Bill Shorten, as leader of a nationwide party, has the invidious task of throwing the occasional local candidate under the bus for the greater good.

In Queensland coal country this week, he reached all the way down to Victoria and took Batman candidate Ged Kearney’s arm, handled her bags, and gently escorted her to a pillow-festooned place beneath the front wheels.

With his statements in Townville on Monday, that there is “a role for coal”, and Adani is “just another project”, Shorten has made defeat in Batman for Kearney all the more likely.

Quite possibly he’s working off the same private polling that some of us have seen: that even if Kearney offered free pingers and quinoa rainbow farts to the Batmanry, she will lose.

Such polling, which the Greens are working off, suggests that Labor is simply dead in Batman, now that the Liberals have decided not to run. The Bell Street hummus/dukkah/genderfluid polyamory curtain (running through northern Preston) has been torn away. The Greens are competitive in Reservoir and other “outer-inner” ‘burbs.

Kearney is a vastly better candidate than David Feeney, both in reputation and image, and as a campaigning politician. She may yet pull it off. But she too has been tarnished by Labor cynicism.

Lined up last year to contest the neighbouring state seat of Brunswick that sitting member Hazy Jane Garrett is not contesting, Kearney suddenly disappeared across the Merri Creek into Batman.

No one would have given a damn, except that she had already done the “Brunswick born and bred” routine, loved the steaming wotsit from the Insert Name café in Sydney Road, etc. This hyperlocalisation treats the electorate like yokels.

It has tarred Kearney as a typical politician, the last thing she needed, against Greens perennial Alex Bhathal, who is currently making her sixth run for the seat.

But Shorten’s sudden desire to hymn the praises of King Coal on the Queensland coast has little to do with those seats. It’s about Labor’s internal realignment battle. In calling Adani “just another mine”, Shorten is echoing the words of Tony Maher, head of CFMEU mining division.

This is at exactly the time as Shorten’s union base, the AWU, is negotiating a new cross-factional “Centre Unity – Industrial Left” alliance with the CFMEU. Such an alliance, if it can get the SDA on board, would be in a position to weaken the Victorian Socialist Left, in a way that may eventually be necessary to Shorten’s survival.

Losing Batman to the Greens would be a blow to the ego. But it’s also a question of when, not if, the seat falls to them. The leadership is another matter. With Anthony Albanese making a few gentle throat-clearings, and News Corp banging the drums on Shorten’s relatively low personal approval ratings, Shorten has to think about survival before victory.

The fact that Kearney is Socialist Left aligned, and that if she falls short the seat could be recontested by a CU-IL aligned candidate, surely plays no part in this rather sudden act of candidate sabotage.

Labor is not without a nuclear option in Batman, however. Though the Liberals aren’t running, the Australian Conservatives are, with a candidate straight from central casting — ex-SAS man (and op-ed writer for the Herald Sun) Kevin Bailey. Would Labor cosy up to the Cory Bernardi/Lyle Shelton’s mob, in the hope that some Tory votes would outweigh voter disgust, and a fresh departure to the Greens?

They wouldn’t, would they? Would they? We shall find out.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey