The School of Athens

The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael (click on picture to view short documentary from Columbia University)

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Tony Abbott is in huge trouble.

Fellow citizens,

Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is in very grave danger of losing the seat of Warringah. One that he has held since 1994.

The challenge from Independent Zali Steggall is very real, very serious and could ultimately prove to be very successful.

There are several pieces of evidence that lead me to draw that conclusion.

1 - Quantitative

The only polling data on Warringah that we have to date was conducted in September 2018 by ReachTEL - before any Independents had nominated to run in the seat for the 2019 election (see below).

It showed that there was a primary vote swing of 12% against Abbott and a two party preferred swing of 7%.

Abbott's two party preferred lead was down to 54% to 46% when he was facing a challenge from the proverbial 'empty chair'.

He was already vulnerable.

This is reminiscent of the challenge to his leadership in February 2015 when Abbott came within 12 votes of losing to no contender - the empty chair - and six months later he was gone.

2 - Electoral History

In the 2016 Federal Election, Independent James Mathison (among others) challenged Abbott for the seat of Warringah.

It was reported by Phil Coorey [AFR 19 April 2017] that Abbott was so worried about losing the seat that he appealed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for assistance in the final week to ensure the seat was held.

"Malcolm Turnbull intervened personally during the final week of last year's election campaign to help 'save' Tony Abbott after internal party polling showed the former prime minister was so unpopular in his own seat of Warringah he risked losing it in a landslide."

3 - Qualitative

I have friends and relatives who live in and near the seat of Warringah.

All of them - ALL.OF.THEM. - tell me that the anger against Abbott is white hot and that the "voters can't wait to get rid of him".

While there's been a growing and significant dissatisfaction with Abbott over several issues - especially his intransigence over effective action on climate change - it was his campaign against Equal Marriage that was the "final straw".

Despite the people of Warringah casting a 75% vote in favour of Equal Marriage - the 10th highest vote by seat in the nation - Abbott abstained from voting in the parliament.

"He doesn't represent us, he represents himself" is the refrain I hear - one that Zali Steggall has already used.

The father of cartoonist Fiona Katauskas - Don Katauskas - is so incensed with Abbott for being a "total wrecker who has selfishly damaged the Liberal Party for nothing", that he took to the streets of Manly with sandwich boards urging voters to get rid of Abbott (see photos below).

Now, Don Katauskas is not your typical "bleeding heart leftie". He has never voted for the ALP. He has always supported the Coalition.

Like many who emigrated from Eastern Europe to escape the clutches of the Soviet regime, he loathes communism and by extension any party to the left of Genghis Khan.

Plus his experience as a small businessman having to deal with some of the more obstinate union leaders and their destructive ways has reinforced his right of centre position.

His enmity to the ALP has been long standing, and while he lives in the electorate of Bradfield, he felt so enraged at Abbott that he was motivated to travel to Warringah to walk the streets of the electorate urging his removal.

He visited three times and his feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Thirty-eight positive comments and only three negative.

One elector sung out to Don, "F*** Abbott!", to which Don replied, "I'd rather not!"

4 - The example of Bennelong in 2007

When Maxine McKew nominated to run against John Howard for the 2007 election, I knew Howard was in deep trouble.

The view from the press at the time was that Howard was a wily campaigner and that he would be very difficult to defeat.

The first polls in the seat showed McKew was going to win and every poll after that showed the same, and on election night the result was the same. Howard lost.

He suffered a 5.5% two party preferred swing and that was on the back of the 3.5% swing he'd already suffered in the 2004 Federal Election as a result of the challenge of Andrew Wilkie (as a Green).

What is often overlooked is that Maxine McKew not only won but came within 150 votes of out polling Howard on first preferences.

What is also often overlooked is that Howard - the 'wily campaigner' - was voted out by Liberal voters. The seat of Bennelong was later reclaimed by John Alexander for the Liberal Party in 2010 and has been held ever since.

The voters who shifted against Howard were Liberal supporters who had had enough of his reactionary ways and were looking for a new way forward; then having removed him, shifted back to normal transmission.

5 - Betting market changes

Prior to the announcement that Zali Steggall was challenging Abbott, the price for Abbott to win was 1.55 and the "Independent" 2.20.

That translated to a win chance probability for Abbott of 59% and the "Independent" 41%.

Already not very convincing for a "safe seat".

Following Zali Steggall's announcement, the market shifted quickly.

Abbott blew out to 2.15 and the "Independent" shortened to 1.70.

That translated to a win chance probability for Abbott of only 44% and the "Independent" 56%.

Even less convincing for a "safe seat".

The challenge ahead

In the 2016 Federal Election, Abbott won the two candidate preferred vote over the Green candidate 53,346 votes to 33,320.

Zali Steggall will need to shift over to her side about 10,000 voters who gave their voting preference to Abbott at the last election.

In other words, about 1 in 5 of those voters.

Think that's too onerous?

In the 2018 Wentworth by-election, Dr Kerryn Phelps shifted about twice that number (around 20,000) to her side, or about 1 in 3.5 voters who supported the Coalition in the 2016 election

The 20,000 voters that Kerryn Phelps shifted in Wentworth were Liberal voters, the voters who despatched John Howard in Bennelong were Liberal voters, and the voters who will support Zali Steggall in Warringah and send Tony Abbott off to political oblivion will be Liberal voters.

We shall watch with great interest.


  1. Good article.
    the most convincing is that Abbott's First Prefs down to 39% in Sept ReachTel poll. Even before any independent named! That alone spells oblivion for Abbott!

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