Well, the final tallies are in in Batman, and it was not good for the Greens. As the preferences came in, Ged Kearney and Labor’s vote went up. Hardly for admirable reasons. With the Liberals out of the race, all the minor troglodytes poured their votes towards Labor: Australian Conservatives, Rise Up, Australian Peoples Party. The final two-party preferred (2PP) tally: around 39,300 to 34,800. Ouch.

Despite that, Batman is winnable for the Greens in 2019 — as are several inner-city federal seats now being written off afresh. Not likely, by any means, as this correspondent noted before the poll. But absolutely possible and real. Yes, Kearney will almost certainly be a good local member. Yes, the pork will pour into the seat. Yes, she may well be in cabinet. But therein lies the rub. For, as a non-sitting candidate Kearney was able to portray herself as inside and outside Labor’s compromises. No more. She’s broken through; now she owns it.

Kearney, as a Labor supporter, will be an Adani supporter, a Manus Island supporter, a supporter of the remnant ABCC Gillard left in place, of the Fair Work Commission Labor bequeathed us, of the (non-US) Trans-Pacific Partnership, of the iniquitous private school funding arrangements Bill Shorten has endorsed (and which Labor used in robocalls), and much more. The Greens, who have solidly left positions on all these things, will have the opportunity to go in hard, and go in quick, from the moment Kearney is a presence on the national stage.

From word on the ground in the socialist republic of Northcote, the Greens suffered a double-whammy in their heartland. Some younger voters found the bullying allegations against Bhathal persuasive (even though they had not been proven; the world is Salem, 1692, these days); some older voters found Richard Di Natale’s end-run to the right around Labor on the dividend frankingstein repellent: “It’s obscene how little tax we pay,” one retired academic told me, who switched back to Labor, after several elections voting Green.

Thus, for example, the Greens suffered a large 2PP swing against them in Northcote West: 9% (not 34%, as has been earlier reported, after an AEC reporting error. The Australian ran with that figure, big time), about 180 votes, on a total of 1900 voters. That was elements of the Whitlam generation staggering back across the Rubicon that was.

Well, yeah, it was a ham-fisted, late play by Di Natale — though the righteous outrage from Labor figures, with company-union, the SDA at the centre of their networks, is a wonder to behold. The Greens need to remember that their knowledge-class core don’t vote on immediate self-interest: they are system thinkers, with a universal morality. So they see higher taxes on the well-heeled as a social good, expressive of the economy as a wholistic entity, not as the sum of individual strivings.

But, hey, in the heat of the battle mistakes are made. The Greens are still recognisably to the left of Labor on union rights, centralised wage fixing, social services, taxes, university fees and foreign policy – despite the regrettable development of a Greens right, who think Uber is da best thing evah. And, of course, on environmental matters and human rights.

That doesn’t mean the Greens don’t have a lot of internal work to do, in parallel with running an external campaign. But they wouldn’t want to fetishise that process as moral hand-wringing, or be stampeded by outside pressure into the wrong sort of changes either. Anything’s possible. It’s worth remembering that Malcolm Turnbull has one big option: to go to an election as the trial of former Health Services Unionist Kathy Jackson gets underway (and wear the embarrassment of Chris Pyne’s praise for Jackson, and relish Tony Abbott’s praise for her).

Jackson has applied to call nearly ninety witnesses in her defense against multiple theft charges, the trial due in 2019; this would turn the trial into a de facto exploration of the Victorian union movement and hierarchy. There’s a lotta people who wouldn’t come out well of that, in real time. The political landscape could shift very quickly.

The Greens have to manage that most difficult of political tricks: to rebuild the juggernaut, while it careens down the slope. The seat remains a larger, more expansively suburban working-class domain than many commentators were willing to acknowledge; the single-member system will always discriminate against small parties. But in politics, to quote the old Boston Irish saying, you gotta be willing to be lucky.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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