Analysis / Election 2022

Greens go close to clean sweep of Brunswick

The suburb is now a Greens stronghold, but path to victory in Wills is no easier

Greens candidate Sarah Jefford (second from left) with supporters on Saturday. Photo via Instagram

Mark Phillips
Sunday, May 22, 2022

THERE is good and bad news in the results from Saturday’s election for Labor and the Greens.

The headline good news for Labor’s Peter Khalil is that he has been returned to Canberra with a barely unchanged margin.

Indeed, as counting of pre-poll votes progressed on Sunday afternoon, the news got even better with preference flows showing a swing of the two-candidate preferred swing towards the incumbent.

At the close of counting on Sunday afternoon, following the addition of several thousand pre-poll votes, Mr Khalil’s share of the two-candidate preferred vote had improved from 56.3% to 59.2%. That represents a swing towards Mr Khalil of 0.72% from the 2019 election.

It’s not solely good news: the primary vote swing against Labor was 5.1%, with some of that going to parties on the right and some to the left. But it is the final two-candidate preferred count that matters at the end of the day.

At the outset of the election six weeks ago, the expectation was that after their horrendous result in 2019, the Greens would close the gap to Labor in Wills. Instead the gap has widened, with the prospect it may become wider still as more pre-poll and postal votes are counted.

And this has happened despite a nationwide swing towards the Greens of about 1.5%. The minor party has won up to three seats off Labor in Queensland in addition to its stronghold of Melbourne, which neighbours Wills to the south. It has also caused a scare for Labor’s Josh Burns in Macnamara (formerly known as Melbourne Ports). And in Cooper, which is adjacent to Wills to the east, Ged Kearney has suffered a 6.3% swing against her to the Greens’ Celeste Liddle.

There are several reasons why Wills has bucked the trend. Despite being labelled by ABC radio last week as “the most left wing seat in Australia”, this isn’t really the case. While there are affluent, progressive leaning pockets in the electorate’s south (more of this in a moment), the majority of the electorate is traditional working class Labor with cost of living and insecure work more important in the minds of voters than a Treaty with First Nations people or net zero by 2035.

Mr Khalil has an additional theory.

“I didn’t try to out-Green the Greens,” he says. “That’s not my pitch to the people I represent. I stick to what my convictions are and I argue the case [and] even if they disagree, they respect that fact … they respect you, they like you, they know you’re working hard and respect you make a contribution at the national policy level.”

He says that on election day, numerous voters told him they wouldn’t be voting personally for him but wanted Labor to win and also expected him to win. That is a vastly different story to wanting to turf out your Labor candidate and replace them with a Green.

So Mr Khalil has reason to be satisfied with the election result. The Greens’ Sarah Jefford can also be happy with a personal swing towards her of 1.6% on the primary vote.

But delving into the results, booth by booth, paints a more troubling picture for Labor.

This election saw a solidification of rapidly gentrifying Brunswick as a Greens stronghold.

Mr Khalil attempted to narrowcast his message to appeal to voters in Brunswick, with strategic environmental announcements during the election campaign. He also talked up Labor’s credentials on climate change, Treaty and refugee issues, but to no avail.

Of the 11 booths in Brunswick, Brunswick East and Brunswick West, Labor won the primary vote in just one, at St Joseph’s School in Brunswick West. And even then, it was by the narrow margin of 37 votes (which improved to 158 after the distribution of preferences).

Overall, the Greens won 42% of the primary vote in the 11 Brunswick booths to Labor’s 35.9%. On a two-candidate preferred basis, the Greens recorded 54.3% to Labor’s 45.7%. That’s a 2.2% swing to the Greens.

The Greens dominated some booths, recording 58.1% two-candidate preferred at St Ambrose Church Hall in Dawson Street, 58.9% at Holy Trinity Serbian Church in Brunswick East, 57.7% at Brunswick East Primary School and 64.8% at Brunswick South Primary School.

What this means is that Brunswick is now solid Greens territory, which should augur well for Tim Read in the state election this November. For Labor, it possibly means that Brunswick is now a lost cause at federal and state elections.

But here’s the rub: Brunswick makes up just over a quarter of the total voting population in Wills of more than 108,000, and the further north you go, the bigger the Labor vote.

So despite their strength in Brunswick, unless the Greens can find a way to win at big booths north of Moreland Road, they are doomed to continue to be runners-up on the federal stage in Wills.

Related story:

Small swing to Greens candidate is not enough to threaten Labor MP’s margin.