Abbott loses Warringah after huge primary vote for Steggall

«I’m quietly confident,» Mr Abbott said on Saturday afternoon near the polling booth at Manly Village Public School.

«It’s going to be tough.»

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott voting on Saturday morning at Forestville primary school.

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott voting on Saturday morning at Forestville primary school. Credit:Dean Sewell

«There is absolutely no doubt that GetUp, the green left, have put massive resources into this seat … and I think the message is that people have got to resist very strongly that green left ideology because it’s doing enormous damage to our economy.»

Mr Abbott, who has faced a groundswell of opposition from grassroots community groups campaigning against him on climate change in particular, said there were «obviously some people who want a different person to be the member».

«But I know lots of people who want me to be the member.»

Ms Steggall had a busy schedule of public appearances on Saturday as she campaigned hard to win the seat, which Mr Abbott has held since 1994, most recently on an 11 per cent margin.

The former Olympic skier said she believed there was «a strong shift» in the electorate towards «being more positive and more future-focused, especially in areas where you have got a high number of families where people are really worried about the future and their kids».

Ms Steggall, who had 1400 aqua-shirted volunteers working for her campaign by its final week, said the result in Warringah would reflect on the entire Coalition.

«It won’t be about Tony but actually about the rest of the Coalition, especially the Liberal Party. That it has moved too far to the right, it has abandoned its moderate base,» she said.


«There are a huge amount of sensible-centre, moderate Liberals who just want more integrity, better standard of debate, more respect in the debate but also more future-focus.»

Ms Steggall has also enjoyed the tacit support of activist group GetUp, which sent 600 volunteers into the electorate with the specific aim of ousting Mr Abbott, who they believe to be a block on climate-change action.

GetUp has recommended voters who are concerned about climate change should vote for Ms Steggall or fellow independent Susan Moylan-Coombs.

Mr Abbott’s campaign and the conservative activist group Advance Australia, which has also campaigned in the electorate, asserted that Ms Steggall was connected to GetUp.

But the independent, a barrister and mother, says she has no links with GetUp and receives no funding from them.

Local Liberal state MP James Griffin said the battle for Warringah had been «an absolutely ferocious campaign that has been going on for a while».

«That’s something that, certainly in recent history, Warringah hasn’t had before.

«The field has been a pretty strong one. I certainly hope that Mr Abbott gets across the line. But it’s certainly a tough contest.»


Mr Griffin, a member of the NSW moderate faction, who has campaigned for Mr Abbott (a member of the NSW conservative faction), said a swing «of any sort» would be ‘»a message from the electorate and you have got to take that on board in terms of how you represent your community».

«Depending on the result, I think that obviously there will be a few messages that are taken from it, and the representation that Mr Abbott has delivered, that will certainly be reflected in the result.»

Mr Abbott’s sister, Sydney City Liberal councillor Christine Forster, said there was «strong support» for both Ms Steggall and her brother.

«I sincerely hope he does [win] but I think it’s going to be very close, is my feeling. I’ve just got my fingers crossed that he gets the right result.»


Ms Forster said Ms Steggall was «a quasi Labor person» with «nothing Liberal» about her, despite Ms Steggall’s stated opposition to Labor’s policies on negative gearing and franking credits reforms, which are unpopular in the highly affluent electorate.

«They shouldn’t be hoodwinked by claims that they are getting some kind of faux-Liberal if they vote for her,» Ms Forster said.

Asked what kind of message a swing against Mr Abbott would send the long-time local member, she said: «It’s going to be a message if he’s not elected, that’s for sure.»

Jacqueline is a senior journalist, columnist and former Canberra press gallery sketch writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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