Batman by-election, 2018

Cause of by-electon
Sitting Labor MP David Feeney is expected to resign due to his inability to find documents proving renunciation of his British citizenship.

Margin – ALP 1.0% vs GRN

Geography
Batman covers parts of the inner north of Melbourne. Batman covers all of the City of Darebin as well as parts of Yarra and Whittlesea. Batman covers the suburbs of Fairfield, Northcote, Thornbury, Preston, Reservoir and Kingsbury.

History
Batman is a long-standing Melbourne electorate, and for most of its history it has been held by Labor MPs.

The seat was first won in 1906 by Protectionist candidate Jabez Coon. Coon held the seat for only one term before losing it to Labor candidate Henry Beard in 1910. Beard was a former Labor state MP, and died only months after his election to the House of Representatives.

The ensuing by-election in 1911 was won by the ALP’s Frank Brennan. Brennan held the seat for the next twenty years, serving as Attorney-General in the Scullin government from 1929 until 1931. At the 1931 election Brennan lost his seat and the Scullin government was defeated, with Batman being won by UAP candidate Samuel Dennis.

Dennis only held on for one term, losing to Brennan in 1934. Brennan held the seat for another fifteen years, retiring in 1949.

Batman was won in 1949 by the ALP’s Alan Bird, a former Mayor of Northcote. Bird was re-elected throughout the 1950s, returning to the Northcote mayoralty for one year in 1958. He died in office in 1962.

The 1962 by-election was won by Williamstown mayor Sam Benson. Benson was re-elected in 1963 but in 1966 was expelled from the ALP over his support for the Vietnam War. He managed to win election as an independent in 1966. Benson retired in 1969, and the seat went to Labor candidate and Collingwood mayor Horace Garrick in 1969.

Garrick was re-elected at the 1972, 1974 and 1975 elections, but lost preselection in 1976 to Brian Howe, who won the seat at the 1977 election. Howe became a junior minister upon the election of the Hawke government in 1983, and was promoted to Cabinet following the 1984 election. Howe became Deputy Prime Minister in 1991 after Paul Keating moved to the backbench following a failed challenge to Bob Hawke’s leadership, and Howe held the position until 1995. He retired at the 1996 election.

Howe was succeeded in 1996 by former ACTU president Martin Ferguson. Ferguson went straight into the Labor shadow cabinet and was a shadow minister for the entirety of the Howard government, and joined the Cabinet in 2007 after the election of the Rudd government. Ferguson resigned from the ministry in early 2013, and retired at the 2013 election.

Batman was won in 2013 by Labor candidate David Feeney. Feeney had been a Senator since 2008, but had been demoted to the marginal third position on the Labor ticket. Feeney was elected in Batman, and was re-elected with a smaller margin in 2016.

Candidates

  • Alex Bhathal (Greens)
  • Catherine Cumming (Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party)
  • Ged Kearney (Labor)

Assessment
The seat of Batman will be an interesting contest.

The seat was traditionally considered safe for Labor, even as the Greens grew in popularity in the seat of Melbourne to the south. While the southern end of the electorate is very good for the Greens, the northern end doesn’t look like your typical strong area for the Greens.

Alex Bhathal has run in the seat for multiple elections, gradually building up the Greens vote until the party overtook the Liberal Party in 2010. Bhathal has run for the party at every election bar one since 2001.

There were large swings against Labor at the last two elections, with David Feeney struggling to hold onto Labor’s base. While Labor is still quite strong in the north of the seat, the Greens have built up a much higher vote in that area.

The Greens recently won the state seat of Northcote at a by-election. Northcote covers some of the more difficult parts of the electorate for the Greens, and they gained a large swing. A similar swing in those areas in this by-election would lead to a Greens victory.

Feeney had become a liability for Labor. We don’t know whether that will cause ongoing problems for Labor, or if a strong alternative candidate like Kearney can win back voters that have switched to the Greens.

2016 result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
Alex Bhathal Greens 32,64536.23+9.83
David Feeney Labor 31,78035.27-6.02
George Souris Liberal 17,92419.89-2.57
Joel MurraySex Party2,3172.57-0.01
Philip SuttonIndependent1,5091.67+0.86
Caitlin EvansAnimal Justice1,5031.67+0.27
Elizabeth SyberMarriage Equality6820.76+0.76
Maurice OldisRenewable Energy5930.66+0.66
Franco GuardianiIndependent4800.53+0.53
Geoffrey CicutoCyclist3860.43+0.43
Russell HaywardProgressive2820.31+0.31
Informal7,6017.78

2016 two-candidate-preferred result

CandidatePartyVotes%Swing
David Feeney Labor 45,97751.03-9.58
Alex Bhathal Greens 44,12448.97+9.58

Booth breakdown

Booths have been divided into three areas: north, central and south. The southern area is centred on Northcote. The central area is centred on Preston and Thornbury. The northern area is centred on Reservoir.

There is a large variation in the vote across these three areas. The Greens won with a 63% majority of the two-candidate-preferred vote in the south, while Labor won 66% in the north. The centre was almost perfectly tied – Labor won 17 more votes in those booths.

The Liberal Party’s vote is also much stronger in the north of the seat.

Voter groupLIB prim %ALP 2CP %GRN 2CP %Total votes% of votes
North23.066.433.618,83320.9
Central17.250.050.018,74520.8
South15.737.162.915,65017.4
Other votes23.252.347.715,16016.8
Pre-poll20.347.752.321,71324.1

Two-candidate-preferred vote in Batman at the 2016 federal election

About the Author

Ben Raue is the founder and author of the Tally Room.If you like this post, please consider donating to support the Tally Room.