Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives could be the decisive factor in the tense by-election in the Victorian seat of Batman.
Senator Bernardi told The Age newspaper he believes there are enough conservative voters in the electorate in Melbourne’s north and inner-north to give his candidate Kevin Bailey a good showing in the March 17 poll.
Liberal preferences got Labor over the line in a tight race against the Greens in the seat in the 2016 federal election, but the Liberals have decided not to contest the by-election in a move that was seen as a boost for The Greens.
Senator Bernardi said yesterday that no final decisions had been made about where his party’s preferences would be directed but it would be ‘‘extraordinary’’ if the Greens were put anywhere other than last on the Australian Conservatives’ how-to-vote cards.
But with federal Labor frontbencher Penny Wong preparing to campaign in Batman today, a party spokesperson ruled out making any deals with Senator Bernardi.
The denial comes as Greens MP Adam Bandt accused the Labor Party and the Australian Conservatives of conspiring to do a "dirty deal" on preferences.
Senator Bernardi hit back at Mr Bandt in a tweet suggesting that the Greens had been the only political party to approach him about a preference deal.
"I just think it's extraordinary that Adam Bandt is making allegations of backroom deals on preferences when the only group that has bothered to call and ask about backroom deals is the Greens," Senator Bernardi said.
"He's either so isolated within his own organisational structure that he doesn't know what is going on or he is manufacturing his own alternative reality. It's hard to know with Mr Bandt."
Senator Bernardi declined to name the member of the Greens Party who contacted him, but went on to claim the phone exchange happened earlier this week.
Senator Bernardi says the prospects are good for a respectable primary vote for Mr Bailey, a former SAS soldier.
‘‘If you look at what happened last time, the Liberals got around 19 per cent, so if we can get even half of that, then it’s entirely possible our preferences might influence the outcome.’’
Last night, Kevin Bailey appeared The Bolt Report on Sky News telling Andrew Bolt why he decided to run for Batman.
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