Confused about the state of affairs in the Victorian election? Can’t separate your Guys from your Dans, or your Ratnams from your Walshes? Crikey is here to help with a series of primers on the major players in the upcoming state poll.

Today: Greens leader Dr Samantha Ratnam.

Early career

Ratnam had lived on four continents — UK born, raised in Sri Lanka and Canada before settling in Australia — and worked as a social worker, primarily assisting migrants and asylum seekers, including with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre before her election to the Moreland Council in 2012. In 2015, at her third attempt, she was elected mayor, the first Greens mayor in Moreland history

Under her watch, Moreland became the third council after Darebin and Yarra to move their citizenship ceremonies away from Australia Day. 

In 2016, she had a crack at the federal seat of Wills. While she increased the Greens vote substantially, she was unable to unseat Labor’s Peter Khalil. 

In October 2017, she quit the Moreland council to take the upper house seat of controversial former leader Greg Barber when he resigned. Before she’d spent a second in that role — she would be sworn into the legislative council a week later — she’d been appointed Greens leader. 

Greens leadership

Ratnam was immediately thrown into a byelection in the inner city seat of Northcote after the death of Labor minister for family violence prevention Fiona Richardson. Greens candidate Lidia Thorpe managed to take the seat with a 12% swing.

Ratnam has made it clear that, in the event of a hung parliament in this coming election, the Greens would back Labor. “We want to form progressive government and we are happy to sit down at the table with Labor and try and form the most progressive government this state has seen,” she said. But hey, if that government had a Green-lead ministry, all the better…

But Labor premier Daniel Andrews is having none of it: “No deal will be offered, no deal will be done,” the Premier said. “It’s not some recent position, that has been my position for eight years. I will not sit down with people, never, who have a toxic cultural problem and sadly, tragically, refuse to call out the denigration of women, the vilification of women. I will not deal with people like that.”

Colourful language

The history of Greens candidates and staffers has been the most persistent controversy to confront Ratnam in the short time she’s been leader. In particular — and this is a problem any party that attracts primarily younger candidates and staffers has to face — Green’s figures with a history of weird humour on social media.

Candidate Joanna Nilson had to quit over “revelations” that she had made a series of jokes about shoplifting and recreational drug use on a private Facebook page four years ago. Then, amidst a great deal of pearl clutching from various Labor figures, a staffer for Thorpe quit over a series of weird jokes made on Twitter over a the last six years (sample tweet: “Pretty fucked how Muslims want to ban my favourite hobby, greasing myself up in pig fat and oinking like a grunter at the traffic lights”). Both these stories were published in the Herald Sun, which, you may remember, screamed about the dangers of “PC world” two months ago.

In between these two incidents, came the curious case of Footscray candidate Angus McAlpine. The “denigration of women” to which Andrews’ refers above is a reference to years old rap lyrics — featuring references to date rape and “choking a bitch” — McAlpine performed in his pre-politics career as a rapper.

Oddly, given the hardline stance taken in the above cases — Nilson did “the right thing by resigning” according to a spokesperson, while Thorpe said she was “shocked, disappointed and frustrated” at her staffers’ tweeting history — this has not been a sacking offence. The optics are doubly odd given the Greens are going through their own belated, faltering reckoning on the experiences of women in the party

Ratnam has argued, in McAlpine’s case, people need to be allowed to grow. “If we are going to cast people aside when they do something wrong in their past what hope is there for the future, if we don’t believe in the capacity for people to change what are we doing here in parliament?” This is a view she has stuck with even after more recent footage emerged of McAlpine rapping much the same kind of thing. 

Inner city threat

For all the premier’s bluster about not doing any deals, last year’s Northcote result shows he may not have a choice. The Greens are particularly competitive in inner city seats, and, for a while it seemed the Libs would give them a boost by not running in Northcote or Greens-held Melbourne, nor the Labor-held seats of Richmond and Brunswick. Now it appears there will be a Liberal candidate in all but Richmond, but apparently no final decision has been made regarding preferences.

Peter Fray

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