When thinking about the ACT Senate race, the old, apparently misconstrued Mark Twain quote comes to mind: reports of Zed Seselja’s demise may be exaggerated.
But the polling reported last week has sure got people exercised or excited, depending on your political leanings.
Senator Seselja himself says he is not going to sugarcoat the findings in a social media response that is also a pitch for donors to his campaign fund.
Admitting his seat is in danger, the Liberal, who for some is the Dark Lord of ACT conservative politics, says this will be his toughest campaign and needs all the help he can get, especially to reach his $75,000 funding target so he can ward off his Green and ‘quasi-green’ rivals.
Yes, the polling – a caveat here, the Climate 200 group commissioned it, and it has provided seed funding to both independents David Pocock and Kim Rubenstein – is interesting only six weeks out from the 21 May election.
The combined Green-Independent vote exceeds Senator Seselja’s primary vote of 24 and 25 per cent, and the Pocock vote is a solid 13 per cent and 11 per cent.
At this stage, the Greens remain the biggest threat to the Senator, but Pocock has managed to capitalise on his profile as a former Wallaby captain but also as someone prepared to act on his beliefs, especially about climate change.
In the ACT, where climate science is generally not doubted, Pocock, who is also campaigning heavily on integrity in government, is appealing to voters unwilling to shift to Labor or the Greens.
Tellingly, his response to the extremist tag is that he is a pragmatist who wants to make politics about people and the community.
For Liberals weary of the climate wars and the Coalition Government’s seeming indifference to proper governance exemplified in how it uses the grants system as its own slush fund, Pocock offers an alternative.
That appears to have rattled the Seselja cage, hence his linkage of Pocock to the Extinction Rebellion mob.
New ads from the right-wing Advance Australia group, of which former Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne is director, depict Pocock unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a Greens T-shirt beneath.
Pocock has lodged a complaint with the Australian Electoral Commission. Advance Australia previously caused a storm with its provocative, doctored image showing China’s President Xi’ voting’ for Labor.
There is no suggestion that the Senator is linked to Advance Australia but the sentiment is shared.
The Greens launched their campaign yesterday and Senate candidate Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng (15%, 14% in the polling) believes this time the party has its best chance of upsetting Senator Seselja.
But it is a familiar story – optimism fuelled by poll results that aren’t reflected on election day.
The fact is it is very difficult in the ACT to break the Liberal and Labor monopoly on the two Senate seats.
Usually, Senator Seselja maintains his core vote of just under the 33 per cent quota and preferences do the rest.
It may be closer this time around, and there is no doubt that climate change and integrity are key issues in the ACT.
He can’t afford to ignore the challenge, even if statistically, and with Antony Green’s calculus, the odds are against him being dislodged.
He is playing the national security card, saying now is not the time for change and that the Greens, and by association Pocock, want to slash Defence spending.
But defence procurement is an ongoing mess and Senator Seselja is also the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, on whose watch the Solomons got into bed with China.
So in politically savvy Canberra, those lines of attack may not get him very far.
With the House of Representative seats a formality, Zed’s Senate fate is the main game in town this election.
If he is ousted, it may reflect something more seismic happening across the country, but for now, the Senator remains favoured to stick around.