Why the Greens might win the Batman by-election and why you should care


If you weren’t watching too closely you might think the Australian Greens were on the way out.

As XYZ reported, the Greens had an awful night recently in the Tasmanian state election. The increasingly far-left party suffered mass abandonment by the conservation minded regional voters who in the 1980s served as their springboard to national relevance. Federally the Greens polling seems perpetually stalled at under 10%, a far cry from their high point of almost 14% at the 2010 election.

To make matters worse the Greens Anarcho-Communist wing Left Renewal under veteran extremist Lee Rhiannon continues to fight a messy and public factional war against the more moderate national leadership in NSW. At the same time, shocking allegations of cover-ups by the ACT Greens hierarchy of the sexual abuse of volunteers have partially punctured the public image of the party as a happy family of quinoa chewing feminist hippies.

So not really the best start to the year for our watermelon friends.

But don’t break out the non-organic champagne just yet. Due to the resignation of the disgusting, slug-like ALP MP David Feeney a by-election will soon be held in the inner northern Melbourne electorate of Batman. And despite putting up the terrorist sympathising Marxist fangirl Alex Bhathal as their candidate the Greens stand a very good chance of winning.

Batman as an electorate was last won by someone other than the ALP in 1966, and that was only because the sitting member Sam Benson had been kicked out of the ALP for being insufficiently supportive of the Vietnamese Communist regime. This area has historically voted as overwhelmingly for the Labor Party as anywhere in Australia.

So why do the Greens stand a chance?

The short answer is that the southern half of the electorate (whose state seat was recently won for the Greens by “aboriginal” activist Lydia Thorpe) has become infested with wealthy hipsters. Alex Bhathal herself lives in a home in Preston valued at over one million dollars. The crappy linoleum covered cafes I remember from the area in my youth where dodgy looking middle aged Italian gentlemen would congregate to complain about their wives have been replaced with tasteful artisanal breakfast nooks serving overpriced crap on wooden boards.

The view from Northcote.

The contrast with the early 1990s when areas like Northcote were considered well below the average on the Australian socio-economic scale are stark. Today 40% of Northcote residents have a bachelor’s degree or above compared to just 14% in 1996. An area that was for over a century dominated by poor migrants, first the Irish (Preston was originally called “Irishtown”) then later Greeks, Italians and Macedonians is now a ghetto of deracinated bien-pensant hipsters.

The Northern half of the electorate above Bell Street remains staunchly working class and heavily populated by migrant families from the Mediterranean, but even there the spread of gentrification has seen increases in the Greens vote.

It is proof again if any further proof were needed that demography is destiny. The creeping advance of the Greens vote alongside the gentrification of formerly working class inner city suburbs seems inexorable. It also lays false the leftist assertion that economics defines all. There is very little difference in educational level or income between the residents Northcote and other middle class people elsewhere in Melbourne who vote Liberal. The difference is in the identity.

This section of the middle class left sees themselves as separate from the rest of society, existing inside their own bubble where they are the true and moral elect rising above the stupid rednecked consumerist bogan hordes outside their inner city redoubts.

They hold the correct viewpoints on refugees, climate change and renewable energy. They tithe to the correct NGOs and worship the same idealised version of the Australian Aboriginal as a sort of spiritually enlightened Brahmin caste. They repeat the same doctrines with forefinger raised and eyes half shut at the same dinner parties discussing the same topics to the furious and hasty agreement of everyone they know.

Thar be hipsters in them hills.

Considering how much they consider themselves separate to the rest of us (and how much they define themselves by their complete rejection of us) it isn’t really surprising that they’ve ended up congregating together in increasingly homogenous ghettos. It must be comforting to know that just next door is someone who will agree with you about how horrible the rest of Australia is.

And why does this matter so much? Why does the changing identity of a few suburbs in inner Melbourne matter to the rest of Australia?

I’m glad you asked.

In this country minor parties traditionally don’t win seats in the lower house. Usually this is because unless their demographic base of voters is highly concentrated they get drowned out by the big players. This is why parties such as One Nation, the Democrats, the Palmer United Party and originally the Greens have had to resign themselves to trying to exert influence through the Senate.

The hipster migration to the electorate of Batman will eventually flip that seat Green; if not in this By-election then certainly by the next time the ALP holds federal power. This seat along with the increasingly Green seat of Melbourne held by Adam Bandt and the demographically similar adjacent seat of Wills (which includes the hipster mecca of Brunswick) will in the near future create a lower house block of Greens. Add in the seat of Grayndler from NSW and the ALP will find it increasingly difficult to form government without them, especially if Australian federal elections continue to trend towards tighter and tighter contests.

The Greens were able to dictate policy to the rest of us with only a single seat in 2010. They arguably brought down an ALP government by forcing Julia Gillard to break her promise on the Carbon Tax and turn sharply to the left. If the trends that we see today in Melbourne’s inner north continue that situation may very well be our new normal. Adam Bandt is already gloating about it.

The Greens don’t need to worry about increasing their vote more than it currently is if they can rely on the hipster ghettos to give them power and influence. This means that there is nothing to stop them drifting ever further to the left and taking the Australian political centre, the ALP and the LNP with them.

And considering how willing even moderate Greens like Alex Bhathal are to associate themselves with violent extremist groups such as Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance, the Freedom Socialist Party and the anarchists at Collective Action, this is a development that should worry us all.

Photo by bollocky