Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam announces run for federal politics

<span>Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam has nominated for preselection to contest the federal seat of Wills, currently held by Labor’s Peter Khalil.</span><span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam has nominated for preselection to contest the federal seat of Wills, currently held by Labor’s Peter Khalil.Photograph: James Ross/AAP

The Victorian Greens leader, Samantha Ratnam, has put her hand up to run in the federal seat of Wills, in a move that has some Labor figures worried about the party’s grip on the seat.

Ratnam on Thursday announced she has nominated for preselection to contest the federal seat of Wills, which takes in the northern Melbourne suburbs of Brunswick, Coburg, Glenroy, Fawkner and Pascoe Vale. It is held by Labor MP Peter Khalil on a margin of 8.6% on a two-candidate-preferred basis against the Greens.

But senior Labor figures have expressed concerned that the margin could narrow, amid backlash over the party’s response to the Hamas-Israel war.

In recent months, Khalil’s Coburg office has been targeted by pro-Palestine protesters. On one occasion, effigies were left outside the Sydney Road office along with signs “end the occupation”, “free Palestine” and “no more bodies in Gaza”.

On hearing of Ratnam’s candidacy, a senior Victorian Labor figure said: “Bye bye Peter.”

“If things don’t change or the seat doesn’t change [in the upcoming redistribution], we are in huge trouble,” they said.

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The Labor figure said there was a “misconception” among the party that Muslim voters, who have traditionally voted Labor, would continue to do so out of concern the Greens were “too socially progressive”.

“The Muslim community are feeling really hurt and disappointed by Labor and it’s not enough for us to counter it with: ‘The Greens are too radical, you can’t vote for them’,” they said.

“There is an impression amongst this group that the Greens are the only ones sticking up for them at the moment. We need to do more.”

The Albanese government has hardened its position on Israel after the killing of an Australian aid worker in Gaza earlier this week, and has been calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire since December.

Gaza was highlighted by the federal Greens leader, Adam Bandt, in a statement following Ratnam’s nomination, alongside the issues of housing affordability and the rental crisis.

“Peter Khalil and Labor have failed renters, failed people who are trying to buy their first home, and failed to condemn the state of Israel’s invasion of Gaza,” Bandt said.

“The people of Wills are progressive and compassionate but their values are being betrayed by a Labor party approving new coal and gas projects and backing the invasion of Gaza, while ignoring renters and offering Band-Aid solutions to the cost-of-living crisis.

“The people of Wills can send Labor a message without helping Peter Dutton.”

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He said only one in 10 voters needed to change their vote for the party to win the seat and noted 40% of the electorate were renters.

Colin Jacobs, a former Greens staffer who is now the director of data and analytics at firm PoliQ, said there was “a lot of room for growth” for the minor party.

He said while Brunswick was now “Greens heartland territory”, Labor had been able to rely on the “hipster-proof fence” – the different demographics north of Bell Street – “to hold the line”.

“The seat’s Muslim population are concentrated in this region, which represents untapped territory for Greens’ gains,” Jacobs said.

A Victorian Labor MP also noted Ratnam had a “high profile” as the leader of the state Greens since 2017 and as a suburban mayor in the area.

She previously ran for Wills against Khalil in 2016.

A Victorian Labor strategist, however, said it was premature to speculate about the seat without knowing its final makeup, due to an upcoming redistribution.

“If any southern part of the electorate is taken out of the seat, there goes her chances,” they said. “If they add more south of the Yarra, we’re stuffed.”

Ratnam faces Sarah Jefford, a surrogacy lawyer who contested the seat for the Greens at the 2022 election, in the preselection vote, which will be decided by party members.

If Ratnam is endorsed, as is expected, she would have to step down as leader of the party in Victoria.

She will also have to resign from parliament altogether when she formally nominates as a candidate, two weeks after an election is called.

In the seat of Higgins, the Greens have preselected environmental engineer Angelica di Camillo as their candidate to run against Labor MP Michelle Ananda-Rajah and Liberal candidate Katie Allen.

The next federal election is due by the middle of 2025.