Seat du jour: Batman

The southern half of this inner-city seat is of a piece with the neighbouring Greens-held seat of Melbourne, but the migrant and working class vote in the north has kept it secure for Labor.

Batman covers Melbourne’s inner north-east, extending northwards from the deep green inner-city environs of Northcote through Thornbury and Preston to the Labor-voting middle suburbia around Reservoir. While it recorded the lowest primary vote for the Liberal Party of any electorate in 2013, the seat is becoming of increasing interest electorally due to the growing strength of the Greens. The Greens overtook the Liberals to reach the final preference count in 2010 and 2013, although the final margin was narrower on the former occasion (7.6%) than the latter (10.6%). The electorate has existed in name since 1906, but at first it was centred on Fitzroy, with the Bourke electorate continuing to cover what were then Melbourne’s northern outskirts. Batman’s boundaries were broadly similar to those of today from 1922 until the expansion of parliament in 1949, when the northern end became part of the new seat of Darebin, which was renamed Scullin in 1969. When parliament next expanded in 1984, Ivanhoe and Heidelberg went to the new seat of Jagajaga, Scullin was pushed further out into the northern suburbs, and Batman returned broadly to its pre-1949 dimensions.




Labor won both Batman and Bourke for the first time as part of its historic triumph of 1910, and retained them up to the reordering of the boundaries in 1922. Labor’s grip on Batman loosened only twice thereafter: when it fell to the United Australia Party for a term in the 1931 landslide, and when Sam Benson was expelled from the party in 1966 over his support for the Vietnam war. Benson was re-elected as an independent in 1966 on Democratic Labor Party and Liberal preferences, and the seat reverted to Labor when he retired in 1969. Darebin and then Scullin were likewise safe for Labor throughout this period.

The last close result in Batman was in 1977, when future Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe retained the seat by 3.4% upon his debut. Big swings to Labor followed at the next two elections, and the changes to the boundaries in 1984 boosted the margin a further 7.8%. Howe was succeeded in 1996 by Martin Ferguson, a former ACTU president who together with his brother Laurie dominated a major sub-faction of the Left. Ferguson was at first a factional ally of Julia Gillard, but he emerged as a key backer of Kevin Rudd during her prime ministership. In the wake of Rudd’s abortive second leadership bid in February 2013, Ferguson resigned from cabinet and announced he would bow out at the election.

Ferguson was succeeded by David Feeney, who was elected to the Senate in 2007 and served as parliamentary secretary for defence in Labor’s second term in office. Despite his influence as a Right faction powerbroker, Feeney had been struggling to find a winnable seat going into the 2013 election, as his third position on the Senate ticket had become a hopeless proposition by 2013. The Batman vacancy was immediately seen by the party hierarchy as a chance to accommodate him, but there was resistance to the idea from the local Left, including Brian Howe, and those who thought the seat should go to a woman after Tim Watts succeeded Nicola Roxon in Gellibrand. Left support coalesced behind local party member Mary-Anne Thomas, executive manager of Plan International, but Feeney emerged victorious in the local party ballot by 383 votes to 247. Feeney was promoted from parliamentary secretary to the outer shadow ministry after the 2013 election, taking on the justice and assistant for defence portfolios.

For the third election in a row, the Greens have preselected Alex Bhatal, a social worker from Preston.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

10 comments on “Seat du jour: Batman”

  1. Of course it is safe Labor, despite its obscene gentrification. The vibe-dwellers would never vote for someone who would clean it up.

  2. Some have suggested the Greens are a major threat here, if they secure Liberal preferences for this seat as has been reported. However David Feeney should benefit from the Sophormore surge which will increase his chances, along with Labor increased vote going into this election.

    Sportsbet has suggested the Greens are not much of a chance in this seat rating them at $6.00.

  3. Bell street is something of a demographic boundary in this part of Melbourne, seperating the trendy and gentrified inner north from working class Labor strongholds further north. Wills next door is fairly similar there

  4. @4 That demographic boundary is creeping northwards with every passing year, though….you’d probably call it Murray Street by now.

    It’s redistributions that will probably get Labor in the end here. As the inner city grows, Batman will be pulled further south into heavily Green areas like Fitzroy. Not in 2016, but in a decade or so this will probably be a fairly safe Green seat.

  5. 4

    Bell St is less of a boundary in Batman than in Wills. The Green vote has stuck more to the rail and tram lines in Batman than south of Bell St, while the trams spread the Green vote more efficiently in Brunswick than Northcote. This is a major reason why the Greens are less competitive in the state seat of Northcote than Brunswick but more competitive in Preston than Pascoe vale.

  6. I can’t see Labor losing Batman and Wills this election and probably the next two after that, there are just too many booths in the north of the electorates which are far to multicultural and low income for the Greens to even get a look in. Although places like Pascoe Vale, Preston and Coburg are next on the gentrification ladder and the Green vote will change almost instantaneously. I’d expect Labor to get a bit of a scare, but they will hold Batman the range of about 54-46 and Wills around 56-44

  7. Damian L you can always find a wrong result with Sportsbet. But Sportsbet do their research into these things, they need to because their business interests depend on it. You post proves nothing, and I never said Sportsbet is means and ends alls of election outcomes. CASE CLOSED.

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