News / Politics

Greens leader seeks to stand in Wills

Party members to vote on candidate to face Peter Khalil

Sarah Jefford (centre) and Samantha Ratnam (right, holding her daughter Malala) with former Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe during the 2022 election. Photo: Facebook

Mark Phillips

VICTORIAN Greens leader Samantha Ratnam will face off with the party’s 2022 candidate Sarah Jefford for the right to contest the next federal election in the seat of Wills.

Ratnam, currently a Member of the Legislative Council for the Northern Metropolitan province, announced her candidacy on Thursday after nominations closed the day before.

Whoever wins the pre-selection will take on Labor MHR Peter Khalil, who currently sits on a comfortable 8.6% margin after the 2022 election.

More than 300 Greens members living in Wills will decide who is the candidate, with voting closing at midnight on April 17. Wills is one of the largest Greens branches in Australia.

Ratnam and Jefford will appear at two party meet-the-candidate events over the next week.

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Following the 2022 election, when she gained a primary vote swing of 2%, Jefford indicated she was keen to run for the seat again.

But Ratnam’s high name recognition, public profile and her seniority in the party are likely to give her an edge in pre-selection voting. At this stage, Jefford is refusing to step aside forcing the party into a contested pre-selection.

Ratnam was a Brunswick-based Greens councillor for five years and Mayor of Moreland in 2016 before she was elevated to the party’s parliamentary leader through a vacancy in the Legislative Council in 2017.

While she was still a councillor, Ratnam stood for the Greens in Wills in 2016, gaining a two-party preferred swing of 10.3% in what was also Khalil’s first election.

Jefford is a family and surrogacy lawyer who was awarded an Order of Australia Medal last year.

Apart from confirming their nominations, party rules prevent candidates from making media comments during a pre-selection.

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Ratnam’s decision to run for Wills, which would mean her passing the Greens leadership on to someone else, is an indication of how winnable the party thinks the seat is.

A Greens insider said Wills would be a priority target at the next election, which must be held by May 2025 but can be called any time from August this year.

They believe the party’s campaigning on home ownership and cost of living is having a positive impact, while Khalil has been made vulnerable by the Gaza conflict and a perceived slowness by the Albanese government to act on reducing fossil fuels.

Several protests have been held outside Khalil’s office in Sydney Road in recent months calling on him to condemn Israel’s military bombardment of Gaza, which has cost about 32,000 lives.

Demographic change, with a younger electorate profile and more people renting apartments, is also in the party’s favour.

But Khalil still enjoys a large margin and despite polling poorly in Brunswick, where Jefford won 10 out of 11 booths in 2022, has been able to retain the seat due to Labor’s strength in the northern part of the electorate.

“I will be renominating and recontesting the seat of Wills at the next federal election,” he said in a statement.

“Since becoming the Member for Wills, I have ben a strong voice for our local community, working hard to support my constituents and making the lives of people in Wills better.”

Pre-selections are also underway for Greens candidates for this year’s Merri-bek Council elections.

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