News / Politics

Khalil is sitting pretty in the battle for Wills

The Greens’ Sarah Jefford would need an 8% swing to win the seat for the first time

Labor’s Peter Khalil and the Greens’ Sarah Jefford.

Mark Phillips
Monday, April 11, 2022

LABOR’S Peter Khalil will again seek to hold back the Green tide when he aims for a third term as MHR for Wills at the federal election on May 21.

After the state seat of Brunswick fell into their hands for the first time in 2018, the Greens are hoping to capture the federal seat as well despite suffering a setback at the last election three years ago.

They have selected a well-credentialled candidate in Pascoe Vale surrogacy lawyer Sarah Jefford, but still require a monumental swing of 8.2% to secure Wills.

If they did so, it would be only the second time in the seat’s 73-year history that it has fallen out of Labor’s hands.

Mr Khalil was first elected in 2016 when he replaced Kelvin Thomson, who retired after 20 years.

At that election, when the Greens’ candidate was the ex-Moreland Mayor Samantha Ratnam, he weathered a 7.5% swing against him with Labor’s primary vote falling to 37.7% that year.

He restored his margin with a 6.2% swing in his primary vote in 2019, when the Greens candidate was Adam Pulford, who is now a Moreland councillor.

In 2019, Mr Khalil had 44.1% of the total primary vote in Wills to Mr Pulford’s 26.6%. After preferences, Mr Khalil had an even bigger margin of 58.2% to Mr Pulford’s 41.8%, the result of a 3.2% swing to Labor.

In recent federal elections, Labor has been stronger in the northern part of Wills, with Bell Street often referred to as the ‘Green proof fence’. But the Greens have outpolled Labor in polling booths in Brunswick.

At the 2019 election, Mr Pulford attracted 52.2% of the two-party preferred vote in the 10 Brunswick-based booths. Despite a consistent swing towards Labor, he performed especially strongly in Brunswick South East, Anstey, Brunswick North East, Brunswick East and Brunswick South.

But those results were reversed in the northern parts of the electorate, such as Coburg North, Glenroy and Pascoe Vale, where Labor easily outpolls the Greens.

Mr Khalil’s hold on the seat has been slightly strengthened by a minor redrawing of the electoral boundaries last year which removed a small pocket of south-east Brunswick bounded by Lygon, Nicholson, Glenlyon and Park streets from Wills.

Different dynamic in Wills

While for most of the nation the election is contest between Scott Morrison and the Coalition against Anthony Albanese and Labor, in Wills that is secondary to the rivalry between Labor and the Greens.

Mr Khalil is keen to highlight the failures of the Morrison Government but in a seat where fewer than one-in-five primary votes go to the Liberals he is acutely aware that it is the performance of his Greens opponent and not the Liberals he has to watch out for.

He is standing on his record and the prospect of being a member of the next government, while Ms Jefford promises change and stronger solutions to voter concerns about global warming and integrity in politics.

Mr Khalil said he hoped he would be rewarded with another term for his work on behalf of his constituents but he was under no illusions that he would need to fight for every vote.

“People who pay attention know I and my office work very hard to support constituents on a whole range of issues, whether it’s visas or refugee issues, help with tax, Centrelink, pensioners needing help with their payments,” he said.

“We have done a lot of work at the local community level to make a difference to people’s lives in Wills but we can’t take anything for granted.”

Ms Jefford said her campaign had been doorknocking in Wills since late last year and if she won, she would represent change as the first woman elected to Wills in its 73 history.

She said she had strong feedback that people wanted a progressive alternative to deliver stronger action on climate change and integrity in politics, and she was not deterred by the swing against the Greens in 2019.

“We’re a very progressive electorate and we’ve seen that by electing Tim Read in Brunswick, and people can envision a Greens MP in Wills,” she said.

“We want people to have the option to vote Green at each election and each election is another campaign to build the Greens profile. I’m in for the long haul.”

Mr Khalil said he expected a strong challenge for the seat from the Greens but insisted that a vote for him would give the local community a voice inside what he hoped would be the next Labor government.

“With respect to the Greens, people have to make a judgement call,” Mr Khalil said.

“The argument is that the Greens can promise a lot but can they deliver anything?

“We [Labor] may not be perfect but a Labor MP that works for you and the ability of Labor to form government is important because the Greens can’t [form government].”

Ms Jefford countered that the election of Dr Read to the state seat of Brunswick in 2018 showed that the Greens were not a marginal party but could make a real difference by pushing Labor governments to do more.

“They [Labor] push this line that it’s one or the other, Labor or Liberal, but if we get Greens holding the balance of power, we can push Labor to do more on climate change.

“It’s really powerful for people to see that Greens can be elected and can make real change. So it’s not accurate to say that we need a Labor member because that’s the only way to get things done.”


A wildcard in this year’s result may be the Socialist Alliance candidate, Moreland councillor Sue Bolton. In 2019, she received 4.5% of first preference votes and directed 68.14% of her preferences to the Greens. Her strong recognition with voters could result in her taking first preference votes from the Greens this year.

The Liberal Party has pre-selected Tom Wright, an ecologist with a PhD in Forest Science, as its candidate for Wills for this year’s election.

In 2019, Liberal Peter Killin gained 17.9% of the primary vote.

The United Australia Party has chosen Michael El-hajja as its candidate for Wills. In 2019, its candidate, Manju Venkat, received 3.1% of the primary vote. The Victorian Socialists have chosen English teacher Emma Black, and the Animal Justice Party has selected secondary school teacher Leah Horsfall.