ALL EYES are on Labor and the Greens as votes are tallied in the federal Melbourne seat of Batman.
Polls closed at 6pm on Saturday, bringing the hotly contested by-election nearer to a result.
Labor’s Ged Kearney and Greens candidate Alex Bhathal are head-to-head for the inner-metropolitan seat, following the resignation of Labor MP David Feeney over his duel-citizenship.
The Greens are confident of snatching victory despite internal party leaks about alleged bullying and intimidation by Ms Bhathal, which she denies. The social worker has been trying to win the seat since 2001, and sought to make the campaign about fighting Queensland’s Adani coal mine and being fairer to refugees.
Senator Di Natale told reporters he was “optimistic about our chances and about the fact that people in this community want to see a strong, progressive voice on the floor of the lower house”.
But the critical final hours of Saturday’s poll were dogged by allegations of dirty tactics.
Labor conducted a last-minute blitz of 10,000 robocalls and 2400 texts, urging senior citizens to vote, after reports some older voters received phone calls telling them they didn’t have to.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten conceded Labor faced an uphill battle to maintain its grip on the long-held seat, held by a one per cent margin. He also insisted his party had the superior candidate in Ms Kearney, a former Australian Council of Trade Unions boss.
“It’s certainly a tough fight, I can’t sugar coat that, but we’ve put the toughest person into the field,” Mr Shorten told reporters in Preston. “Ged Kearney I think has done wonders to lift confidence in Labor in this electorate, and also we’ve got the best policies.” Mr Shorten faced a barrage of questions about Labor’s plans to change share dividend rebates, which dominated headlines during the final week of the campaign.
He was also criticised for vacillating on the Carmichael mine, and had a run-in with an anti-Adani protester wearing a fish suit shortly before polls closed. With the Liberal Party not fielding a candidate, the by-election will be a test of whether the Greens’ march into inner-metropolitan seats continues apace, or if Labor is successful in appealing to a younger demographic. Ms Kearney, who does not live in Batman and so could not vote, said Labor had run an excellent campaign.
A Greens win would give the minor party two seats in the House of Representatives.
All up, ten candidates are running in the seat, named after the early settler and explorer John Batman.