New polling on the coming Senate vote in the ACT would have set the alarm bells ringing in Zed Seselja’s office, according to political observer John Warhurst.
Polling conducted for UnionsACT at the end of January and released at the weekend shows the Liberal vote collapsing and Senator Seselja at risk of losing his Senate seat.
The ReachTEL poll shows the Liberal party Senate primary vote is at a record low of 22 per cent (a quota is 33 per cent), with 58 per cent of ACT voters disapproving of the senator, and more than 65 per cent not believing he has done enough to deserve re-election.
UnionsACT is conducting a ‘Dump Zed’ campaign and will launch a massive TV and community campaign in March, to remind voters of Senator Seselja’s key role in promoting Peter Dutton’s failed bid to become Prime Minister, as well his failures on climate change, penalty rates, and marriage equality.
Emeritus Professor of politics at the ANU, John Warhurst said that despite it always being a steep challenge to unseat a Liberal senator, Senator Seselja would not want his primary vote to be languishing down at 22 per cent.
“That’s danger territory for him,” he said.
In 2016, Senator Seslja relied on preferences to be re-elected but his primary vote was closer to 30.5 per cent.
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Noting the entry of independent candidate businessman Anthony Pesec, Prof Warhurst said the key would be to what extent dissatisfied Liberal voters, when it came to the crunch, voted for someone else and to whom they gave their preferences.
He said all preferences would likely be distributed and it would be crucial how that panned out.
“Even the Green preferences don’t go any more than 85 per cent to Labor,” he said.
Senator Seselja had a high profile and name recognition but possibly for the wrong things in the eyes of many ACT voters.
“He got a lot of publicity over the Turnbull thing, opposing same-sex marriage, and being accused of not representing the views of the ACT,” he said.
Prof Warhurst said the apparent drop in support would be due partly to the general swing against the Government around the country and a bigger swing against the Liberals in Canberra, following Senator Seselja’s support for Peter Dutton and his high-profile role in the Turnbull coup.
“It may be more personal towards him in the Senate and not more generally with the Liberal candidates in the ACT,” he said.
But the other candidates, especially the Greens’ Penny Kyburz, may need a perfect storm to topple the Senator.
“It’s just an extremely difficult thing for opponents of Zed to pull off because of the fact there’s only the two Senate seats to get the Liberal vote after preferences down below a third [of the vote for a quota],” Prof Warhurst said.
“You have to have a combination of circumstances, and I would say that would be a very strong Labor vote, anti-government vote overall and also an anti-Zed vote on top of that.”
And while Prof Warhurst expected Labor to win come May, he did not think the voters are waiting with the baseball bats ready.
“It’s not all done and dusted. I think Labor will win but whether it’s squeaking over the line or like in the Victorian election a really really decisive victory I’m not too sure and that would make a difference to the ACT,” he said.
So much was going wrong for the Government with resignations and the like but it has put out a positive message with new climate change policies for example, as well as the negative fear message.
“Morrison is very active but whether he’s cutting through I doubt it,” Prof Warhurst said.
For Senator Seselja, the weight of evidence would be that he was likely to get back ”but the alarm bells would be ringing and he would be reading that poll and getting worried and getting ready to really campaign hard”.