The Greens’ candidate for the federal seat of Melbourne, Adam Bandt, says the retirement of popular local member Lindsay Tanner has made the battle for control of the electorate more “interesting”.

Speaking with Crikey after filming a segment for tonight’s Lateline program, Bandt said the Greens would focus on a grassroots campaign in order to counter the bucket of ALP resources likely to be tipped into the seat to ensure it remains in ALP hands.

But Bandt stopped short of saying the departure of the Gillard government’s economic brains trust would necessarily deliver his party a cavalcade of votes.

“I think it’s made it more interesting. It’s certainly true that he had a strong personal following, as you would expect for a prominent minister,” Bandt said. “But we don’t presume to have any polling on the specific amount that Tanner’s personal appeal is worth.”

Bandt said the Greens would embrace a grassroots campaign, to be anchored by the party’s new Brunswick Street headquarters in the heart of Melbourne’s famed latte belt.

Labor, which has held the inner-city seat since 1904, is now clinging to a slender margin of just 4.7%. If the Greens can keep ahead of the Liberals on primary votes the seat would almost certainly be delivered to Bob Brown’s local lieutenant on a platter. On ABC radio this morning, Brown said he would be making personal appearances across the electorate to assist Bandt.

According to the 38-year-old Bandt, there would now be a shift from personality politics to substantive issues.

“I want to switch the focus of the campaign away from personalities and towards policies … there’s a real chance now to have a debate on issues and personality in addition to personal following. It also means that a number of issues that the Greens are known for, including asylum seekers, will come to the fore. I think this will also give us scope to talk about issues like dental care, child care, mental health and social justice,” he said.

“We’re going to sit down and stock … we know we’re going to be outspent … the Labor party have access to enormous resources. We’ll continue our grasssroots volunteer, community based campaign, rather than triple our expenditure.”

Bandt, a Slater and Gordon lawyer who ironically held a similar position at the firm once occupied by new prime minister Julia Gillard, has attended a number of nominally-Labor events in recent weeks. On Wednesday night he appeared alongside ALP Emily’s List member Tanja Kovac and the ALP’s state candidate for Brunswick, Jane Garrett, at a forum highlighting Tony Abbott’s archaic attitudes to women.

Asked about other potential ALP rivals for the seat, including front-runner Andrew Giles, Bandt said he only knew “what he read in the papers”.

Crikey understands Giles, an experienced ALP campaigner whose career highlight was representing Tampa refugees on behalf of Liberty Victoria, will abide by due process in selecting a successor for Tanner.

The ALP is expected to involve its 800 party members in the search for a new candidate, with Giles expected to win in any pre-selection ballot. However, the Socialist Left secretary and North Carlton branch president is believed to be open to supporting the best candidate for the seat. To add to his considerations, Giles is expecting his first child in two-and-a-half weeks.

Other potential ALP candidates include former senior ACTU industrial officer Cath Bowtell, who is said to be owed a shot at pre-selection after being turned down for the ACTU presidency in favour of Ged Kearney. But party sources said this morning that a Bowtell run was only an outside possibility.

Party sources tipped cold water this morning over another potential name, Monash University academic and ABC 774 Melbourne fill-in presenter Waleed Aly. Aly is not believed to be a member of the party, and a Peter Garrett-style parachute from the party’s national executive would likely draw the ire of local branches.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey