From Batman to Cooper; from Labor to Greens?

Electorate profile, Cooper

Cost+of+living+and+public+school+funding+are+issues+of+concern+in+Cooper.+Photo%3A+Ally+Galletti

Cost of living and public school funding are issues of concern in Cooper. Photo: Ally Galletti

Key Facts:

  • Ged Kearney (ALP) is the incumbent representative contesting Cooper
  • Considered a “marginal” seat by the Australian Electoral Commission
  • Very socially and culturally diverse seat

The Division of Cooper is a recently created division of the Australian House of Representatives established after a 2018 mandatory redistribution of all electorates in Victoria. The area which Cooper will cover after the May poll was previously enclosed by the Division of Batman. While losing parts of Thomastown and Bundoora to neighbouring Scullin and parts of Clifton Hill to Melbourne, Cooper gained an area of Coburg North from the Division of Wills. Cooper covers an area of sixty square kilometres.

Categorised an “inner metropolitan” electorate, Cooper is north of Melbourne’s CBD and runs from the Yarra River at Yarra Bend Park at its southern end, to Mahoneys Road at its north. The Merri and Darebin creeks define the division’s west and east sides respectively. The division mirrors the boundaries of the Victorian electoral districts of Northcote and Preston. Cooper also includes a small part of the District of Bundoora, another Victorian electoral district, which comprises of La Trobe University, the suburb of Kingsbury, and small areas of southern Bundoora and northern Macleod.

Water tanks outside the Islamic Museum of Australia in Thornbury in Melbourne’s north, which is part of the culturally diverse federal seat of Cooper. Photo: Zainah Mertakusuma

Demographically speaking, Cooper is considered a working class area with retail, manufacturing, textiles and construction its common industries. Its socio-economic status fluctuates from the most advantaged in the south of the electorate around Thornbury and Alphington, to the most disadvantaged in the north around Reservoir and Kingsbury. Cooper is very culturally diverse in comparison to the rest of Victoria and Australia. According to the 2016 Census, 41% of constituents were born overseas (namely in Italy, China, Greece and India) compared to 34% nationwide. The rate of both parents having been born overseas well exceeds the national rate at 46% compared to 34%.

Cooper’s demographics pit the competing interests of traditional labour unionists against young, professional Greens voters.”

Electoral History and Prospects

As the 2019 federal election will be the first time Cooper is contested at an election, the current member representing the area is Ged Kearney (ALP) as member for Batman. Kearney has been the representative since 2018. She won her position at a by-election triggered by the resignation of David Feeney (ALP) who had left parliament after breaching citizenship requirements.

Under the guise of Batman, Cooper has long been held by the ALP at all bar two terms of federal government since 1910. These two terms included the loss to the United Australia Party as part of Labor Prime Minister James Scullin’s 1931 election defeat and the expulsion of Captain Sam Benson from the Federal Labor Party forcing it into his (independent) hands in 1966. While Labor has been successful in the majority of contests of Cooper, other parties have made their presence known.

The Division of Cooper will be moving into the 2019 election as a “marginal” (AEC) seat, as a legacy of the 2018 Batman by-election. This by-election saw a 3.35% two-candidate-preferred (TCP) swing towards Ged Kearney against the Greens’ Alex Bhathal. Bhathal contested the seat in the 2016 election causing a swing of 9.58% in her favour compared to the 2013 election. She has since vacated her candidature for fellow Greens David Risstrom. It could be said that Cooper’s change of status from a safe Labor seat to a marginal seat could explain the addition of a Liberal candidate (a notable absence from the 2018 by-election) in an effort to bolster their chances to win seats, with polls indicating a change of national government to Labor.

As with Cooper’s divide along socio-economic lines, there is also a north-south divide between party preference with the Greens making their mark primarily in polling centres of affluent areas in the south of the electorate (as opposed to Labor in the lesser affluent north). This has been a reccurring theme over past elections.

The north-south division in Cooper is something candidates must take into consideration. Photo: Ally Galletti

The demographics of Cooper mean a variety of issues will guide the choices of voters in this metropolitan Victorian electorate. Those demographics pit the competing interests of traditional labour unionists against young, professional Greens voters – forcing nominated parties to cover a wide range of topics in order to appeal to a wider demographic.

A Green Leaf

The Greens’ by-election loss in 2016 suggested that the party appealed too much to seasoned Greens voters rather than potential swing voters, by focusing on issues such as the Adani mine and the Liberal government’s refugee policy.

Nearly a third of Cooper’s voters are students with the electorate being home to several tertiary education providers including La Trobe University. One of those students, Ruby, cites her growing concerns over house prices, wages and the cost of living as the issues that will guide her vote. Another student and voter in Cooper, Sam, says his vote will be steered by issues including refugee rights, house prices and climate change.

A Touch of Red

For staunch traditional labour unionist, Garvin, his vote will always be for Labor, since he grew up in Preston – an area considered as a classic Melbourne working class suburb. Issues like maintaining workers’ rights and in particular cuts to penalty rates are issues he feels very passionate about. He is also keen to see more funding towards public schools.
For candidates contesting the seat, it will be a battle to secure the interests of as many progressive voters as possible.

Candidates

Ged Kearney (Labor)

David Ristrom (Greens)

Kath Larkin (Victorian Socialists)

Brett Nangle (United Australia Party)

Nadine Richings (Animal Justice Party)