Watching the Count in the seat of Batman

For reasons of history, I’ve been most interested in the seat of Batman this election. I lived in Batman on and off for more than twenty years. I was there when Brian Howe was the member, then Martin Fergusson, and finally David Feeney. I was distantly involved in the preselection that chose Feeney, supporting one of two fine women who were running for the seat. Needless to say the factions and the stacked branches decided that rather than a local woman, a certain Feeney would be parachuted in after losing his seat in the senate. This was a major factor in my eventual leaving of the ALP.

So in stepped Alex Bhathal, a Greens candidate who had run in the seat four times prior to the 2016 election. The contrast between her and Feeney are striking. Having walked away from the ALP, I decided to support the Greens.

The contrast between the two parties is striking. The branch meetings I made it to had become dull affairs. Of an official hundred or so members, maybe seven would turn up. I’d seen the members list for the FEA (Federal Electoral Assembly, the group that chooses who will stand for the ALP in a given federal seat). There were some thousand members in Batman, a suspiciously large number of which shared surnames and postal addresses.

The Greens meetings, however, are lively affairs. A huge diversity of people and opinions. And a striking number of former members of the ALP. I imagine the Labor party of old was like this, before it became a machine for gaining power and not a broad-based party of involved members.

I popped in a few times to Alex’s campaign office. My estimate of the average age of the volunteers there was about twenty.

Election day, I was scrutineering in a booth in North Reservoir. The booth was heavily Labor, nearly half the votes cast going to Feeney. I watched sadly as the third place getter, a Liberal called George Souris, had his preferences flow largely to Feeney. Which is not the say they were preferenced high in the order, the Liberal how-to-vote card had Feeney tenth and Bhathal eleventh.

There was a huge swing to the Greens in the seat, over 9%, but it was not enough. As I watched the tallies on the night I knew it was not looking good. To not be leading on the night is never good. Postal votes and declaration votes tend to flow to the conservatives. Which in this case meant they were flowing to Feeney. So despite Bhathal getting more first preference votes than Feeney, she has trailed since the night by around 1.5%. I watched the count with sadness, reloading the AEC page over and over hoping that somehow the lead would change. At the time of writing, the seat still hasn’t been declared, but the ALP has held on.

Why do I care so much? I have an instinctive dislike for Feeney. He’s not a good nor representative local member – indeed he is not even local. His elevation to the seat was not a transparent nor democratic. If it was it’s likely Mary-Anne Thomas would have gotten the nomination. And she’d have been a popular member. But no. He represents what is wrong with the ALP and with politics in general. The machine has spoken.

And once again the Greens, a party who regularly poll 10 to 12% of the vote across the nation, are left with but one seat in the lower house, and not, say, the fifteen they would expect from that level of support. And for another three years there will only be a tiny number of voices in Canberra railing against the offshore detention of children. I despair of our leaders and our representatives, and the callous nation we have become.