Margin: Labor 7.9% versus Greens
Location: Inner Northern Melbourne, Victoria
Outgoing member: Martin Ferguson (Labor)
In a nutshell: After appearing to be stranded in the dangerous number three position on the party’s Senate ticket, factional powerbroker David Feeney’s hunt for a safe berth met a happy ending with Martin Ferguson’s retirement from his inner Melbourne stronghold.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
ALEXANDRA KAUR BHATHAL
Covering Melbourne’s inner north-east, Batman is the safest Labor seat in the country in Labor-versus-Coalition terms, although the contest transformed in 2010 when the Greens finished ahead of the Liberals for the first time. The electorate extends from Northcote and Fairfield in the south through Thornbury, Preston and Reservoir to Bundoora, with the Merri and Darebin creeks forming most of the western and eastern boundaries. Bell Street serves as a rough dividing line between an inner-city south which is electorally of a piece with the seat of Melbourne, and a more conventionally working-class north where support for the Greens is considerably weaker.
Batman has been rock solid for Labor since the party first won it in 1910, barring two interruptions: the United Australia Party’s win in the 1931 landslide, and when Labor member Sam Benson was expelled from the party in 1966 over his support for the Vietnam war. Benson was re-elected as an independent at the 1966 election on Democratic Labor Party and Liberal preferences and retired in 1969. The last close result was in 1977 when future Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe retained the seat by 3.4% upon his debut. It swung to Labor by 7.3% and 6.4% at the next two elections, before being made 7.8% safer by the redistribution in 1984. Howe was succeeded in 1996 by Martin Ferguson, president of the ACTU since 1990, who with brother Laurie now the member for the Sydney seat of Werriwa dominated a major sub-faction of the Left. Ferguson was immediately elevated to the front bench and remained there until March this year, when he resigned after Kevin Rudd’s abortive second leadership bid and announced that he would not seek another term. Ferguson had emerged a key backer of Rudd’s ambitions, despite Julia Gillard having started her career as a protege of his faction.
The Batman vacancy was immediately perceived by Julia Gillard and factional powerbrokers including Ferguson and Bill Shorten as a chance to accommodate Senator David Feeney, a Right powerbroker and key Gillard ally who had been stranded with the electorally unpromising number three position on the Victorian Senate ticket. However, Feeney’s bid met strong resistance from the local Left, including Brian Howe, and those who believed the seat should go to a woman after Tim Watts was chosen to succeed Nicola Roxon in Gellibrand, including Penny Wong and Jenny Macklin. The early talk was that Feeney might be opposed by ACTU president Ged Kearney, but she declared herself determined to remain in her existing position. Left support instead coalesced behind local party member Mary-Anne Thomas, executive manager of Plan International. Feeney emerged victorious in the local party ballot by 383 votes to 247, prompting Thomas to withdraw ahead of the state party’s public office selection committee certain ratification of Feeney’s win.
The Greens candidate for the second successive election is Preston social worker Alex Bhatal.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.