VETERAN Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon has told Pauline Hanson's One Nation to "bring it on" in response to a visit from the party's Queensland Senator Malcolm Roberts in support of One Nation candidate Stuart Bonds.
Senator Roberts and Mr Bonds, a coal miner who ran a strong third against Mr Fitzgibbon and the National Party in the 2019 federal poll, have been touring various industrial work sites over the past two days, and holding "listening tour" dinners of an evening.
With limits on ticket numbers because of COVID-19 restrictions, Senator Roberts drew a small crowd at Greta Workers Club on Wednesday night and a full house of 40 last night at the Bellbird Hotel, Cessnock.
Although the timing appears to be coincidental - Senator Roberts and Mr Bonds say the dates were set weeks ago - the One Nation profile-raising has coincided with unwanted national headlines for the ALP generated by some reportedly bad polling for the party in the Hunter Region.
The Newcastle Herald has obtained details of further automated polling conducted this week that looks specifically at the seat of Hunter, with people being asked to "answer a few short questions about COVID management, federal politics and local issues".
The phone poll asked people who would receive their first preference if a federal election was held today.
"Reply 1 for Labor, 2 for The Nationals, 3 for Greens, 4 for One Nation, 5 for United Australia Party 6 for other/Ind or 7 for Undecided," said one question.
The lack of a Liberal candidate shows the polling is aimed at Mr Fitzgibbon's electorate, where the National Party, rather than the Liberals, will field the Coalition candidate.
Asked about the polling, Mr Fitzgibbon said: "It's always wise to take note of polls conducted by credible and experienced polling outfits."
Mr Fitzgibbon caused ructions in the ALP in November when he resigned from the opposition front bench in a move that highlighted internal Labor divisions over climate change policy.
Mr Fitzgibbon was outspoken over the subject even when on the front bench - a position that is supposed to entail solidarity with shadow cabinet decisions - and has redoubled his efforts from the bank bench.
"This this week I initiated planning for my first two fundraisers, I've relieved myself of time-consuming front bench responsibilities, and I'm exercising daily," Mr Fitzgibbon said.
In a reference to his newest campaigning slogan, he said: "I'm putting labour back in the Labor Party and I've never been more ready to go.
On his One Nation opponent, Mr Fitzgibbon said: "[Stuart] Bonds kept his head down last time but next time while he'll be able to run he can't hide.
"And the more time Malcolm Roberts spends here the better off I'll be. Bring it on."
At the Bellbird Hotel last night, Senator Roberts and Mr Bonds took questions from the audience - including one in which they were asked what the "biggest positive change" One Nation could make if elected in Hunter.
Mr Bonds answered by saying he would push for a new "high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) coal-fired power station and improved access to the Hunter Expressway.
Mr Bonds opened the evening with his pitch for election, saying that Mr Fitzgibbon had suffered some of the biggest swings against him of any Labor MP in 2019.
He said he had run on a shoe-string budget and with more volunteer booth workers would do better this time around with a bigger team behind him.
On the veteran Labor MP, he quoted former federal Labor leader turned One Nation state upper house member Mark Latham, saying: "The only time Joel Fitzgibbon is interested in the jobs of others is when his own job is on the line."
Senator Roberts, who was re-elected to the Senate in 2019 after his original 2016 position was declared invalid in 2017 during the "dual citizenship" controversy, has been widely criticised for his outspoken doubts about anthropogenic climate change.
After telling his audience last night about his early years in the Hunter at Abermain primary school and Kurri Kurri High School - both he and his father held management roles in the coal industry - Senator Roberts delivered an increasingly impassioned criticism of climate change policies, saying that both Labor and the Coalition were governed by "herd mentality".
He told the Herald afterwards that members on both sides of the house had told him, privately, that they agreed with his description of climate change as "rubbish".