Batman by-election: March 17

As the timetable for the by-election is laid out, a look at the implications of the Liberals’ likely no-show.

It was announced today that the Batman by-election will be held on March 17, which is the same day as the state election in South Australia (not to mention the by-election being held in Western Australia to replace Colin Barnett in Cottesloe, although that’s a Liberal lay-down-misere that is unlikely to consume much of our attention). The timeline runs as follows:

Close of rolls: Wednesday, February 14
Close of nominations: Thursday, February 22 (noon)
Declaration of nominations: Friday, February 23 (noon)
Start of early voting: Tuesday, February 27
Polling day: Saturday, March 17
Return of writs deadline: Friday, May 18

The Greens have resolved the internal dispute that raised doubts as to whether Preston social worker and five-time candidate Alex Bhathal would again be their candidate. Liberal state president Michael Kroger has not ruled out fielding a candidate if the party learns of links to anti-Semitic activity on Bhathal’s part, though it’s probably a safe bet that this won’t happen.

Implicit in Kroger’s comments, and indeed much of the other commentary surrounding the by-election, is that the Liberals will boost the Greens’ chances if they stay out of the race. The main reason to think this would be so is that Liberal voters would no longer be guided by the party’s how-to-vote cards, which have lately had Labor ahead of the Greens. With the Greens ahead of Labor on the Liberal card, the Greens got 91.8% of Liberal preferences in Batman in 2007, and 80.9% in 2010; when it was reversed, they got 32.6% in 2013 and 36.4% in 2016. All told, around a third of the electorate’s Liberal voters seem to make a conscious decision to favour the Greens over Labor, while 10% to 20% do the opposite, which will presumably continue to inform their behaviour at the by-election.

That leaves HTV-following Liberal voters, accounting for half the Liberal vote total of around 20%, up in the air. Some might react by voting informally, or not at all, thereby depriving Labor of preferences they would ordinarily receive; while others, who would ordinarily express their fealty to the Liberals by following their card, will instead do so by voting against the party they understand to be the main enemy. However, most will probably follow the card of a right-of-centre minor party or independent, which will again lead them to giving a preference to Labor ahead of the Greens. Taking all that into account, a Liberal no-show is unlikely to influence the final two-party result by more than a few points, with the inevitable qualification that that may well prove decisive in a close race.

For historical perspective, the following table shows averages of primary votes swings at federal and state by-elections contested by Labor since the Greens’ electoral watershed in 2001, broken down into those that were and were not contested by the Liberals or Nationals. Unfortunately, there are only two cases of Liberal-contested by-elections held under Coalition governments, hence the very large average swing against Labor. Even the two exceptions (the Griffith by-election to replace Kevin Rudd in 2014 and, on the same patch of turf, the South Brisbane by-election to replace Anna Bligh in 2012) were unusual in being held within six months of the government coming to power, and thus were unusually strong results for the governing party.

Not contested Contested
ALP swing +1.7% -12.0%
GRN swing +6.4% +1.6%
OTH swing +20.0% +1.4%
Informal +1.9% -0.6%
Turnout -9.8% -9.1%
N 23 14

To the extent that these numbers offer a guide, they suggest that the impact of the Liberals’ absence will be fairly subtle. Other things being equal, it appears around half the homeless Liberal vote goes to “others”, a third to Labor and a sixth to the Greens. The “others” are mostly right-of-centre candidates with the same attitude to preferences as the Liberals, so these will eventually split between Labor and the Greens according to a familiar two-to-one ratio.

However, two qualifications should be made. One is that Liberal voters appear to be less shy about plumping for the Greens ahead of rival minor parties and independents in seats where the Greens are strong. Another is the rise in the informal vote when the Liberals don’t contest, which on these numbers looks like at least 2%. Assuming these are normally behaving Liberal voters, this would be enough to knock at least half a point off Labor’s two-party total.

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.

