Polls published on Wednesday look utterly shocking for ACT Senator Zed Seselja. Polls don't mean the man is dead and buried. On the contrary, Seselja knows it will be a fight.
But it won't be a fight against the Liberal Party's traditional foe, the Labor Party. RedBridge polling reveals Labor's Katy Gallagher is exceptionally comfortable. No, the fight for the second Senate seat will be against, in alphabetical order, Tjanara Goreng Goreng for The Greens and independents David Pocock and Kim Rubenstein.
Even the counting will be a fight. That's something Seselja's used to. When he stood for Molonglo as a lively local candidate for the Legislative Assembly in 2004, it took around 10 days to get a result.
Now it is David Pocock who is the candidate running a campaign as if he's standing as a local member, says Ariadne Vromen, professor of public administration at Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU.
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"It is much more like a house of reps campaign," she said. Lots of local community events, from morning to night. Out there, being accessible, from Granimals at 6.30am to dinners at night. Thirty actions in a weekend, 1380 volunteers across the territory.
As Vromen points out, the independent candidates are more likely to be centrist, "picking up votes from those disillusioned with both major parties".
When Seselja moved out of the Legislative Assemby Liberal shadow ministries to stand as Liberal candidate for the Senate that, too, was controversial. In 2013, when he moved from the Legislative Assembly to stand for the Senate, it was amid a sea of accusations he'd stacked the branches.
As The Canberra Times said at the time: "The party's preselection management committee held an emergency meeting to assess the claims but found there had been no wrongdoing."
It's written by a politician having a panic. It reveals he is behind in the polls and the Liberal Senate seat is at risk in this election. Then he says Labor will lift taxes and enforce communism. Joke. But you get the drift.
His email reaches its crescendo with a plea for funds: "Please invest today to build the $75,000 federal election campaign fund to empower a strong voice to stand against the radical agenda of the Labor-Greens-Independent alliance.
"Whether it's the Greens, Pocock or Rubenstein, they're all nothing more than different shades of Green, with Pocock at the extinction rebellion end of the spectrum."
I'm pretty sure the independent candidates and Goreng Goreng are just doing what the electorate wants them to do. In 2019, the ACT government said 80 per cent of voters wanted action on climate change.
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And just a week ago, the Climate Council released a survey which revealed voters thought the Coalition had failed badly when it came to managing climate change.
Voters want action. They don't consider taking action to be a mark of Extinction Rebellion. Mind you, Extinction Rebellion's aims don't look all that rebellious in the week a UN report's lead author Professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at Australian National University, said it was "not 'plausible' the world could take the actions needed to hold warming to 1.5 degrees without overshoot".
What are the Extinction Rebellion three aims? Are they scary? Well, to be honest, after years of blazing bushfires and storm surges, I'm already pretty scared. Extinction Rebellion wants governments to declare we have a climate emergency, to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to call for a people's assembly to oversee all that. Sounds pretty sensible to me.
The alternative candidates to Seselja want calm and considered. They want action. And that's precisely what the Coalition is not doing. Instead we have a government that pimps gas fields, has a fondness for fossil fuels and won't take serious action on climate change because apparently it's a global responsibility and our little corner can't go it alone. We have embarrassed ourselves on the world stage. So it's kind of great that those standing against Seselja are standing for something bigger than their self-interest.
The other really lovely thing about the rest of the candidates is their positivity. Rubenstein wants more senators for the ACT. Goreng Goreng, as is Greens policy, wants a billionaire tax. Pocock wants more transparent government. They all want climate change action, action on Statement from the Heart, a better and safer world in which to live.
I am no psephologist but in my view, Pocock is likely to get up. He's the transition candidate for those who want something that connects back to Liberal values. I always identified rugby with the Liberal Party, with John Howard wearing his Walllabies jersey during his morning stride-out.
Yet rugby itself is on the move. Rugby Australia was the first football code to have an inclusion policy but Seselja voted against marriage equality, even though nearly three-quarters of people in the ACT supporting it in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. It's the same with the environment. More than three-quarters of Canberrans want the government to act on climate change but the Coal-ition is not on board.
Kosmos Samaras, director of strategy and campaigns for RedBridge Group, which released Seselja's scary polls says climate change was overwhelmingly the key concern.
Might be time for the major parties to listen to major concerns.
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