Feeney won the seat following the retirement of Martin Ferguson in 2013
In 2013 there was a -10.62% swing against the ALP as first preference, but a +2.8% towards Feeney in the two candidate preferred result. The electorate is situated in a growth corridor in Melbourne's north attracting middle to higher income families.
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Located in the heart of Melbourne’s northern corridor, the division of Batman is one of Victoria’s fastest growing areas. Traditionally the electorate has been a Labor stronghold, but it is moving further to the left with each successive election.
Batman is home to more than 90,000 voters and follows the South Morang train-line past the inner-metropolitan south of the electorate into the more suburban north, a reality that’s proven to be an important distinction in past elections.
According to AEC data, there is a distinct divide between the northern, traditionally Labor voters within Batman and the southern, younger and progressive voters, who are increasingly moving into the electorate.
The difference is so stark that in 2010 the ALP won a 65% majority in the north, with the Greens taking a 55% majority in the south. However, shifting demographics may be benefitting The Greens, with Batman recording a total 60% progressive vote in 2013 – up from 24% in 2010.
Batman’s residency is characterized by an exceptionally high rate of education, with 24.3% of residents having attended a tertiary institution (10% over the national average).
This, compounded with a rental rate that eclipses home ownership, and the presence of La Trobe University on its eastern border has cemented Batman as a cultural nerve centre for many of Victoria’s students and recent graduates.
Voters are also concerned about the future of inner-metropolitan areas, with population growth and climate change forcing a re-think of urban infrastructure and living arrangements.
Lucy Best, the Community Engagement Manager for Positive Charge —a social enterprise tackling climate change locally— says voters have their eyes set on the future.
“A key topic around there is the medium to high density living. A lot of the residents have concerns about that … we try to encourage residents to get solar and they’ve of course got concerns about development happening around them.
"Our angle is sustainability and being aware of climate change. We do find that the community are responsive to that, I can say that’s definitely a concern,” she says.
The Green angle
Sustainability and environmental issues are central to the campaign platform of Batman’s ‘dark knight’ candidate Alex Bhathal, who will be running with The Greens for the fifth time this year. The local social worker is the hero many in the electorate believe they need, as evidenced by her increasing share of the primary vote in recent years.
Since 2001 The Greens have been steadily increasing in popularity amongst voters, moving from 11.5% of the vote to 26.6% of the vote in 2013. In fact, the electorate is now one of the few in Australia where The Greens outperform the Liberal Party at the polls.
This makes Bhathal a key component of The Greens’ campaign to take Melbourne’s northern corridor from Labor, with Adam Bandt’s seat of Melbourne to the south and Moreland Mayor Samantha Ratnam’s campaign for Wills to the west.
The strategy is targeted. The Greens have fewer resources to invest in campaigning than Labor, but their smaller size means that they can pick their battles. Batman has been identified as one such battleground, spelling trouble for Labor, which has electoral contests to fight with the Coalition across the country.
Liberals in the wings
The Liberal Party itself may have decided that their resources can be better employed in an electorate that isn’t a potential Greens’ swing seat, having yet to officially nominate a candidate at the time of writing – paving the way for a battle between Bhathal and Feeney.
However, despite their investment, The Greens still face the prospect of deposing Labor from a seat that they’ve held since 1910. Having only relinquished it twice since then, the electorate has historically been held by members of Labor’s left.
The seat was previously held by Martin Ferguson, a senior ALP member, who represented Batman for 17 years until he backed Kevin Rudd’s unsuccessful bid to topple then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, after which he resigned before the 2013 election.
To the upset of Labor’s left, David Feeney —a prominent member of the Labor right unity faction— was preselected for the seat with the support of both Gillard and Bill Shorten. Despite this turbulence, Feeney maintained a sizable 20 point lead over Bathal in the 2013 two-candidate-preferred result.
For Labor, losing Batman would represent far more than just conceding a second lower house seat to the Greens, it may also put a number of other nearby Labor seats into question within the traditionally left leaning state of Victoria.