48 comments on “Batman by-election: March 17”

  1. Go Ged! She is an awesome lady who deserves to be in federal parliament making good decisions for all of us.
    Vote 1 for the Lady in Red!

  2. So, how many progressive voters who preferred the Greens at the last Federal election in Batman, because they hated Feeney, will return to Labor at this by-election, now that the leftist and Unionist Ged Kearney is running for the ALP? …. Thinking that the Greens will just build on top of their previous large swing thanks to the votes of some Liberals, without losing any of their previous votes, is an illusion, if I may say.

  3. Socrates,
    Imagine yourself to be one of those left-wingish Labor voters who rejected Feeney in Batman at the last Federal election in favour of the Greens…. would you still vote for the Greens now that Labor is running with Ged Kearney?
    Assuming that the left-wing swing against Labor will be the same now, and then assuming, on top of that, a Liberals’ vote favouring the Greens, is extremely simplistic in my view.

  4. After seeing Adam Bandt rant against Daily Terror because they put a pregnant woman in difficult position although it is Joyce fault shows that he doesn’t get 3 things:
    1. That woman, who is educated, of adult age, knows what was doing when she entered into that relationship.
    2. According to Ms Joyce ( at least she is divorced) the above relationship was going on since that ex-staffer was a staff member, which shows that the staffer knew what the effect will be on Joyce family
    3. Now a woman who stood by her husband for 24 years, does not have a husband & her children does not have a father
    So if Bandt(who was supporter of SSM) is only concerned about the pregnant woman & not about a wife & 4 children, then he does not understand what a marriage means & what a family means.
    This shows that the Greens do not care about marriage & family but care about niche issues
    Based on this anybody who values marriage & family shouldn’t vote for Greens

  5. That’s a long, crooked and dubious bow you’ve drawn there Ven…

    I think Bandt’s point was that this woman isn’t a public figure, and hence shouldn’t be pursued as if she were one. Barnaby of course is, and hence can be. Pretty straight forward really.

  6. Nick
    What I mean is that Bandt did not seem to show any concern for Ms Joyce & her children, where as he seemed to show a lot of concern for that pregnant woman. Families were destroyed because of these kind of scenarios. That is why he doesn’t seem to get marriage & family

  7. William

    Taking all that into account, a Liberal no-show is unlikely to influence the final two-party result by only a few points

    I think there might be a typo in this clause.

  8. So did the Libs set the date to be on the same day as SA because they fear Shorten might get a boost from a win in Batman and they want to cover this up amongst the noise about the ‘chaos’ in SA , OR are they preparing for another loss in SA and want to offset fallout from this with a concurrent labor loss in Batman?

  9. Consultation of William’s summary, Ben Raue at the Tally Room and Kevin Bonham should be required before anyone goes venturing opinions on where Liberal voters will go, or not and its likely impact on the outcome. It is an unusual by-election in many respects. I suspect that Ged Kearney may have had a better chance at a full Federal election. Her likely inclusion in a successful ALP government would be been a plank to run on. Here that’s likely to be washed over by environmental issues.

  10. This is a LNP Gain and will be because the greens support the LNP.ALP will also lose the seats of Longman Baddon freemantle so the LNP will have a majority of 5 in the lower house

  11. This is a very interesting by-election, with a good many unknowns that may yet factor in to the final result. There seems little doubt that inner northern Melbourne in general in trending Green (much like Sydney’s Inner West), as is evidenced by Adam Bandt now holding fast to Melbourne, and last year State Northcote by-election (likewise in Sydney, State seats Newtown and Balmain now seem solidly Green, with Graydler and Sydney, the Federal equivalents, staying Labor at least in part on the strength of their local members Albo and Tanya).

    But Batman (and how cool would be in be to the Member for Batman? Surely wasted on Marn and Feeney) is not a straightforward “quinoa curtain” inner city trendy seat. Certainly the southern half south of Bell Street can be seen that way, but the northern half, extending to the more traditional working class Preston and Reservoir seems less fertile for the Greens, and the result may well hinge on turn-out (typically a bit low in by-elections) in the two ends.

