Federal Labor has began 2018 being on the defensive in what could be a federal election year. This week saw forgetful David Feeney fall after he failed to produce paperwork that proved he was not a dual citizen. Because of his series of blunders over the past few years including in the 2016 federal election Bill Shorten and the Labor Party lost patience with him and as a result he resigned as the Member for Batman and will not recontest the pending by-election.
Batman falls within the boundaries of Inner Melbourne which is Green left heartland. In 2016 Feeney just held off a challenge from the Greens candidate Alex Bhathal (who is standing again) holding on 51-49% thanks to Liberal preferences. Batman takes in the state electorate of Northcote which at a by-election last November the Greens pulled off a 10% swing to win the seat off Labor despite the party pouring significant resources into saving the seat. Darebin Council which was one of three Melbourne councils to remove all references to Australia Day is located in Batman.
Despite the greening of Inner Melbourne the Labor Party still is wanting to defend as much of it as possible. Of course a political party will not willingly give up seats in parliament but to hold on to Batman Labor will have to shift significantly to left and pander to the pet causes of inner city voters.
While people may not notice in a federal election when the national attention is on this by-election Labor’s shift to left will be on prominent display. Labor have gone with who they consider a star candidate in ACTU President Ged Kearney. The mainstream media was eager to hear what Kearney’s view was on asylum seekers and the Isreali boycott at her opening press conference.
The Greens are also eager to see how far they can push Labor to the left in this campaign. Labor has already backed away from their support the Adani coal mine which is bizarrely a campaign issue in Batman when the mine is far away in North Queensland. There were anti-Adani signs in the background of Bill Shorten and Ged Kearney’s press conference
The Greens have also come out with a blatantly socialist policy to re-nationalise Victoria’s electricity network which it claims is responsible (not the increased reliance on renewables or the closure of Hazelwood power station) for the increasing price and unreliability of electricity in the state. Labor and Kearney have said this is too difficult to do even if they are broadly sympathetic.
The Liberal Party will not likely run a candidate and the Victorian Division have previously floated the radical proposal of abandoning inner city contests altogether in elections and letting Labor and the Greens fight it out. Victorian Liberal President Michael Kroger however is wanting to keep the other parties guessing refusing to say if the Liberals will run in Batman as a way to confuse their campaigning as a Liberal candidate assists Labor in being elected.
If Labor does go further left in this campaign it will give ammunition to the Coalition leading into the next election that Labor has become a party which is about the inner city elites and no longer about the working class focusing on mainstream issues. It has been highlighted already the conflict modern Labor has in trying to cover both bases.
It has also been highlighted that a potential by-election loss and the potential for two other by-elections in marginal Labor seats (Longman and Braddon) due to dual citizenship MPs would see Labor’s numbers in parliament go backwards during this term. It has led to questions being raised again about Bill Shorten’s leadership qualities and despite Labor’s lead in the polls many still wonder is he the man to get Labor back into government?
The Turnbull G0vernment will certainly be enjoying seeing the citizenship crisis now eating away at the Labor side. Labor’s political ascendancy and Shorten’s electability will be put to the test in Batman and potentially other by-elections.