Labor Senator Katy Gallagher has sounded a warning to those who see her longtime Liberal rival Senator Zed Seselja being washed away by an Independent wave.
While polling initially showed Senator Seselja leaked support to David Pocock, the second instalment of the Climate 200-commissioned phone survey found Senator Gallagher’s primary vote had shrunk from 35 per cent to 27 per cent, with Liberal backing rising a point to 25 per cent and Pocock surging into third place at 21 per cent.
That’s spooked the Labor camp, who fear the so-called progressive vote is fracturing and putting their previously unassailable charge in danger.
As a senior frontbencher, Senator Gallagher has spent much of the campaign outside the ACT travelling with Leader Anthony Albanese, but now she acknowledges her path back to the Senate may not be so straightforward and Mr Pocock may be more of a threat to her than Senator Seselja.
“I don’t think it’s a contest between David Pocock and Zed Seselja; I think the battle is in the centre with the progressive vote,” she says.
Senator Gallagher says she has never taken voters or her Senate seat for granted and welcomes more people running for office and more people taking an interest in the contest.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thought in my time in politics that you own a seat or that that seat is yours and therefore nobody else should ever be able to represent the community,” she says.
But now Senator Gallagher, who has had time off recently to have a skin cancer removed from her nose, faces a tougher end to the campaign than anyone predicted.
“I’m going to have to campaign hard right to the 21st to seek the support of the community and that’s I guess the nature of campaigns,” she says.
“I’m up for it and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get Canberrans’ support for continuing in the Senate.”
She hasn’t seen any internal Labor polling and plays down the role polling in general plays in elections, particularly after what happened in 2019.
The focus should be on the policies, she says.
“We’ve never had polling in the ACT in my whole time in the Assembly,” Senator Gallagher says.
“We never had standard polling that was done every month. You know, you make good decisions based on good policy and you work with the community. That’s the way you’re a good government.
“But I think people are wrong to see this just as a Pocock versus Seselja battle. I don’t think that’s where the contest is.”
So should she have spent more time in Canberra defending her Senate seat?
She accepts her senior responsibilities have split her time, not to mention the surgery and that it has been a balancing act.
“So I’ve got a job as campaign spokesperson, which has taken a bit of a backseat in the last week for obvious reasons,” Senator Gallagher says.
“But I’ve also got a job as the finance shadow so I obviously need to brief the leader. But people see me around the place, they know I’m in Canberra and they provide me with full and frank advice most times I’m out and about, and I think it’s just a balance.
“I’ve been here as much as I can, but I do have other calls on my time.”
The Senate race will go to preferences and Labor has preferenced Mr Pocock and the other Independent ahead of the Greens.
The Greens have listed Professor Rubenstein’s party, Kim 4 Canberra second, Mr Pocock third and Labor fifth.
It’s understood Mr Pocock will suggest voter preferences flow to Professor Rubenstein.
The immensely popular Senator Gallagher remains the firm favourite to be the first to secure a quota and retain her seat.
It would be a boilover if Senator Seselja were to lose his seat. The odds are he will get back on preferences, particularly from the United Australia Party.