    Feeney’s departure is a plus for Labor, and Kearney is a strong candidate (notwithstanding that she doesn’t live in the electorate; I’m not so sure that this really matters much in urban seats). Bathal, running for the fifth time, obviously knows the electorate well, and is pretty well-known in return. I’d say that neither candidate is likely to be a drain on their party, though Kearney’s star appeal may have some mild benefit for Labor.

    If the Libs don’t run a candidate (which seems likely), then conventional wisdom favours the Greens, but as neither the Greens nor the ALP seem able to get more than 35-40% of the primary vote, then much will depend on where those votes go. Adani is obviously also a big issue, at least in the south end of the seat, and it remains to be seen whether Shorten’s recent distancing of Labor from the project will be effective in neutralising the issue.

    Impossible to pick at this point. It will be interesting to get some polling at some stage.

  12. Peg,

    I’m a Wills/Brunswick resident and we know the heart break of being abandoned by ALP Stars: Jane Garrett and now by Ged Kearney….

    Ms Garrett described Ms Kearney as a Brunswick local who was a “tireless representative of working people”.

    “Ged will be seeking the support of the hundreds of Brunswick branch members for her pre-selection to continue delivering the Victorian Andrews Labor government’s progressive agenda,” she said.

    “Her candidacy has my full endorsement.”

    Ms Kearney, a long-term Brunswick resident, said she believed the seat was winnable despite the Greens’ long-term ambition to capture Labor in the inner-north.

    “I think it is winnable,” she said.

    “I think I understand the seat of Brunswick very well…and I am prepared to listen.

    “If there’s one thing I’ve learned at the ACTU about campaigning it is that you have get out there and listen.”

  13. Bakunin
    I am not suffering Shorten memory loss
    I would like have series of posts like Boerwar had on Green’s Australia day protest
    I know Shorten left his wife & his current wife left her partner to marry. Are you implying that they had illicit relationship before they got married?
    Was Mrs Shorten Shorten’s staffer before he left his previous wife?
    If not then there is no comparison to Joyce.

  14. Yesterday in SMH politics blog, one of the posters wrote that ALP will not pursue Joyce relationship
    I asked Why?
    No reply
    Right on cue on TV I Saw Bowen, Burke & other ALP MPs gravely said that Joyce relationship is a private matter.
    After digging a bit further I came to know from PBers that Burke left his wife for a staffer.
    I didn’t know that till I browsed PB
    Before knowing that I considered Burke to be of leadership material for ALP along with Mark Butler as deputy leader. Why?
    In the worst year for a government in living memory ALP was leading at best 55/45 over LNP and Shorten always lagged in PM stakes. ALP should have lead 60/40.
    I thought Burke has gravitas, was funny & incisive in QT, looks tall & handsome, good media operator

  15. Why should Pollies private life related to their professional career like Joyce be private?
    Government has so much information about us. Can anyone confidently say they are kept private? Do you think an individual privacy is protected in this country?

  16. I think Joyce affair was kept secret by MSM until after Bennelong by-election because it would have affected its final result.
    Did you read how Jacquelin Make reacted to that exposure. It didn’t surprise her

  17. “How can someone who lives in Brunswick possibly imagine what life is like in Northcote?”…. Well, being a fluent bilingual Brunswickese and Northcotese makes Kearney the perfect choice at the by-election. She will be able to confidently promote positive bilateral relations and significantly increase the commercial exchange between Brunswick and Northcote. Who knows, one day the relationship may even develop into a full-blown Confederation….
    Whereas Bhathal has been running for office in the same place for a bit too long, and may have developed a somewhat parochial view of the world….

    …. Some food for thought… 🙂

  18. I know Shorten left his wife & his current wife left her partner to marry. Are you implying that they had illicit relationship before they got married?

    Not implied, by Shorten’s own admission.

