The Greens continue to stake out the electoral ground in affluent middle class areas. Most of the seats the party is targeting are those in which the working class continues to be pushed out by gentrification – Batman and Wills in Victoria and Grayndler in New South Wales, for example. But there is also Higgins in Victoria, a Liberal stronghold taking in some of the wealthiest suburbs in Melbourne, and Richmond in NSW, home to rich retirees on the north coast.
Melbourne, the only lower house seat held by the party, is now solidly Green. It is one of the most affluent electorates in Victoria. More than 40 percent of residents are professionals – double the national average – and a further 14 percent are managers. The proportion of trade workers and labourers is half the national average.
Higgins, where the party has outlaid significant resources and is polling up to one-quarter of the vote, is perhaps the clearest example of the party’s push to become the voice of the respectable well-to-do set of doctors, lawyers, white collar professionals and small business owners.
The party won the state seat of Prahran from the Liberals in 2014. Most of the division of Prahran sits within Higgins federally. State Greens member Sam Hibbins received “great support” from Toorak voters, he told Fairfax after the victory. Greens support in Higgins primarily comes from wealthy South Yarra, Windsor and the state seat’s namesake suburb.
A senior Labor source told the Herald Sun last year that polls indicated that disaffected Liberal voters were moving into the Greens’ camp in the area. “It shows that the Liberal Party’s stranglehold on young high-income earners is loosening but they’re not coming to us, they’re going to the Greens”, he said.
Batman is probably the only place where the Greens have a chance to increase their lower house representation at this election. This once was one of the safest Labor seats in the country, but gentrification has pushed the working class out of a significant part of the seat. The inner suburbs in the seat’s south are home to increasing numbers of middle class and white collar professionals; property prices are sky high. Even some of the more northern suburbs are now very affluent.
The Greens candidate in Batman, Alex Bhathal, this year is talking up her chances of breaking into some of the older working class migrant areas in the north. She says party leader Richard Di Natale’s Italian heritage is helping. The more likely helper is the small pockets of gentrification even in Reservoir.
That’s the key to the Greens success. For all the talk about the party occupying the electoral space to the left of the ALP (some of which is true), the party’s class base is the key determinant of its political character, the key driver of its longer term shift to the right and the reason that it will never be a genuinely left wing alternative.