and office-holders. She has denied the claims. 

A Greens victory tomorrow in Batman would give the party its second seat in the House of Representatives, alongside Adam Bandt in the Melbourne electorate.

The Australian Conservatives, founded by former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, are also fielding a candidate for in the by-election: Former Special Forces member Kevin Christopher Bailey.

The by-election

A by-election is used to fill a seat in the House of Representatives when it’s vacated between elections for any reason. 

Batman is a federal electorate in the inner north of Melbourne, and includes the suburbs of Clifton Hill, Fairfield, Kingsbury, Northcote, Preston, Reservoir, and Thornbury. Since 1910, Labor has won this seat on all but two occasions.

Of the two federal by-elections held last year, the Liberal National Party won both. Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce held onto his seat of New England, while John Alexander retained John Howard’s former electorate of Bennelong.