    LEADING Labor MP Bill Shorten has confirmed he’s expecting a child with girlfriend Chloe Bryce, the daughter of the Governor-General, as both battle messy divorces with their previous partners.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not criticising Shorten – he has every right to spend his life with a person he loves. And that is no business of you or me.

  19. Kearney seems a good candidate and Bhathal is a bit on the nose but you can’t help but feel that this one belongs to the Greens… just seems so ripe.

  20. Numpty,
    When the fruit has been on the tree for far too long, it becomes so ripe that it just falls on the ground…. and there it stays, decomposing. Unfortunately, Bhathal looks a bit like that fruit….


    To an exclusive from our politics team:
    Bill Shorten’s star candidate Ged Kearney doesn’t live in the seat of Batman.
    In an embarrassing revelation for Labor, Fairfax Media can reveal Ms Kearney actually lives in the neighbouring seat of Wills [more here].

    I went out to the electorate last month and voters told me they were angry the last two Labor MPs lived outside of the electorate and were never present.

  22. Great to see Ged working so hard to help the Greens win Batman and Brunswick.

    Ms Kearney, a long-term Brunswick resident, said she believed the seat was winnable despite the Greens’ long-term ambition to capture Labor in the inner-north.

    Just a week ago, when Ms Kearney’s candidacy was announced, she spoke at length about her connection to the inner-Melbourne seat.

    “It is so lucky that I can represent the people of Batman, a seat, that as Bill [Shorten] said, I lived in. My kids, it’s hard to believe but my kids played Little Aths on this very oval we are on now,” she said.

    “My kids went to school in this seat. I have lived here since, I think I was about 15 really.”

  23. The LNP will win the seats of Batman Longman Braddon Fremantle and also seat of Mayo which will give them a majority of six in the lower house and our great LNP will be in government till ALP sack shorten

  24. Bakunin
    If a Senior Manager in a corporate entity has an affair with a junior staff member & it comes to light, then the said Manager will be asked to resign or sacked.
    Why should a PM and a LNP government, which wants to run the government like corporate entity , be allowed to follow different rules to that of corporate entity?
    Whether you accept it or not, a person in leadership position is a role model to others.
    That’s the reason we are losing respect for Pollies because they behave like this & hide behind the curtain of privacy
    I understand that these kind of things are happening since Hawks time.
    What about the ethics & morals involved with this
    Do we want teach our young women that it is OK to have affair with older married man?
    Do we tell our young men that it is OK to leave your wife and children in pursuit of other woman?

    No wonder we have 50% divorce rates

  25. I suspect the Liberal`s decision not to run a candidate will cause a lower formal vote and turnout, because a proportion of the Liberal voters (otherwise likely to preference the ALP) will simply decide to either cast a blank vote or not turn up at all.

  26. “The LNP will win the seats of Batman Longman Braddon Fremantle and also seat of Mayo which will give them a majority of six in the lower house and our great LNP will be in government till ALP sack shorten”….

    Waaayne, we are waiting for you for dinner…. How many times do I have to tell you not to waste all day with that silly video game that your friend Malcolm gave you for your birthday: “Liberal Victory: The Game of Illusion”?… You are even falling behind with your homework…. and don’t forget to wash the dishes after dinner, it’s your turn tonight.

    Yeah mum, I’m coming…. bloody hell … “sack shorten, sack shorten, sack shorten….”

  27. I would say Batman is a shoe in for The Greens, but for overconfidence.

    Maybe with Batman, Melbourne, Brisbane & possibly 1 or 2 others, The Greens could be holding the balance of power in the Lower & Upper houses in 2019!

  28. Vic,
    According to the current Bludger Track the Greens are at 9.9% primary vote Federally, roughly about the same as at the last Federal election. How many seats do they hold now?
    With Labor becoming more and more Social Democratic the Greens may still hold the balance of power…. but only in the Senate.

    Incidentally, I amused myself with the betting trends which suggest the Greens winning Batman, the Libs winning in SA, the Coalition winning in Vic, and the Coalition winning in NSW…. that is, the betting agencies see a wave of anti-Labor protest at the state level, matched with an anti-Coalition protest at the Federal level….

