The Greens were hit with a fresh “leak” in Batman at the end of last week, with accusations in the ABC — denied by the Greens, and lacking documentation — that Batman candidate Alex Bhathal had been investigated for improper conduct five years ago. Greens leader Richard Di Natale has denied this, and openly stated that there is a force within the Darebin Greens who would rather see the Greens miss out than have Alex Bhathal bumped into parliament. 

What’s frustrating for many in the Victorian Greens is that everyone knows who the leaker — or the principal leaker — is. They’re a Darebin branch member with long experience in the Greens, they have contacts in the mainstream media, and they know how to drip-feed stories to maximise a news cycle. The Greens should expect another bombshell to be leaked on Wednesday night for the Thursday media cycle, the usual final drop, made so late, that a rebuttal is impossible.

The leaker has loathed Bhathal personally for some years; but they have also played a role as a mentor to a number of young people joining the Darebin branch, especially those lacking any sort of left-right political understanding of earlier eras.

[Greens split ramps up as insiders move against Alex Bhathal]

“These people don’t actually understand what they’re saying,” one Darebin member told me. “They say “branch stacking’ by which they mean signing up new active members made from personal contact.”

There’s also a political split of sorts: “Alex has a manner that is forthright,” this member said. “She tells you what she thinks of your ideas, or your position, if she doesn’t agree with it. But it’s not bullying. It’s just not middle-class politeness”.

Many of the 18 complainants concerning Bhathal are increasingly from a (minority) part of the Greens that sees no dynamic connection with left concerns.

These problems are the price of political success, as new members flood into the Greens — and also of a centrist drift that will occur as an older left-green phalanx steps back from the party. 

But leaking to wreck a political campaign is something else. The leakers are convinced they can do it because the seat will then fall to a new Greens candidate when it comes around in 2019. That is a pious hope.

This is a rare vacant contestation, incumbency gives a 3-5% advantage, Kearney is a credible local member, Labor would promote the hell out of her, and the pork would pour. Bhathal has a huge local presence and respect, and an appeal to many left-Labor voters that a nu-Green wouldn’t.

For Labor, Kearney winning in Batman would give them breathing space to recalibrate their whole strategy as regards the inner-city — currently being done on the fly should Shorten lose and go in 2019, Labor could remake itself with Tanya Plibersek or Penny Wong (moving to the Reps) as a Jacinda Arden type leader — effectively acknowledging that the knowledge-class and its values are generalising rapidly. Batman would hold; so would Wills to its East; and Grayndler in NSW. Perhaps for quite a while.

People have got to go — a reasonable number of them — and sometimes on the balance of probabilities, not with presumption of innocence. The party needs reshaping. Otherwise what chance does it have of moving forward? There’s an old Aussie expression…

Disclaimer: this correspondent shared a house with Alex Bhathal for three years in the ’80s, can attest to her forthrightness, and once gave her a positive personal reference. He also had a forthright public argument with Labor candidate Ged Kearney in 2017. If there was a Liberal candidate, there’d probably be some crap there too.

Peter Fray

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