ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher has admitted she's the feeling the squeeze of a popular showing by progressive independent candidates in the territory, as a new poll shows potentially seat-winning support for former rugby star David Pocock.
History tracks strong Labor voting in the ACT and John Warhurst, emeritus professor of political science at the ANU, said it'd be the "boil-over of the century" if Senator Gallagher was not elected in 2022.
But the Climate 200 commissioned polling points to a significant bite being taken out of her vote and that of the Greens in the ACT.
The ALP Finance spokeswoman, who's juggling the local battle for Senate votes with being a federal Labor campaign spokeswoman, has also revealed to The Canberra Times that she has just undergone skin cancer surgery.
"I've got this giant swollen nose with a giant bandaid and quite a lot of quite a lot of stitches in my face," Senator Gallagher explained.
"So that's added a whole new level of chaos to the next two and a half weeks. Can you believe it?"
The former ACT chief minister lost both parents to cancer. It is a heavy issue, but she's giving herself room to be light.
"You're weighing it up 'Hmmm skin cancer versus Labor campaign?' and I genuinely did think about that for a while (laughs). But you know, it's better. It's off now."
That's Katy Gallagher for you, according to shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers.
"She always puts the team first. She never puts her own considerations or interests before the team," he said.
"There's nobody apart from a leader I work more closely with. And you know, there's nobody I respect and admire more than her."
The Redbridge polling released on Friday shows Senator Gallagher leading the race, but below the seat quota of 33 per cent, with 27 per cent of the vote. That's down from her polling of 35 per cent last month, and the 2019 result of 39.3 per cent. The "robocall" poll of 1064 people on April 23 and April 24 shows Senator Seselja settling below the quota at 25 per cent of the redistributed primary vote. Mr Pocock is now polling at 21 per cent overall.
Preference flows will be crucial. The polling shows Mr Pocock would receive the highest percentage of second preferences at 24 per cent, while Senator Gallagher would get 23 per cent.
"I don't think anyone should presume that they are going to win a seat," she told The Canberra Times. "And I think maybe it's my training in the Assembly because they're all marginal seats in the Assembly."
"I never wake up and think 'Oh, I'm a shoo-in' or 'That's my seat that I'm going to hold forever.' So I actually think it's a good thing. You know, all of them are making all of us work harder. And that's a good outcome."
But it is different this time. There is an "it's time" factor at play directed at politics in general.
"I don't think it's necessarily a contest between you know, Zed and David," she said. "I think it's a contest between a whole lot of us is my assessment of where things are."
"It's an independent versus the major parties campaign. I've never felt that there's any such thing as a safe seat and I think that's probably right in this Senate race."
Until now, her run in the ACT Senate race has been largely accepted as a done deal, while the focus has been problems for Senator Seselja, who has spent three elections hovering around the quota level.
Professor Warhurst expects Senator Gallagher will be re-elected. He said Labor will be expecting that too.
"They won't say that," he said. "They'll be working hard because they don't want to look complacent in the ACT but all the history of the Senate in the ACT suggests it'd be the boil-over of the century if Katy Gallagher was not elected."
Canberrans have got to know Katy Gallagher over a long time and many would view her as an uncharacteristically warm and guileless politician. Former independent MLA Michael Moore wrote in 2014 that "Lambasting Katy Gallagher is akin to kicking a koala" and that her time in the Assembly was marked by a "steady hand on the tiller".
She has risen high for a federal ACT representative. She has experience in leading a government and she rare ability to "cut through", which has been used with effect against a cunning Prime Minister and the media.
"No! No, I'm not going to let him off the hook for this. I am going to call it out for what is. We have seen the way he behaves," Senator Gallagher interjected in a press conference last weekend.
"Now it's not about cost-of-living. It's about his political convenience."
There are no airs and graces for the Canberra-born politician, and in her grillings at Senate estimates, no fools are taken.
But she has been caught up herself in parliamentary intrigue.
She was named by anonymous sources in March as one three senior Labor women who the late Kimberley Kitching regarded as bullying "mean girls". She, Kristina Keneally and Penny Wong all deny this. Labor has resisted intense pressure to launch an independent inquiry.
It is not how Senator Gallagher is seen, according to Dr Chalmers.
"Not my experience of her at all," he said. "I've not come across anyone, not just in my political life, but in my entire life with deeper reserves of personal integrity than Katy."
Senator Gallagher finds it a very difficult matter and she thinks back to her often.
"I've tried very much to not make that time about me because it was about Kimberley, but it was sort of shock and sadness about her dying," Senator Gallagher said. "[But] you always reflect on, I think, people who you've known in your life and they pass away."
"It was just really, really, really sad what happened to Kimberley and traumatic in terms of for her family and for herself, I can't imagine how awful it has been for them.
"And whenever there's heightened levels of interest like that, it certainly affects you and I think it affects your family. It affects you, everybody. Everyone was affected by that."
Senator Gallagher has already flagged that an Albanese Labor government would, if elected, "inherit the worst set of budget books of any incoming government," although debt and deficit, when measured against GDP, was worse after World War II.
Regardless, an eye-watering but shrinking $78 billion deficit, if the stars and seats align, would be her job to manage and that of Dr Chalmers.
"Well, I hope that she she finds herself in the finance portfolio and if she does, I think she has the capacity to be one of the best if not the best finance minister we've ever had," he said.
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