    I can’t wait to check that with reality…..

  29. Ben Eltham tweeted yesterday rumours of ALP internal polling on Batman which were not good for the party – reliability uncertain but hey what’s the good of an interesting rumour if you don’t pass it on

  30. This is an interesting read, from the Neo Kosmos newspaper.

    Bhathal will need support from socially conservative Labor voters like older Greeks, Italians, Macedonians, Lebanese, and their ambitious middle-aged children who are now carving up their parents’ 750sq metre blocks for town houses to be sold at feverish prices.

    Labor and Green candidates must lock onto new Indian and Chinese migrants who are running small businesses and are sending their kids to independent and state schools not trendy state schools like those in Melbourne’s inner north.

    Di Natale and Bhathal, if they are strategic, will be pushing a Green and economic growth agenda, business friendly, with a focus on education and services. The ALP’s play of the union card may be misspent outside the camp of teachers and public service union members that live in the affluent bits of Batman.

  31. This may well be the same ALP internal polling that Doug refers to above….

    Labor’s Batman beating could be worse than Northcote

    Labor could face a worse electoral thrashing in next month’s Batman byelection than it suffered in the state seat of Northcote late last year, party insiders fear.

    Early Labor research points to a primary vote in Batman even lower than the dismal 35 per cent it slumped to in November’s Northcote state byelection when the ALP was crushed by the Greens, who recorded a swing of more than 11 per cent and a primary vote of more than 45 per cent.

    Labor candidate for Batman Ged Kearney conceded on Thursday that she was the underdog in the contest, but said the unpopularity of the Turnbull government provided a powerful incentive for those in Melbourne’s north to vote ALP.

  32. I’m not personally exercised by residency, but it is nonetheless remarkable that the ALP have not managed to run a candidate for Batman who resided in the electorate since Alan Bird in 1961.

    Sam Benson lived in Williamstown
    Horrie Garrick lived in Heidelberg
    Brian Howe lived in Fitzroy North
    Martin Ferguson lived in Surrey Hills
    David Feeney lived in East Melbourne
    Ged Kearney lives in Brunswick

  33. I’m not convinced that the absence of a Liberal candidate will see otherwise Liberal voters following the HTV card of another centre-right party because

    a) there isn’t another centre-right party running and
    b) I am less convinced than others that people follow HTV cards all that much

    I find the fact that the rate of Liberals preferencing to Greens against the HTV is greater than the other way round to be significant, and I suspect the absence of a Liberal candidate will result in a substantial boost to the Greens vote. However this is obviously highly uncertain.

  34. That poll seems odd to me – I can’t quite work out how they go from primaries of GRN 39 ALP 40 to a 2CP of GRN 47 ALP 53.

    Even if they allocate preferences according to last election (where ALP received 55% of all preferences and Greens 45%) that would only result in a 2CP of GRN 49 ALP 51.

    And of course (Bilbo notwithstanding) the question as to whether otherwise Liberal voters’ preferences will flow as last time, or flow more strongly to the Greens is precisely the main question here. On that poll’s primaries, the Greens would only need to break even on those preferences in order to overcome that primary deficit.

    So the poll is presumably using respondent-allocated preferences, which of course are rather unreliable. (Any corrections or pointers to poll methodology welcome.)

  35. “Consultation of William’s summary, Ben Raue at the Tally Room and Kevin Bonham should be required before anyone goes venturing opinions on where Liberal voters will go, or not and its likely impact on the outcome.”

    I think KBs call is about right: “I don’t think it is hopeless for Labor but it does appear to be quite difficult.”

    I think the absence of a Liberal will favour the Greens, but Kearney clearly has the standing to erase Feeney’s negative personal vote and even peel other leftist voters of the Greens. I expect the former factor to be large enough to overcome the latter two, but I wouldn’t be putting the house on it.

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