News / Politics

Ratnam to represent Greens in the battle of Wills

Former Mayor and councillor will seek to unseat Labor’s Peter Khalil

Samantha Ratnam and Adam Bandt pose for a selfie with other Greens members and candidates following Friday’s announcement.

Mark Phillips

SAMANTHA Ratnam has moved her electorate office into the heart of Brunswick at the same time as she attempts to make history by winning the seat of Wills at the next federal election.

On Friday, Ratnam – the leader of the Australian Greens in the Victorian Parliament – was announced as the party’s candidate after winning a two-way preselection for the seat.

She saw off the other candidate, Sarah Jefford, who ran for the Greens in Wills in 2022.

The result of the preselection pits Ratnam against Labor’s Peter Khalil, who has held the seat since 2016.

Khalil increased his margin in 2022 to 8.6%, but is considered vulnerable because of the war in Gaza.

Ratnam will now seek to become the first Green and the first woman to hold the seat in its 75-year history. The only time it has fallen out of Labor’s hands in that time was when independent Phil Cleary held it in 1992 and again from 1993 to 1996.

The next election must be held by May 2025 but can be called any time from August this year.

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The preselection of such a high-profile candidate is a coup for the Greens and a sign of their growing confidence that they can win the seat for the first time after making inroads over the past few elections.

At a media conference across the road from Khalil’s office in Coburg on Friday to announce her candidacy, Ratnam said she believed there was a mood for change in Wills.

She said she was undaunted by the size of the swing needed to win the seat, which the Greens have likened to the inner Brisbane electorates they took from the major parties at the 2022 election.

“It’s time to send Labor a message,” she said.

“Wills is one of the most important seats in the country. All eyes will be on our community. This is our chance to lead the nation.

“Unlike the rest of the nation, Wills is a contest between Labor and the Greens … and if  just one in 10 people change their votes, we can turn Wills Green.”

She nominated the cost of living, the housing crisis, climate change and the war in Gaza as key issues on which the election would be fought in Wills.

Greens leader Adam Bandt, who has held the neighbouring seat of Melbourne since 2009, said Ratnam was a highly qualified candidate.

“I am absolutely thrilled that Sam Ratnam is putting herself forward to the people of wills as their next member of parliament.,” he said.

“She has a strong history and connection with the area and a strong track record of fighting for the people of Wills.”

Ratnam will resign as the Victorian leader of the Greens next week but will continue to represent the Northern Metropolitan region in the Legislative Council until the party selects a new member by the end of this year.

Coincidentally, this week she moved into a new office on the ground floor of an apartment building facing the Albert Street Woolworths car park in Brunswick. She said the move had been planned prior to and independently of her deciding to run for Federal Parliament as her previous office in Carlton, which was outside the electorate of Wills, was deemed not to meet requirements by Parliamentary Services.

Showdown for Wills

Samantha Ratnam
Australian Greens

Age: 47

Current role: MLC for Northern Metropolitan Region and Victorian Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Greens since October 2017

Previous roles: Mayor of Moreland 2016; Moreland Councillor 2012 to 2017; social worker social worker in the fields of drug and alcohol rehabilitation, international development and settlement services

“It’s time to send Labor a message.”

Peter Khalil
Australian Labor Party

Age: 51

Current role: MHR for Wills since July 2016; chair of the Joint Statutory Intelligence and Security Committee since September 2022; member of the House Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts since June 2022

Previous roles: Foreign policy adviser to the Federal Government; Victorian Multicultural Commissioner; Executive Director at SBS

“My priority is continuing to work hard to serve the people of Wills.”

Ratnam, 47, was born in the United Kingdom and spent part of her formative years in Sri Lanka before moving to Australia when she was a child. Her family is of Sri Lankan heritage who fled  the civil war that began there in the early 1980s.

She has lived in the Brunswick area for the past 15 years.

Ratnam served as a Moreland (now known as the City of Merri-bek) councillor for five years, including a term as Mayor in 2016, before she entered the Victorian Parliament in 2017 as the new leader of the Greens.

In 2016, she contested Wills for the Greens against Khalil, who was then an unknown quantity chosen to replace long-term Labor MP Kelvin Thomson.

She gained a two-party preferred swing of 10.3%, but while the Greens have continued to dominate in Brunswick and the south of the electorate since then, Khalil has entrenched his position as the incumbent MP.

Khalil said his priority was continuing to work hard to serve his electorate. He said he had advocated for refugee and migrant communities, tax cuts for all taxpayers, and accessible housing as a human right.

“My office and I have supported thousands of people from across the electorate, championing their voices and fighting for better outcomes,” he said.

“Each day I am focused on making their lives better – and that is what I will continue to do.”

However, Khalil’s electorate office in Sydney Road in Coburg has been targeted several times in recent months by protests about the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Jefford declined to comment on the outcome of the preselection but said she would be willing to offer herself as a candidate for the Greens again in the future.

This story was amended subsequent to publication to clarify that the move of Samantha Ratnam’s electorate office was not connected to her candidacy for Wills but was organised independently by Parliamentary Services. Her previous office had been deemed not to meet requirements and its lease expired recently.

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