The issue of climate change policy rocketed Tony Abbott to the head of the Liberal Party in 2009, and then to the Prime Ministership in 2013, following a successful campaign against the carbon price introduced by the Labor government led by Julia Gillard.
Now it seems that it will be the same issue, and Abbott’s lack of effective action on climate change, and concerted efforts to undermine the work of his successors, that may be his undoing as he faces his greatest challenge yet in his Sydney northern beaches electorate of Warringah.
Concerns about the lack of action on climate change motivated a crowd of several hundred protestors to take to the streets of Manly on Sunday, buoyed by an encouraging poll that may suggest the end of Abbott’s time in parliament.
Protesters converged on the Manly town centre in a rare public demonstration. The electorate of Warringah is home to some of Australia’s most affluent suburbs and is normally a blue-ribbon seat for the Liberals, who have held the seat since it’s inception in 1922, although state seats have been held by independents.
The “Vote Tony Out” rally in Manly follows the release of a GetUp! commissioned poll by Lonergan Research that shows a growing lead for independent candidate for Warringah Zali Steggall in her contest against former Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The Lonergan poll showed Steggall leading Abbott 56-44 on a two-candidate preferred basis, with Abbott’s primary vote falling to 38 percent, down considerably from his historical support levels of consistently greater than 50 percent.
The poll of 805 residents of the Warringah electorate also showed climate change and the environment as the two leading issues of concern for voters, outranking the economy.
Abbott has been the target of a concerted effort to replace him as the member for Warringah. Campaigns from Stop Adani and GetUp! have been prominent, along with the “Vote Tony Out” movement that has emerged from within the affluent North Shore electorate.
Former Winter Olympian, barrister and independent candidate Zali Steggall has emerged as the most viable contender, with the backing of both disgruntled Liberal supporters in Warringah, and those keen to see the end of Abbott’s political career.
Steggall has campaigned strongly for greater support for the renewable energy sector and has taken a stance against Adani’s Carmichael Mine. Steggall has been directly endorsed by the Smart Energy Council.
Along with Tony Abbott’s lack of effective action on climate change, his refusal to support the Marriage Equality Bill in parliament, despite the electorate recording one of the highest levels of support in the postal survey with 75% ‘yes’ vote, has been cited as motivations for the “vote Tony out” campaign.
When questioned by school students on the issue of climate change in a Manly cafe, Abbott cited arguments generally used by climate change deniers to dismiss the urgent need for action.
“You know, if you look back over time there has been climate change. The ice age was climate change. The Roman warm period was climate change. The medieval warming period was climate change, the mini ice age was climate change”, Abbott told the students.
— School Strike 4 Climate (@StrikeClimate) May 3, 2019
“He’s just denying all the scientific facts and saying that it is about fact or not fact. He was trying to compare what’s happening in our world to the ice age and it’s a completely different story”, the students said in a video posted following Abbott’s comments.
“It makes me mad to listen to that. I was so made I couldn’t speak for a period of time because I just couldn’t register what he was saying”.
Organisers suggested that it may have been the first public demonstration on the streets of Manly since protests against Vietnam conscription in the 1970s.