Margin: Greens 6.0% versus Labor
Location: Central Melbourne, Victoria
In a nutshell: Adam Bandt achieved the Greens’ first ever win in a lower seat at a general election in 2010, but this time he confronts a weakening in his party’s electoral position and the new Liberal gambit of directing preferences to Labor.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
JOYCE MEI LIN KHOO
The electorate of Melbourne produced a watershed result at the 2010 election, with Labor suffering defeat at the hands of the Greens in a seat it had held without interruption since 1904. It thus became the first federal lower house seat to be won by the Greens at a general election, and the second overall after a by-election victory in the New South Wales seat of Cunningham in 2002. Currently the electorate extends from the central business district westwards to the Maribyrnong River, northwards to Carlton North and eastwards to Richmond. The redistribution has transferred around 6000 voters in Clifton Hill and Alphington to Batman, and another 6000 at Fitzroy North to Wills.
Contributing to the Greens’ strength are the second youngest age profile of any electorate (the first being the strongly indigenous Northern Territory seat of Lingiari), substantial student populations associated with the University of Melbourne and RMIT University campuses, and the nation’s highest “no religion” response in the 2011 census. Other demographic features include substantial Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean populations. The Greens are strongest in the inner-city bohemia of Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond, excluding some local-level concentrations of migrant populations which remain strong for Labor. They are weakest in and around the central business district itself and at Ascot Vale in the seat’s outer north-east, which are respectively strong for Liberal and Labor.
Melbourne was held for Labor from 1993 to 2010 by Lindsay Tanner, who in turn succeeded Hawke-Keating government Immigration Minister Gerry Hand. Their highest profile antecedent in the seat was Arthur Calwell, member from 1940 until 1972. A leading light of the Left faction, Tanner became Finance Minister when the Rudd government was elected, and emerged as part of a four-member “kitchen cabinet” which dominated the government’s decision-making. On the day that Kevin Rudd was deposed as Labor leader, Tanner dropped a second bombshell in parliament when he announced he would not contest the election, which he insisted was unrelated to events earlier in the day. He has since emerged as a public critic of the leadership change and the political process more broadly.
Tanner’s exit at the subsequent election brought into play a seat where the Greens had rapidly grown as a threat since the 2001 election, when their vote lifted 9.6% to 15.8% on the back of concern over asylum seeker policy. It rose again to 19.0% at the 2004 election, when the party harvested much of a collapsing Democrats vote. A further breakthrough was achieved in 2007 when their candidate, Adam Bandt, overtook the Liberal candidate to reach the final preference count. On that occasion the primary vote for Labor’s Lindsay Tanner was 49.5%, enough to ensure him a 4.7% margin after preferences. With Tanner’s retirement at the 2010 election, the Labor vote fell 11.4% while the Greens were up 13.4%, which panned out to a comfortable 6.0% win for the Greens after preferences.
Adam Bandt came to parliament with an instant national profile by virtue of his position on the cross-bench of a hung parliament, which events since have only enhanced. However, he has twice received portents from the sphere of state politics that he will face a tougher environment at the next election than the last. The first was in the state election campaign of November 2010, when the Greens’ high hopes for breakthroughs in the electorate’s corresponding state seats were dashed by a Liberal Party decision to put Labor ahead of the Greens on its how-to-vote cards. This decision was seen by some as a catalyst for the Coalition’s election victory, and there seems a high probability it will be repeated federally. The effect at the state election was to cut flows of Liberal preferences to the Greens from around three-quarters to around a third, which would have cut Bandt’s two-party vote by over 9%. The second was the Greens’ failure to win the by-election for the state seat of Melbourne, despite an expectation that they would profit from annoyance at the mid-term departure of the outgoing Labor member Bronwyn Pike.
Labor has again preselected its unsuccessful candidate from 2010, Cath Bowtell, a former ACTU industrial officer, current state party president and member of the Socialist Left. Bowtell won the preselection against what proved to be token opposition from Harvey Stern, the state president of Labor for Refugees.
Adam Bandt received a substantial but by no means unanticipated blow in the second week of the campaign when Tony Abbott announced the Liberals would direct preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens in all seats. Tim Colebatch of The Age calculates that based on the behaviour of Liberal preferences at the 2010 state election, Bandt will require a swing of 4.2% in his favour to retain the seat. A ReachTEL automated phone poll conducted during the second week of the campaign indicated he was likely to fall short. After exclusion of the undecided, it had Bandt and Bowtell at 35% apiece, with the Liberal candidate on 24%.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.