Batman (pronounce it Batm’n, as opposed to Bat Man) is the among safest Labor seats in the nation, and has been right near the top of the list ever since neighbouring seat Melbourne got vacated by a fed-up Lindsay Tanner on the eve of the 2010 election, and ‘proper’ left Greens poster boy Adam Bandt inherited the mantle.
Melbourne had been a Labor mainstay since 1909. It says a lot about the inner city Melbourne political chattering classes: that an ALP stronghold for more than a century could fall to the Greens. Ask the ALP why it happened and they’ll dole out some noxious balloon juice about the Greens’ secret donors and double-secret preference deals with the Libs – the truth is a bit more cut and dry: the joke of a party once represented solely by frumpy Tasmanian tree hugging Senators is now the single bastion remaining to hold the Labor Party accountable for its own core values. It’s like Don Chipp said: “Keep the bastards honest.”
Usually it’s not a case of how, but when they drop the ball.
A drift to the right (or the bottom of the barrel) from the ALP was noticeable and palpable ever since then-opposition leader and walking princess cake Kim Beazley flipped on the Tampa back in 2001. Standard bearers Rudd and Gillard thought the best path to political relevancy was to err to the side of pragmatic conservatism, and started to take stances that made little, if any ideological sense (Gillard’s baffling, and consequentially fraudulent opposition to marriage equality being a case in point). The people of Clifton Hill, Fitzroy and the Melbourne CBD noticed this, and in between mid-afternoon pinots and plebeian self-congratulatory discussions about #qanda, voted in an affable, smiling former Murdoch University student guild president; a bespectacled hipster metrosexual from Perth who likes the footy, craft beer and is pro-marriage equality.
They voted in one of their own, bless them.
I’ve met this Bandt chap, he’s entirely pleasant, smart as a whip, and seems to love his job. He presses the flesh, door knocks the electorate (something Labor candidate Sophie Ismail doesn’t seem to have any interest in) and greets you with a cheery ‘G’day!’ like it comes naturally to him. Probably, because it does.
So, after the six years of Rudd-Gillard-Rudd, Sam & Diane, will-they-won’t-they nonsense, the sitting member for Batman, former ACTU boss Martin Ferguson took his bat and ball and fucked off home, leaving the safe seat he occupied to go to whichever trade union gomer/party lawyer with enough reward points in his back pocket was deemed worthy of the easiest win in the nation.
A name, next to the ALP logo will net you a win in Batman. Every. Single. Time.
I live in Thornbury, which resides within the boundaries of Batman (huzzah!) and the current member (tee hee) is a man named David Feeney. He’s a slippery weasel of a party apparatchik from the ALP’s Right faction; he was for an interminable number of years a Labor Senator for Victoria. That is something you achieve through eons of smooching half your party comrades and knifing the other half; the better you get at deciding whose arse gets kissed vs. who gets the blade, the further up the ticket you go. Much has been said about his role as a powerbroker for the Right, a despicable bunch it must be said, who are a lot less socially progressive than a vast contingency of those members opposite, gaseous Prime Minister and loathsome Deputy PM included.
When it comes to the battle for Castle Canberra 2016, not a lot of hope was riding on an ALP win. Too much damage was done in 2013 when flesh-covered papal android Tony Abbott assumed power based on a slogan, and the simple notion that he’s not the other guy. Seats fell by the volume, and while Rudd’s re-ascension may have saved the party from losing a further 15, the damage was done and a generations-spanning loss was racked up. And leave it up to Labor to fuck it up, somehow. They’re awesome at that. Usually it’s not a case of how, but when they drop the ball.
Enter human sand dune Bill Shorten, who walked into the 2016 campaign as PM-in-waiting by reminding the nation that he single-handedly rescued the two blokes from a collapsed mine in Beaconsfield back in 2006. Which he didn’t, but that’s neither here nor there. He was doing for Auspol what Rudy Giuliani was for American politics when he wanted to be president in 2012: “Noun-verb-9/11!” It’s not like he had anything else worth selling.
The 2016 ALP strategy seems to be class warfare, which is nice and all, and has given Bernie Sanders some ink in the US. It’s a solid target, considering how rich Malcolm Turnbull is, and how easy it is to paint negative gearing as an insidious evil that’s making housing too expensive and out of reach of generations X, Y and the millennials. So the ALP’s promise of a revolution within the laws governing the practice (in a nutshell, restricting it to current properties as they stand now, and then keeping it within the confines of newly constructed houses once elected) makes for a good talking point among the base voters drifting to the ideological left.
A swing in that direction was trending in Batman, towards perennial Greens candidate (agitprop hippie troublemaker) Alex Bhathal – whose tilt at this particular windmill in 2016 is a five-peat following unsuccessful attempts dating back to 2004. Aiding her now is the recently released soundbite that not only does David Feeney not live in the electorate, but he lives in the one next door (in a $2m-plus apartment in East Melbourne; man of the people). That he owns a house in Northcote (as well as one in Seddon, which he bought of disgraced union pariah Kathy Jackson), and would live in it but for the fact that it was being extensively renovated. Well, that’s that sorted.
… and it sounds fair enough, except for the fact that it’s total bullshit.
The house is a fairly standard three-bedder that’s currently, and for all intents and purposes, has always been a rented share house, reeking of old pizza boxes, potato bongs and patchouli stank. Fenney couldn’t, for the life of him recall whether or not it was negatively geared (because such things tend to slip one’s mind, in a maelstrom); more importantly he neglected to declare the place as an asset, as is the requirement of Parliament’s Register of Members Interests.
Practically, it’s not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, but in a political climate which saw the NSW premier de-throned for not declaring a gifted bottle of wine (Grange no less), he looks to be in a bit of a pickle. But the thing is that it doesn’t surprise one bit that if he loses on July 2 – which he might – it will have been over something so piddly and stupid. Batman’s not short of investment properties; the Westgarth cinema advertises a firm called ‘Ethical Investments’ so well-to-do locals can pat themselves on the back for doing the right thing while getting a hefty tax refund. But in a seat trending Green, in an election built on one party’s demonising a practice most of them would be actively involved in, the fact the Feeney would be so stupid as to let something like this slide is a fairly damning indictment of the whole party machine.
It is, at the end of the day simply not a good look. Representative government is a two-pronged art form: policy and politics. And you can have the world’s biggest hoard of sensible policy ideas, but they’re not worth a pinch of shit if you can’t sell them. Most elections are won and loss on perceptions; so a guy whose party is saying ‘Negative gearing BAD!’ all the while reaping the spoils of it, and lying about it to boot says he’s clearly too dumb to tie his shoes, much less be a voice of the people.
Perception is everything, and you’d think he’d get that, what with his chosen career being politics.