Federal election 2016: Greens candidate Alex Bhathal within a whisker in Batman

Richard Willingham

State Political Correspondent for The Age

July 3, 2016 – 12:30AM

The Greens were trailing by the smallest of margins in their bid to win an historic second inner city seat, with the northern Melbourne seat of Batman sitting on a knife edge.

Late on Saturday night, the result was too close to call in the seat that was once Labor’s safest seat in the country.

Serial Greens candidate Alex Bhathal was within a whisker of seizing Batman from Labor frontbencher David Feeney after a mammoth campaign effort and a big advertising spend.

Mr Feeney’s own campaign was dogged by gaffes and controversy after Fairfax revealed the incumbent did not live in his electorate, while also not declaring a $2.3 million property in Northcote.

Despite all of this Mr Feeney had 50.34 per cent of the two party preferred vote after nearly 70 per cent of Batman ballots had been tallied.
David Feeney says Labor remains very confident he will retain Batman.

Ms Bhathal said the seat, the most progressive in Australia, deserved progressive representation and that she hoped for good news “in the coming hours”.

As widely tipped the Greens’ sole incumbent Adam Bandt was returned to Parliament for a third time, increasing his margin in Melbourne.

In neighbouring Wills, the Greens also gave first time Labor candidate, and former adviser to prime minister Kevin Rudd, Peter Khalil a push through candidate Samantha Ratnam.

Mr Khalil however looked destined for Canberra.

The main focus for the Greens on Saturday night at a packed Forum Theatre in the city was on Batman, which stretches from Clifton Hill in the south to Bundoora and Thomastown in the north.

Labor had been nervous about Batman since the start of the campaign and were facing a cashed-up party that was only focusing on a handful of seats rather than a statewide battle.

The Greens have been building in Batman and Wills for some time due to a change in the demographics, with more well-off professionals buying up homes in areas that were once the home of working class and migrant Labor-voting families.

At one time Batman was Labor’s safest seat in Australia and was the electorate held by stalwart Martin Ferguson.

The inner city battles between Labor and Greens, and Liberals and Greens in Higgins, have been hit by dirty politics with former state minister Peter Batchelor caught ripping down Greens posters at a Clifton Hill primary school and Labor operatives arrested for vandalism in Melbourne Ports.

In Higgins the Greens have made a bold bid to unseat Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer in area that has been blue-ribbon Liberal territory.

Ms O’Dwyer was set to win the seat, with the Greens’ Jason Ball enjoying a 10 per cent swing.

That campaign also turned nasty, with police investigating the alleged biting of a Greens volunteer by a backer of Ms O’Dwyer.

South of the Yarra in Melbourne Ports the Greens were part of a three-way tussle with veteran Labor Michael Danby and the Liberals’ Owen Guest. The Greens’ Stephanie Hodgins-May was in third place with 25.7 per cent of the primary vote, Mr Danby with 27.6 per cent and the Liberals 40 per cent at 9.30pm.

Before polls closed Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said he expected swings in inner-city seats.

“What you will see is these seats turn Green, if not at this election, then the next one,” Senator Di Natale said on ABC TV.

The Greens had launched an unprecedented campaign in Victoria for lower house seats, with an advertising campaign budget that appeared to rival the major parties.

The party took the rare step of advertising for individual seats: Higgins and Batman, in metropolitan wide press, including on the front page of Thursday’s The Age for Ms Bhathal in Batman.

And up until the media blackout TV commercials were screened in prime time for both Ms Bhathal in Batman and Mr Ball in Higgins.

Despite Senator Di Natale declaring before the election the party did not do polling, two Greens-commissioned polls were given to the media, which showed them in front in Batman and making ground in Higgins.