News / Politics

Why Labor’s hopes of keeping Wills just became more difficult

Greens increasingly confident of seizing seat after redistribution

Greens candidate Samantha Ratnam and Labor’s MP since 2016, Peter Khalil.

Mark Phillips

WILLS has become a marginal electorate following a redrawing of its boundaries that has boosted the Greens’ chances of winning the seat for the first time.

The redistribution released by the Australian Electoral Commission on Friday adds parts of Brunswick East, Princes Hill and Fitzroy North to the electorate, areas which have been strong for the Greens in recent federal and state elections.

The result has been to cut the incumbent Labor MP Peter Khalil’s margin from 8.6% to 5.2%, according to the ABC’s election analyst Antony Green, placing the seat in the marginal category for the first time.

Khalil, who has held the set since 2016 was already under pressure after the Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam announced she would be contesting the seat at the next election, which must by held by May next year, but could be called as early as August.

He has also been targeted by anti-war protesters who want him to disown Labor’s stance on the war in Gaza.

In the most recent protest on Friday, Khalil was forced to close his office in Sydney Road after it was besieged by a small rally.

Get more stories like this delivered to your inbox

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

HTML Button Generator

Under the proposed redistribution, parts of the Melbourne electorate — held by the Greens’ federal leader Adam Bandt — would be added to the south of Wills, including Brunswick East, Carlton North, Princes Hill and Fitzroy North. Along with population growth in those suburbs as new apartment builders gain residents, this would add a projected 20,804 voters to the electorate.

Booths in these suburbs voted strongly for the Greens in 2022.

For instance, in Brunswick East, Bandt won 66.5% of the two party preferred vote; in Princes Hill, he won 64%; and in Fitzroy North, he won 67.9%.

The redistribution would also carve off to the neighbouring Maribyrnong electorate the suburbs of Pascoe Vale South, Glenroy and Oak Park, which are all stronger Labor areas. Wills would lose a projected 9942 voters from these areas.

The outcome, according to the ABC’s Antony Green, is that the margin in Wills has been cut to 5.2%. The Greens now regard Wills, neighbouring Cooper, and Macnamara in the inner bayside south as increasingly winnable and they are expected to put greater resources into them if the AEC also goes ahead with plans to abolish the inner eastern seat of Higgins.

The redistribution is not final and objections will be accepted until June 28 before a final determination in October.

Khalil has put a brave face on the changes, saying they would make no difference to his approach as the next election approaches.

“Since being elected in 2016, I have spent each day working hard to make the lives of those in my electorate better,” he said.

“Wherever the final boundaries may land, my focus will remain on supporting our local community.”

Ratnam declined to comment on the redistribution.

Current and proposed electorate boundaries released by the Australian Electoral Commission on May 31.

Meanwhile, Khalil has condemned the protests that forced his office to close on Friday and which followed a vandalism attack on a billboard in Pascoe Vale South on Thursday.

A small group of protesters rallied in Sydney Road and laid fake bodies wrapped in sheets and splattered with red paint to look like blood on the footpath outside Khalil’s office on Friday. A similar protest was held in November.

A protest organiser was quoted in media reports as saying the protests on Friday at the office of Khalil and other federal Labor members, including the MP for Cooper, Ged Kearney, were the result of Labor’s failure to support a Greens motion recognising Palestine as a state.

Khalil said his staff experienced unacceptable verbal abuse and physical intimidation.

He said he supported the right to peaceful protest as part of a democratic society but when it crossed into violence, intimidation or hate speech, it was not acceptable.

“Whilst the majority of [Friday’s] protest was peaceful, my staff experienced abusive language and physical intimidation whilst trying to leave, which required police assistance,” he said.

“My staff work hard to support our community every day, and they deserve to carry out their work in a safe manner — as do all workers.

“This was unacceptable.”

The Greens were not involved in organising the protests at Labor MPs offices, and Ratnam did not attend the rally at Khalil’s office in Coburg.

Ratnam said the Greens supported peaceful protest but the ongoing campaign by anti-war protesters reflected “disappointment and frustration in the community over Labor’s continued backing of the invasion”.

In public statements as recently as last month, Khalil has called for “a durable and sustained ceasefire” and said he has supported the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.

Support independent local journalism

We are an independent hyperlocal news organisation owned and run by the people in your community. With your support, we can continue to produce unique and valuable local journalism for Brunswick and the inner north of Melbourne. 

Read more:

Ratnam to represent Greens in the battle of Wills