Liberal leadership hopeful looks to home ownership to boost support among young Victorians

Brad Battin says the party failed to define its values to voters and needs to target the outer suburbs

The Victorian Liberal MP Brad Battin has pitched himself as a strong communicator who could better articulate the party’s values to “aspirational” voters in Melbourne’s growing outer suburbs if appointed leader.

Ahead of a vote on the party’s leadership due to occur on Thursday, Battin, 46, said the party had struggled to define what it stood for at last month’s state election.

The member for Berwick, in Melbourne’s outer south-east, is in a two-way contest with the former shadow attorney general, John Pesutto, after Matthew Guy announced he would step down.

The Liberal party went to the election hoping to improve its lower house representation after the 2018 “Danslide”, but its total number of seats will probably remain unchanged.

“I’m not going to tear apart our campaign through the media, but what I will say is I will have a focus on defining what the Liberal party is to me, what it is to the people I’ve spoken to in areas that are aspirational,” Battin told Guardian Australia.

Battin said under his leadership the party would focus its efforts on new growth corridors and engaging with multicultural groups “from next week, not in the last five minutes of the campaign”.

But he denied this would come at a cost to seats in the inner-eastern suburbs – once considered the party’s heartland.

“Those seats have become wealthy, they’re no longer as aspirational,” Battin said.

“Aspirational voters are now living in those growth corridors. We need to be doing the best we can in those areas.”

Pesutto, a moderate, has argued the Liberal party needs broad appeal to ensure it can both retain inner-city electorates such his seat of Hawthorn and gain ground in outer suburban areas.

On Tuesday Battin said getting more young people – who would soon outnumber baby boomers on the electoral roll – into their own homes would also be key to increasing the party’s constituency.

“There’s a lot of people that still would have the aspiration to own their own home but at the moment that seems impossible,” Battin said.

He said even in his electorate, which takes in most of Berwick, Beaconsfield and Clyde North, house and land packages were fetching upwards of $1m. Interest rates were also steadily climbing, with the Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday lifting borrowing costs for a record eighth time in as many months.

Battin did not take a direct route into politics. At age 15, he dropped out of school and went on to work in retail, customer service and corrections, before joining Victoria police, where he reached the rank of senior constable.

He said his time on the force and his varied experience had given him “strong communication skills and the ability to engage with everyone”.

Battin left the police in 2007 and opened a Bakers Delight franchise. About the same time he joined the Liberal party and went on to run for the then Labor seat of Gembrook at the 2010 election.

During his time in parliament, Battin has served as shadow minister for police, emergency services, corrections and community safety and has publicly called for the age of criminal responsibility to be lifted from 10 to 14.

While he said he would not discuss policy ahead of the leadership vote, Battin conceded there needed to be a conversation on the state’s bail laws, which had led to an increase in unsentenced people in custody.

“I will always have a goal of less people in jail, not more,” Battin said. “That’s a good economic decision, it’s a good social decision.”

He also said that under his leadership the Liberals would develop a clearer policy to reduce the state’s growing debt.

Thursday’s ballot will be Battin’s second attempt at the leadership after he challenged the then opposition leader, Michael O’Brien, in 2021.


Benita Kolovos

The GuardianTramp

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