A quarter of a century later, Tony Abbott clings on in a Liberal heartland


Both were turned on by local preselectors. But while Ms Bishop was ousted for a moderate rival, Jason Falinski, Mr Abbott held on to his party’s nomination, if only narrowly.

In 1994, former Liberal leader John Hewson watches on as Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop are sworn in.Credit:Mike Bowers

He now faces, in his words, “the fight of his life” against independent candidate Zali Steggall to hold on to the job he secured at that byelection 25 years ago today.

Mr Abbott is now one of the longest serving MPs in Parliament and his opponents – a motley crew of left-wing activists, swing voters and some disaffected Liberal supporters – are cognisant of the “it’s time” factor.

Under the banner “Time’s Up, Tony”, they will mark today’s anniversary by throwing a “retirement party” outside the former prime minister’s Manly electorate office.

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In a heartening sign for Mr Abbott, there was little evidence of a backlash against the Liberal brand in the state seats of Manly and North Shore on Saturday.

Both sitting MPs – James Griffin in Manly, and Felicity Wilson in North Shore – had swings to them compared to the byelections in which they won their seats. But their primary votes were well below the previous Liberal seatholders in 2015.

Mr Abbott said he was encouraged by the results, particularly the swing to Mr Griffin, which he claimed as a strong endorsement for the proposed Northern Beaches tunnel – which Mr Abbott has made the centrepiece of his re-election campaign.

“Obviously it’s encouraging but I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said on Monday.

Many of Mr Abbott’s Liberal colleagues do not believe the former prime minister should be too relieved by Saturday’s outcome in Manly and North Shore.

They pointed out Ms Steggall did not get involved in the state race, and the Liberal MPs were always likely to get a swing back to them after the byelections.

“I don’t think there’s a lot we can read from it,” one MP said.

Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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